Don’t let diabetes spoil your fun this Christmas

2010-11-29 00:00

CHRISTMAS is a time for festivities, family and food. How easy is it for a person with diabetes to enjoy festive fare? There is no reason why, with some sensible planning and forethought, a diabetic­ should not enjoy Christmas fully.

You do not have to have a separate plate for Christmas, but you do have to have knowledge on how to structure your meals. Mince pies, Christmas pudding soaked in brandy butter and Christmas cake are a big part of a traditional Christmas. All these foods may be eaten, just not in large quantities. If you spread the treats out over the whole of the festive season and don’t gorge them all at once, you have a better chance of keeping your blood sugars under control. Special­ diabetic foods may be tempting as a treat, but even if they are low in sugar, they are often high in fat, and are not recommended.

Some basic guidelines which may help you this festive season

• Advise family and friends how they can assist with the presentation of the food. For example, the butter can be served beside the vegetables instead of on top, so you can avoid it. The same applies to gravy.

• Grilled food is better than fried, and help yourself to lots of vegetables.

• Try to follow the plate pattern of ¼ meat protein, ¼ starch (potatoes or rice for example) and half a plate of vegetables. • Try to keep your food routine constant — don’t eat too much at one meal, so that you miss the next. Stick to regular smaller meals and keep healthy snacks such as carrot sticks or raw nuts around to snack on instead of that mince pie.

It is also a good idea to exercise to compensate for all the richer foods and larger meals that you eat over Christmas. This does not give you the licence to eat what you like, but it will do you a world of good regardless. Rain or shine, a walk is good.

If you are trying to lose weight over Christmas, stick to your plan and even if you don’t lose, aim not to gain. But also don’t feel bad about eating more than you should, everyone does. Just get back to your plan as soon as possible. Donate unwanted tins of chocolates or biscuits to someone else so they do not tempt you.

Eating out and Parties

Cocktail parties can prove to be a challenge for someone with diabetes as they involve prolonged nibbling of often high-fat snacks. Try to stick to healthier alternatives such as:

• vegetable crudite, breadsticks, mini pitas and low fat dips or tomato salsa;

• fruit stick kebabs;

• mini pizza with reduced cheese;

• olives, gherkins and pickles;

• toasties with low-fat cottage cheese and thinly sliced chicken, ham or salmon;• dried fruit; and• popcorn.

Ideas for snacks can be found in the book Snacks and Treats for Sustained Energy, book one, by Gabi Steenkamp and Jeske Wellmann, who are registered dieticians.


Alcohol is very much part of festivities over this time. If you enjoy a glass of wine, there is no need to give it up because you have diabetes, but it does come with a few things that you need to be aware of. Try to drink either dry wine or whiskey and try not to drink in excess no matter­ how much your friends and family are drinking.

Two units is generally the recommended quantity (i.e. a small glass of wine or one tot (25 ml) of spirit and a half pint of beer = one unit). Alcohol can, with certain tablets and insulin, lower your blood-sugar level, increasing the risk of a dangerous low blood sugar (or hypoglycaemia). If you do drink, make sure that it is not on an empty stomach and have a starchy snack such as a slice of low-GI bread and peanut butter before bed.

Mixer drinks need to be sugar-free or “diet” and you should not exchange a meal for alcohol as this increases the risk of hypoglycaemia. Low-alcohol wine often has a higher sugar content, so be aware of this and low alcohol drinks of any form drunk in any quantity can push you over the legal limit, so go easy. Always wear a medic alert so that people know you are diabetic — drunkenness is easily confused with hypoglycaemia and can result in mismanagement of your condition. And remember, don’t drink and drive.

Presents for those with diabetes

Most presents that you would give to anyone without diabetes are suitable for those with diabetes too. Just lay off handing out the sweets and chocolates or commercially produced biscuits.

There is nothing nicer than giving something homemade, so how about trying your hand at some biscuits or rusks which are low GI — the recipe book mentioned has some fabulous­ ideas.

Clothes or jewellery are other ideas­, or a hamper of various edible options, which can include nuts and dried fruit, a bottle of wine, herbs, special teas or coffees and olive oil which is expensive nowadays, and a treat in many households.

There are many thoughtful gifts which can be put together and which will not cause too much temptation.

Travelling with diabetes

Travelling with any chronic illness requires extra planning and attention to detail.

• It is important to carry sufficient medication for the time that you will be away, plus some extra in case of emergencies.

• Take extra blood sugar test strips so you can test more often while you are away and on different foods which may affect your sugar levels. • Carry temperature-sensitive medication­ such as insulin in a cool box and ensure it stays cool at all times.

• Carry a list of medication with you at all times, as well as contact numbers and names of your diabetes care team.

• Wear a bracelet or necklace identifying you as a diabetic.

• Ensure that you have travel insurance.

• In airports ensure security know that you are carrying medical supplies. Carry a copy of your prescription and a letter from your doctor detailing your treatment.

• Time-zone changes for insulin dependant diabetics may require a change in your dose times. Discuss this with your diabetes team in advance so that you know what to do.

• Carry a hypo kit or sweets in case your blood sugar drops.

• Inform whomever you are staying with that you are diabetic. Most hotels and restaurants will supply diabetes- friendly meals if asked.

• Take extra footwear and be careful of going barefoot on the beach. Also take care to avoid injury or blisters if doing a lot of walking.

Most of all go out there and enjoy your holiday!

Happy Christmas everyone. • Kate Bristow is a professional nursing sister who has specialised in the field of diabetes and diabeticeducation. She runs a diabetes managed-care programme as part of her diabetic services and readers can contact her for more information at 082 406 8707. She writes a monthly column in The Witness .

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