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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Diabetics can enjoy holiday treats in moderation

LAS CRUCES -- Having diabetes doesn't mean you have to give up the pleasures of eating during the holidays, said a New Mexico State University human nutrition scientist.

"The holidays can be hard for some folks, because they are very concerned that the special holiday treats, foods and parties are going to wreck their diabetes control," said Wanda Morgan, an assistant professor of home economics at NMSU. "They're concerned that they'll eat more than they usually do, that they'll gain weight, or that their blood glucose or blood sugars will go up."

But if they eat in moderation, people with diabetes can enjoy the foods of the season, said Morgan, who's also a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator.

Besides, she said, the diabetic diet is just good common sense and something the whole family can follow. "It's not special or weird foods that you have to go to the grocery store and spend a lot of extra money on," she said. "It's just good, old-fashioned foods."

She said the biggest misconception about diabetes is that people with the disease can't have sugar. "One of the old, basic tenets of the diabetes diet was no sugar, no sugar, no sugar," she said. "But that has changed. People with diabetes can eat foods that contain sugar -- in moderation, of course."

Especially in combination with a full meal, Morgan said diabetics can eat a slice of pie or a piece of holiday dessert.

She said using the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid is a good idea for diabetics and anyone else who wants to maintain a healthy diet. "At the very tip, top of the pyramid are fats, oils, sweets and alcohol," Morgan said. "It's a little bitty part of the pyramid that shows about how much of these items we should have."

In the largest group, at the bottom of the pyramid, are complex carbohydrates like grains, cereals, breads, fruits and vegetables. When filling up your plate, fill half with foods from this group, Morgan said. Holiday foods that fit this group might include mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing and a dinner roll.

Next, fill about a third of your plate with protein foods like a slice of turkey the size of a deck of cards. In the remaining space, maybe take a spoonful of cranberries, a spoonful of fruit salad and some veggies.

"This is a quick and easy way to gauge your food intake," Morgan said. "Remember, don't go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths."

Using broth to make gravy and to moisten stuffing instead of turkey or meat drippings also will help make the holiday meal healthier. Morgan suggested cutting back on the butter on mashed potatoes and topping sweet potatoes with something like light orange sauce instead of a snowcap of marshmallows.

Traditional Mexican foods like posole, tamales and tortillas also fit well into a diabetic diet.

People who have friends or relatives who are diabetic can help make holiday eating easier by offering a wide variety of food choices. "If you have a crowd of 20, chances are that you've got someone with diabetes in your home. So, you want to be a good host and not just offer high-fat foods," Morgan said. "Put out a veggie platter with a low-fat dip. Offer low-fat chips and crackers."

But the best thing you can do, she said, avoid the temptation to be the food police and monitor food intake of your diabetic friends and relatives. "Cut them some slack and let them make their own food choices, so they can enjoy the holidays," she said.