Eating Healthy With Diabetes In December

By: Cassidy Hall
Johnston & Wilson County Cooperative Extension
Area Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences

Last Thanksgiving, my grandmother was staring off into space in the midst of our family catching up with many things still to be done in preparation for lunch. My grandmother was completely out of character, as she is the typical cornerstone and horsepower behind family gatherings. Her eyes became dreary as though she had been drinking. Suddenly, she started to begin to babble in circles.

My grandmother has diabetes. Earlier that day, she was caught eating several servings of dessert. Turns out, she was trying to cover up the fact that her blood glucose was already too high, but she couldn’t see what she was eating due to diabetes’ effect on her vision. The next day, she was able to see a specialist who informed us that her blood glucose levels were so high on Thanksgiving day that my grandmother was lucky to be alive. Her levels should have landed her in a diabetic coma. December is Diabetes Alert Month.

According to the Diabetes Research Institute, 30.3 million people in the United States have diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that causes an inability to produce or react to insulin. Diabetes can be incredibly costly, but most cases can be managed or improved with proper eating habits and exercise.

We are fortunate to have an array of information at our fingertips, but it can oftentimes be difficult to sort and determine what a healthy diet looks like. A diet geared to manage diabetes is a healthy diet for anyone. This eating pattern incorporates lots of vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, can include whole grains and even fruit. While eating a healthy diet, it is important to focus meals around fiber and nutrient-rich foods.

Fiber helps to manage blood glucose levels, keeps you fuller for longer amounts of time, encourages a healthy digestive system, is associated with lower weight, and can help clean up cholesterol levels. Carbohydrates are our body’s primary source of energy. When reading a nutrition label, you will see “total carbohydrates.” This total includes the food’s starches, fiber, and sugar. Carbohydrates, for both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals, often gets a bad reputation. However, it is important to consider the source of carbohydrates before ruling them out.

Fruits and vegetables provide good carbohydrates alongside fiber and nutrients in addition to foods like whole grain and whole wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and popcorn. Whole grains provide fiber, to help control blood glucose, and nutrients that white bread, white pasta, and white rice do not. Eating does not mean totally giving up your favorite foods- especially during the holiday season!

Think “quality over quantity.” Portion control is key, but I recommend focusing on the foods you are eating rather than constantly counting calories, carbohydrates, or sugar. During this time of year, focus meals around vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods. If attending a family gathering, bulk up your plate with dishes that include vegetables. If you anticipate a variety of foods that weren’t created with your health in mind, eat a healthy snack beforehand and treat yourself to much smaller portions than if you were eating a full meal. You can also choose to bring a dish that incorporates a variety of vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. This helps to ensure that there is something for you to eat at the gathering, while still enjoying a little of those foods that are not typically part of your healthy eating plan. Eat well during the week leading up to the event, enjoy smaller portions of food at the event, and return to your eating plan when you leave. Keep in mind that “healthy-ish” is better than not healthy at all, and portion control can go a long way in helping your reach your health goals.

When it is time to navigate the dessert table, limit yourself to one portion of your favorite dessert or put only a few bites of the dessert you want to try on your plate to maintain portion control. Following these tips can help you take control of your health numbers and avoid unsettling situations like my family experienced last Thanksgiving. If you are interested in more tips or healthy eating and cooking workshops, please “like” us on Facebook (Johnston County Cooperative Extension) or visit our website.

In the meantime, try preparing this healthy, delicious side dish recipe for your next family gathering.