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Holiday feasts can make dietary restrictions hard

image of holiday treats
Holiday treats such as these cupcakes tempt partygoers, making wise choices difficult for those with dietary restrictions. (File Photo)

By Bonnie Coblentz
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE – Holiday snacks can tempt anyone to let good intentions go, but for those with food allergies or special dietary needs, these treats can cause serious problems.

Brent Fountain, a registered dietitian and nutrition specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said planning ahead is the best way to handle the challenge of holiday cooking and eating for those with dietary limits.

For diabetics, Fountain said the best course of action is to not stray far from the recommended eating pattern, even in holiday and party situations.

“The way your food and medication is designed when you are a diabetic protects you and keeps your blood sugar levels as near normal as possible,” Fountain said. “If you eat a lot of simple sugars that are high in carbohydrates, it will increase the amount of sugar in your blood and cause you to have problems.”

One way to ensure healthy food choices are available for someone on a restricted diet is to volunteer to bring an appropriate dish to a holiday event. As a courtesy, label dishes containing ingredients that are known allergens.

“If you’re not sure what ingredients are in a particular dish or snack, it is best to leave it alone,” Fountain said.

Natasha Haynes, an Extension nutrition and food safety area agent in Lincoln County, said buffet tables and party drinks are hard on restricted diets.

“The key to eating wisely during the holidays is to eat a balanced meal before going to a party where you are more likely to overeat,” Haynes said. “Try to fill up on fruit and vegetables at the buffet table, and then pick a few high-fat and sugary items you want to try.”

Drinks are often high in sugar and empty calories. Haynes recommended that partygoers drink plenty of water and sip sparingly on party drinks.

Dawn Vosbein, a registered dietitian and Extension nutrition and food safety area agent in Pearl River County, said portion control is especially important at events where a lot of delicious food is available in a browsing situation.

“Eat a small piece of something really good and don’t eat things you don’t really like,” Vosbein said. “At the holidays, skip the stuff that is not special and eat the things you only get once a year.”

Portion control is important for everyone, and diabetics have special challenges when eating holiday sweets, but those with food allergies face serious consequences if they make poor food choices.

“An allergy or sensitivity is always in the hands of the person with the allergy or sensitivity or their caregiver, in the case of a child,” Fountain said. “Those preparing or serving food at a holiday party or event don’t necessarily know you have an allergy or dietary need.”

The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

An allergic reaction occurs when the body tries to protect itself from something it has been exposed to, such as an ingredient in food. Common symptoms can be hives; nausea; vomiting; difficulty breathing; gastric distress; or swelling of the mouth, lips, eye area or fingers.

When an allergic reaction is suspected, Fountain said the victim should seek immediate medical attention, particularly if the attack appears life threatening.

“Those with severe allergies typically are prescribed and carry an EpiPen, which can be used to delay symptoms until they get medical help,” Fountain said. “Those prescribed an EpiPen should carry it with them always and have someone with them who can administer the shot if they are unable to do so themselves.”

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Released: November 8, 2012
Contact: Dr. Brent Fountain, (662) 325-0849

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