Holiday Meal Planning For the Diabetic

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With the holiday season fast approaching, many people are bracing themselves for the onslaught of delicious calorie laden food. They are mainly concerned about the effect that all those calories and fats may have on their waistline. However, when you add diabetes to the mix, many other important factors come into play. For diabetics, it is not merely the caloric and fat intake that counts, but they also have to be concerned with excessive sugar and carbohydrate content.

Foods that may have little or no impact on a non-diabetic can quickly send a diabetics blood sugar soaring to a dangerous level. Once someone has been diagnosed with diabetes the holiday season can become a stressful time indeed. Yet this does not have to be the case for diabetics willing to plan ahead. There is a way to enjoy the foods you love in moderation, even the irresistible baked goodies.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, diabetes is steadily rising in America. As of 2007, 23.6 million people-7.8% of the population-have diabetes; 1.6 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed in people aged 20 years or older in 2007. There are two classes of diabetes known as Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar (glucose), starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder resulting from the body’s inability to make enough, or to properly use, insulin. It used to be called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. With diabetes reaching epidemic proportions, the need for education on this disease is more important than ever.

One of the most common questions a newly diagnosed diabetic asks is, “What can I eat?” The answers to that question are often as varied and complicated as the disease itself. But with a little research a person with diabetes can arm themselves with an arsenal of strategies with which to protect themselves during the holiday season. One of the most prevalent myths about diabetes is that diabetics must eat a special diet, usually a sugar-free one. The truth is that small amounts of simple sugars are allowed when consumed with a complex meal. In fact, many ‘sugar free” foods raise blood sugar, just like other foods that contain carbohydrate.

Diabetes is not about denying yourself foods you previously enjoyed. According to The American Diabetes Association, a healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is the same as that for everyone – low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit. Diabetic and “dietetic” versions of sugar-containing foods offer no special benefit. They still raise blood glucose levels, are usually more expensive and can also have a laxative effect if they contain sugar alcohols. If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes. They are no more “off limits” to people with diabetes, than they are to people without diabetes.

One of the most important things a diabetic can do is to discover how various foods affect their blood sugar. This is done by checking blood sugar levels with a glucose meter at various times following a meal. With diabetes it soon becomes clear that not all carbohydrates are created equal. To determine how rapidly a particular carbohydrate turns into sugar, keeping a diary of the foods you consume along with your meter readings will give you a good idea of how various foods affect you. One of the most useful tools for diabetic meal planning is The Glycemic Index. The glycemic index ranks foods on how they affect our blood glucose levels. This index measures how much your blood glucose increases in the two or three hours after eating. The glycemic index is about foods high in carbohydrates. Foods high in fat or protein don’t cause your blood glucose level to rise much. You can find more information on The Glycemic Index by going to glycemicindex.com.

Of course when it comes to holiday baking, the line between fast acting carbohydrates and slower acting ones can easily become blurred. When you are cooking for someone (or yourself) with diabetes, it is important that you make changes to your favorite baking recipes in terms of reducing fat and simple sugars. This is particularly difficult at holiday time when the recipes that we use and love have become a family tradition. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy delicious baked treats during the holiday season as long as we carefully calculate our carbohydrate exchanges and count the fat grams, fitting them into our daily meal plan. Sugar provides sweetness, tenderness, and color in cakes and cookies. But with most recipes you can reduce the sugar by at least one-third without changing the taste and texture. Fruit juices and frozen fruit juice concentrates may be used to sweeten baked goods. You can also use sugar-free jams and spreads as a sweetener. These all contain fructose, a form of caloric sugar and a simple carbohydrate.

You can also reduce your sugar intake by substituting noncaloric artificial sweeteners. These provide almost no calories and will not affect your blood sugar levels. However, not all artificial sweeteners can be used for baking. Read the labels and only use those which say that the product can be used for baking. Enjoy in moderation, please, and if you are diabetic, be sure to count your carbohydrates. You want to be healthy and in good blood sugar control after the holidays! And if you have any questions as to how to incorporate these goodies in your meal plan, check with your physician or dietitian before indulging!

One of my all time favorite holiday desserts is pumpkin pie. A delicious alternative to the sugar laden version makes it perfect for the diabetic. It really is delicious, and tastes just like my Mom’s!
It’s not likely anyone will miss the sugar in this recipe.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes

* 9-inch pie pastry

* 16-ounce can pumpkin

* 12-ounce can evaporated milk

* 3 eggs

* 3/4 cup artificial sweetener

* 1/4 teaspoon salt

* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon*

* 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger*

* 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg*

* 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves*

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Beat pumpkin, milk and eggs. Beat in rest of ingredients. Pour into pastry lined pie pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for 40 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Serve with sugar free whipped cream.

* Or 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

As you can see, holiday desserts and meal planning doesn’t have to be a dry and tasteless endeavor. The internet is chock full of wonderful recipes for diabetics. You will find some great links attached to this article. Enjoy, and happy holidays!



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