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Plan tasty holiday meals for diabetics

By Marcus Daniels

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- With proper meal planning and attention to exercise, diabetic family members can enjoy traditional holiday meals with the rest of the family.

November is National Diabetes Month, bringing awareness to the millions of Americans who suffer from what is referred to as a silent killer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 240,000 Mississippians have diabetes, and 80,000 of those are unaware they have the disease.

“Diabetes is a fast growing, chronic disease that strikes anybody, including children,” said Peggy Walker, nutrition and food safety area agent with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. “In Mississippi, diabetes is rampant because of the obesity issues we face.”

Diabetes is classified as either Type 1 or Type 2. Type 1 diabetics can't produce insulin, while Type 2 refers to those who can produce some insulin, but their body can't use it properly. Type 2 is the most common form of the disease.

Foods are turned into glucose that the body uses for energy. The hormone insulin helps the body's cells use glucose. In diabetics, glucose cannot reach the starved cells and builds up in the blood, causing complications that range from heart disease to high blood pressure and stroke.

Careful consideration of meal planning is one major way to combat diabetes during the holidays.

“By providing a variety of foods, limiting the amount of fats added to food and finding substitutions for high calorie desserts, diabetics can enjoy holiday eating along with other family members,” Walker said.

There are plenty of ways to lower fat, sugar, and carbohydrate counts in favorite foods while keeping the taste and texture.

Walker recommended using fat-free and light products in food preparation and steaming vegetables instead of cooking them in butter. She also warned that substituting natural sweeteners with artificial sweeteners in desserts does not drastically reduce the overall calorie count of the dish.

Eating a more healthy diet reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and other complications caused by diabetes. Walker suggested eating a more plant-based diet, which is high in fiber, which helps lower blood glucose levels. Eat more servings of grains, beans and starchy vegetables than any other food.

“Families can incorporate fiber into holiday meals by making vegetable and fruit salads. They are filling and take the place of more unhealthy foods,” Walker said.

Foods diabetics should avoid include fatty meats, fatty dairy products and fried foods, Walker said. She also recommended limiting meat portions to 3-ounce servings, twice a day.

“What people eat directly affects their blood-sugar level, and it is very important that diabetics check blood-sugar levels on a regular basis. Exercise and medication are just as important in maintaining normal glucose levels as well,” Walker said.

Brent Fountain, assistant professor of food science, nutrition and health promotion, said diabetics should consult with their primary care physician before starting an exercise regime. Some exercises are strenuous for some people with a limited calorie intake.

“Not only is exercise good for all people, but for those with Type 2 diabetes, it makes body cells more sensitive to insulin, allowing diabetics to rely on less medication,” Fountain said. “Regular exercise helps to protect against heart disease and other complications. Exercise also helps to keep weight down, allowing some diabetics to enjoy more food.”

Diabetics on specific meal plans during the holiday season should make sure to maintain them and to check blood sugar levels regularly, Fountain said.

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Released: Nov. 3, 2005
Contact: Peggy Walker, (662) 563-6260

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