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Healthy Tips to Help Manage Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes for the Upcoming Holidays

From candied yams to buttery mashed potatoes and creamy green bean casseroles, many Thanksgiving and holiday dishes are carbohydrate-heavy, posing a danger for people with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

What’s the story on carbs? Your body converts most carbohydrates into the sugar glucose, which is absorbed into your bloodstream. With the help of a hormone called insulin, glucose travels into the cells of your body where it can be used for energy.

People with diabetes, however, have problems with insulin that can cause their blood sugar levels to rise. For people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas loses the ability to make insulin. For those with type 2 diabetes, the body can’t respond normally to the insulin that is made. Too much sugar in your blood prevents your body from properly using the energy that comes from food. Extreme fatigue is a common symptom of diabetes. Here are some others.

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. (A fasting blood sugar level of 99 mg/dL or lower is considered normal, while 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates pre-diabetes, and 126 mg/dL or higher indicates diabetes.)

People with pre-diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three U.S. adults have prediabetes, but the majority of them don’t know they have it. The good news is that people with pre-diabetes can get their blood sugar levels back to normal, typically within a few months, if they make the effort.

What are the risks associated with diabetes?

Diabetes increases your risk for many serious health problems. It puts you at risk for nerve damage, foot and limb injuries, vision problems and other complications that arise from having uncontrolled blood sugar.

Additionally, there’s a link between diabetes, heart disease and stroke. In fact, two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke, also called cardiovascular disease.

Good diabetes control can reduce the risks for diabetes complications, including heart and blood vessel disease. With the correct treatment and recommended lifestyle changes, many people with diabetes are able to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes complications, including cardiovascular disease.

Healthy holiday tips

Here are some healthy tips for managing diabetes over Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season:

  • First of all, eat the foods you like, but always in moderation. Be mindful of portion size. It’s among the most important factors in keeping blood-sugar levels balanced throughout the holidays.

“Thanksgiving is just one day; diabetes management is year-round,” says Diane Zych, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator on the BJC Community Health Improvement team. “People with diabetes can enjoy Thanksgiving just as much as people who don’t have diabetes.”

  • Choose healthier foods and drinks. Pick foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and sugar. Build a plate that includes a balance of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. Drink water instead of sweetened drinks.

  • Foods that are low-carb and high-protein are the best options. Your body digests protein more slowly, thereby creating less of an impact on your blood sugar levels.

  • Choose carbs that come from high-quality, plant-based sources, such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, squash and berries. These types of carbs come with fiber, which helps your body to digest food more slowly.

  • Avoid desserts and beverages that contain real sugar.

“All foods fit,” says Zych. “If I use the word ‘avoid,’ it’s for sweetened beverages and desserts.”

  • Here is a link to several healthy Thanksgiving recipes to consider from Eating Well.

  • Be aware of the amount of alcohol you consume and try to minimize it. Alcoholic beverages may be full of carbohydrates. An 8-ounce glass of wine, for example, contains about 4 carbs, a 12-ounce beer about 13 carbs. Light beers are typically low in carbs.

  • Plan healthy meals for the week. People who do food prep are more likely to be successful at staying on track. It’s not a guarantee of success, but it reduces the risk of being caught off guard and having to run out at the last minute for fast food.

  • Get moving! Limit time spent sitting and try to fit into your schedule at least 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week.

“Along with watching what you eat and taking medications like insulin, if needed, physical activity is one of the three big factors in keeping your blood sugar levels on track,” says Zych. “The majority of people with diabetes need these three components to reduce the risk of diabetes complications.”

  • Lose weight and keep it off! You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5% to 7% of your starting weight. You are more likely to develop diabetes if you are overweight or obese. Here are some other likely conditions for developing diabetes:

    • are overweight or obese

    • are age 45 or older

    • have a family history of diabetes

    • are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

    • have high blood pressure

    • have a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol or a high level of triglycerides

    • have a history of gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more

    • are not physically active

    • have a history of heart disease or stroke

    • have depression

    • have polycystic ovary syndrome, also called PCOS

    • have acanthosis nigricans — dark, thick and velvety skin around your neck or armpits

Where can you get help to reduce your risk of diabetes?

For more information or a consultation, contact the location most convenient to you:

Common symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Urinating often

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • Feeling very hungry — even though you’re eating

  • Trouble sleeping at night

  • Have a fever and are itchy

  • Blurry vision

  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal

  • Weight loss — even though you’re eating more

  • Tingling, pain or numbness in your hands/feet

These symptoms of diabetes are typical; however, many people with pre-diabetes have no symptoms, while some people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild they go unnoticed. As blood sugar elevates and a person develops diabetes, the symptoms will worsen and become more noticeable.

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