Christmas versus Type 2 Diabetes (and Weight Management)

Dr. Sean Wheatley, PhD – Researcher and Trainer in Public Health/19 December 2016

The festive period is upon us! For many people Christmas is a time of celebration, of giving, and of family. But it is also a time of temptation, treats and- for some- straight out gluttony. Now for people with Type 2 diabetes, or who struggle to manage their weight, this can be a difficult time. Trying to maintain control of your blood glucose and your waistline is a challenge at this time of year probably more than any other. There are however some choices you can make that might help you win this battle.

Fantastic foods for festive feasting

The number one enemy for most people with Type 2 diabetes is carbohydrate. Excess carb consumption leads to elevated blood glucose, elevated insulin levels, and all the negative things that can follow. This is also true for many people who struggle to manage their weight, with insulin playing a central role in this (as Matt discussed in last week’s blog). As with the rest of the year, the key to achieving your health goals around Christmas may therefore be managing how much carbohydrate you eat! There are a number of ways you can do this without having to miss out:

* Make some swaps: When it comes to treats, there are some excellent alternatives to the standard sugary snacks! Some suggestions: Chocolate is everywhere at Christmas. Although milk chocolate is high in sugar, dark chocolate (70% cocoa or above) has a much lower carb content. Nuts are a festive favourite, and a handful of nuts is an excellent low carb option in place of that bag of sweets. When you’re having that cheese board, swap the crackers from some pickles. Low carb doesn’t have to mean low enjoyment.

* Adapt your recipes: With the growing popularity of low/lower carb diets there are also an increasing number of ingredients readily available and recipes doing the rounds that you can use to make some changes to the classics. The list at the bottom includes recipes for low/lower carb mince pies, Christmas puddings and more that you may be interested in experimenting with. If you do, let us know how you get on!

* “Save” your carbs: The general advice we give on X-PERT programmes is that the primary concern with carbs should be the amount we have. If you don’t exceed the amount you are tolerant to, i.e. the point at which any extra causes big rises in your blood glucose and/or weight/gain, then you should still be able to meet your health goals. With this in mind, if there is something specific you just can’t do without (perhaps you want to prioritise the potatoes) then why not cut down on the carbs through the rest of the day in order to include it?

* Have smaller portions: A simple one, which needs no real explanation. You could have one less roast potato or mince pie and/or a smaller ball of stuffing for example. This way you don’t have to go without anything, but can limit the impact on your blood glucose!

* Accept it: The simplest solution of all. I wouldn’t recommend choosing this option all of the time, but there is no reason an informed choice can’t be made to include those additional carbs and accept the subsequent raise in blood glucose. As long as you’re not going totally crazy and putting yourself in any short-term danger a one-off “blip” won’t have a huge impact on your long-term health and doesn’t need to be seen as a failure. You can go back to whichever dietary approach you’re following guilt-free after, so the option of having your Christmas dinner with all the trimmings doesn’t need to be taken off the table.

What about drink?  

Yes, I am talking alcohol. As well as an excess of food, the drinks tend to flow at this time of year. Although, as always, it is important to consume alcohol in moderation this doesn’t mean you have to go without entirely!

One of the issues with alcoholic beverages is that many come packaged with a lot of carbohydrates. As with food choices, there are some options that are better than others on this front! Although lagers, bitters, ciders and stouts tend to include quite a lot of carbohydrate (ranging from around 10g in a Fosters or Boddingtons to around 20g in a Guinness or Strongbow) there are not many carbs in most spirits. Whisky, Brandy, Gin and Vodka have next to none! When it comes to a mixer, if you don’t like your drink neat or on-the-rocks, opt for a slim line tonic with your gin or a sugar-free lemonade or coke to help keep the carb intake down.

There are some lower carb options when it comes to wine too. Although a sweet white wine can have over 10g of carbs in a small glass (125 ml), a medium white wine may only have 3g or a dry white wine 1g. Red wine also only has 1g of carbs in a small glass.

So if carb content is your concern then why not opt for a short, or a glass of wine, over a pint?

There are other important impacts of alcohol; beside the possible carb content, sore head, and poor life choices. The effect on the liver is one of the major concerns, with the conversion of alcohol to fat potentially leading to fatty liver amongst other issues. Excess intake is also associated with pancreatitis, erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, depression, nerve damage, some cancers and obesity. So even if you opt for low/no carb options, that doesn’t give you free reign to knock the booze back!

All in all limiting the amount is never a bad strategy for overall health. Ways to do this might include:

* Having smaller servings,

* Opting for a shandy/spritzer (with sugar-free lemonade!),

* Alternating alcoholic drinks with soft drinks/water,

* Making sure you pour your own (where possible)!

Taking into account these things, and your own tolerance to the effects of alcohol, there is no reason most people can’t enjoy a few guilt free drinks at their Christmas party!

So what’s the bottom line?

Unfortunately you can’t take a holiday from your health, but there is no reason to hide yourself away over the Christmas period. Although some of the options above might take a little bit of forward planning there is no reason you can’t enjoy the festive season fully! Ultimately you know your health better than anyone else, so are best placed to make the choices which are going to strike the best balance between letting you enjoy yourself whilst limiting any ill effects on your health. Hopefully some of the hints above can help you on this front.

There are three types of crackers you might come across at Christmas*. The type you pull, the type you might want to pull, and the type you put your cheese on. When it comes to managing your blood glucose levels and/or weight there’s only one that I would suggest avoiding**, ***!

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM EVERYONE AT X-PERT HEALTH!

* Ignoring crazy relatives and fireworks, though I appreciate for some there’s a real chance of one/both of those things figuring over the festive period.

** The avoidance, or not, of “the type [of cracker] you might want to pull” depends on the context. I’m certainly not advocating any form of adultery, deception or otherwise morally dubious flirtation.

*** Just eat the cheese on its own, or perhaps with some pickles as suggested before.

As with all our blogs and other work we’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback, so feel free to comment below, drop me an e-mail at sean.wheatley@xperthealth.org.uk or tweet us/me at @XPERTHealth or @SWheatley88.

Some Low/Lower Carb Christmas Recipes:

The diabetes.co.uk Christmas cookbook, though it’s not just for people with diabetes (you will need to put in some details if you aren’t already registered, but it is worth it!).

Some more low-carb options: http://www.ditchthecarbs.com/2014/11/28/healthy-christmas-recipes/

Xmas pudding: http://thelowcarbdiabetic.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/the-best-low-carb-christmas-pudding.html

Mince pies: http://www.ditchthecarbs.com/2015/12/01/low-carb-christmas-mince-pies/

 

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