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Appreciate holiday food displays, but do not get carried away with unhealthy options, including the beverage choices. (Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Mississippians cannot ignore diabetes concerns

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- ’Tis the season to forget troubles and be happy, but Mississippians top the list of groups who cannot ignore a life-threatening concern lurking around their tables and lifestyles.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity and ranks second in diabetes, and Mississippi State University Extension Service health specialist David Buys said the two go hand in hand.

“Diabetes is serious and incurable, but the good news is it is controllable and in some cases, preventable,” he said. “The holiday season tends to increase the challenges because we are constantly exposed to high-calorie and sweet foods. Additionally, the winter days can make it harder for people to exercise and maintain healthy lifestyles.”

Buys said the two most common forms of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. Additionally, some pregnant women experience gestational diabetes, which typically ends after the baby’s birth. Type 1 diabetes, which is not preventable, occurs when the body does not make insulin. Type 2 is the most common form and is connected to the obesity epidemic.

“Type 2 can be prevented or at least delayed if caught in time by a health professional and adjustments are made to diets and exercise practices,” he said. “In general, increasing physical exercise and adjusting diets to decrease sweets, increase fiber and promote overall weight loss are the recommendations.”

“People with diabetes should not allow holiday disruptions to impact their game plan for managing their blood sugar. Continue to monitor levels, take medications and don’t stray too far from existing routines,” he said.

Buys said people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, should also maintain healthy habits in spite of holiday travels, house guests, parties and other schedule changes.

“Find a way to exercise, even when traveling to visit friends and family,” Buys said. “Go for walks with loved ones, whether through neighborhoods or malls. There is no reason physical activities cannot be part of a good visit.”

Brent Fountain, associate professor of human nutrition with the MSU Extension Service, said the holiday season should not be a time to lower nutritional standards, either. He said cooks can demonstrate that taste does not have to be sacrificed in the name of nutrition.

“When preparing items for a party, substitute healthier ingredients in desserts and other foods that people traditionally enjoy during the holidays,” he said. “Most people will never taste the difference.”

Fountain said partygoers should plan food and beverage choices ahead of holiday gatherings. Know what kinds of trade-offs might be needed to enjoy some traditional seasonal treats.

“Avoid going to a party hungry, eat slowly and try to select healthier options around the food table,” Fountain said. “Many holiday beverages have more sugars and calories than people realize. Water is ideal because it meets thirst needs and adds no calories.”

Fountain said people with diabetes should be sure to monitor their blood sugar levels regularly and work to maintain their blood sugar levels within an acceptable range.

“Increasing fiber in the diet helps with prevention and with maintenance for those already diagnosed with diabetes by slowing the uptake of glucose,” he said. “Be sure to increase fiber slowly to avoid gastric discomfort.”

Fountain said very few people consume the recommended amount of 25 grams of fiber a day. As a rule of thumb, he suggested a 5-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to fiber.

“Look at the nutrition label. A good ratio would be when each serving has 20 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of dietary fiber; that’s 5-to-1,” he said. “Some of the worst items we consume could have a 10-to-1 ratio, so beware.”

Released: November 14, 2014
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