La Grange – It’s hard to avoid overindulging in cookies, candy canes and other sweets at Christmastime. This time of year can be especially difficult for diabetics, who need to keep close tabs on their blood sugar. Dr. Richard Bertenshaw, an endocrinologist who treats patients at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital, offers several tips for managing diabetes during the holiday season.
“We stress moderation,” Bertenshaw said. “Although it’s OK to eat just about anything, keep your portion sizes reasonable. Eat a gingerbread man, but don’t eat the whole gingerbread house.”
Diabetes is a disorder of the endocrine system. Normally, the carbohydrates in food are broken down during digestion and converted to glucose. This simple sugar is a prime energy source for the body’s cells. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, regulates the level of glucose in the bloodstream and allows it to be used by the cells. But diabetes disrupts this process. Either the pancreas produces insufficient insulin or the body fails to respond properly to the insulin it does produce. In either case, glucose cannot be absorbed by the cells, and a very high concentration of this sugar remains in the bloodstream.
There are two basic types of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body doesn’t use insulin properly, accounts for 90 percent of all cases. Type 1 diabetes, which accounts for the remaining 10 percent, occurs when the body produces little or no insulin. Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, type 1 diabetes requires daily doses of insulin.
For many diabetics, healthy eating involves carbohydrate counting. This popular dietary technique for controlling blood sugars requires keeping track of your carb intake. Almost all the glucose in your blood after a meal comes from carbohydrates, a major food group that includes fruits and vegetables, pasta, grains, breads, popcorn, cakes, and cookies.
Carb counting is especially helpful to people who use insulin to manage diabetes. Once you figure out how many carbs you’re going to eat, you can adjust your insulin or medication accordingly, Bertenshaw points out.
“This time of year, it’s inevitable that we’ll go to a party and eat more than we should,” Bertenshaw said. “But I tell my patients, ‘If you overeat at one meal, cut back at subsequent meal to make up for that indulgence.’”
One final tip Bertenshaw offers is simple: Don’t just throw in the towel if you feel you’ve eaten one too many pieces of cheesecake over the past few weeks.
“It’s never too late to get serious again about diabetes management,” Bertenshaw said. “Make it your New Year’s resolution.”