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Diabetics can survive, enjoy holiday season

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

ALBANY, Ga. -- Sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie.

These are among the sights people are used to seeing this time of year. However, for roughly 24 million Americans, these items tend to present a problem.

This is the number of people in the United States who have diabetes, a condition impacting the body's ability to process sugar. While some of the traditional holiday feasts come with added temptations, there are ways diabetics can fit in at family gatherings.

"It's a holiday, not a holi-month or holi-year," said Julie Davis, a dietitian with the Palmyra Diabetes Treatment Center. "You can eat your favorite foods, but controlling portions is important.

"You can have high-carb or high-calorie foods, but only a few. Just as long as portion control is taken under consideration."

Look at ingredients and try to stick with foods low in fat and calories.

Green bean casserole, squash and zucchini medley, green salad, raw veggies, Brussels sprouts, peanuts and beverages with artificial sweeteners are among the recommended items. Turkey and ham don't usually present a problem because they are carbohydrate-free.

"Nibble on the veggie trays instead of going for high-sugary snacks," recommended Phoebe Diabetes Educator Phyllis Vititoe.

It may also be a good idea to munch on some of these foods before attending a holiday gathering so there is less of a tendency to overeat.

"There is food everywhere, but you need to make sure you follow the routine," said Vamella Lovett, adult health director at the Dougherty County Health Department. "You can enjoy some of the food there, but it's an exchange list. You have to plan ahead."

Lovett also recommends getting out the measuring cups to calculate servings, especially for those who have been recently diagnosed with diabetes.

"It's so important to get the right amount," she said. "You've got to eat enough of the food, but not too much."

If you're going to overeat, it's a good idea to also overexercise.

"Walk in the morning and walk later in the afternoon," Davis said.

Experts also advise keeping a closer eye on blood sugars, for reasons other than the fact that high carb intake is inevitable.

"The holidays are exciting but very stressful," said Vititoe during a recent lecture. "Having family in town, among other things, is a factor that contributes to stress -- and stress impacts blood sugars."

How often a blood sugar level is taken may vary. It is usually recommended that it be taken at least before breakfast and supper.

Some diabetics may need to take it before every meal and before bedtime, Lovett said.

For diabetics, a level between 60-140 is considered healthy. Once it creeps past 180, diabetics might start to see signs of hyperglycemia.

"You need to have a feel for when your sugar is high or low," Vititoe said.

In regards to exercise, Vititoe recommends wearing a pedometer to keep track of how much you are walking. The goal is 10,000 steps a day, which comes out to roughly 5 miles.

"You need to go at a steady pace, not stop and go," she said. "The FDA recommends 90 minutes of daily exercise. It's difficult, but that's what you need to do."

If it's planned right, exercise can be used as a "trade-off" for consuming more sugar than you usually would.

"You know you'll be eating extra sweets." Vititoe said. "Walk to work off those carbs. You may walk for a couple of miles in the

mall and not know it. It's just amazing how that happens."

A lot of times there is a tendency for people to take medications incorrectly or incompletely, which is why the professionals recommend diabetics stick to their routines during the holidays.

"It does make a difference," Vititoe said. "They have to be persistent. Don't let it (diabetes) take over your life. If you become consistent, it will become habit. There are just a few things you need to do."

During the holidays, there are also more opportunities to drink alcohol, which can actually lower a person's blood sugar. Vititoe advises diabetics not to have more than two drinks at a party.

"You also need to eat something while drinking because blood sugar can drop too low," she said.

Some of the common complications connected to diabetes include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease and nervous system damage. More than 60 percent of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes due to circulation problems.

"The tighter control you take, the better you are protecting your organs," Vititoe said. "Every minute of every hour of every day that your blood sugar is high, you are damaging something.

"It's a pain, but (keeping track) is an important task."

The 24 million children and adults who have diabetes in the U.S. make for 7.8 percent of the total population. According to the American Diabetes Association, there are 1.6 million new cases diagnosed annually in persons 20 years of age and older -- a demographic in which 10.7 percent of its members are diabetic.

In Dougherty County, approximately 14 percent of the population has diabetes, which many experts attribute to obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

"So many Type 2 diabetics are overweight," Lovett said. "We have teens here coming down with Type 2. We are in an area with a lot of obese people, and a large percentage of them will develop Type 2."

Data from the Online Analytical Statistical Information System indicate that there were 98 deaths in the local public health district in 2007 due to diabetes complications, making for 3.8 percent of the state's population. Of those 98, 30 were in Dougherty County.

Of the nation's diabetic population, 90 percent have Type 2 diabetes -- a condition in which the body is resistant to the effects of insulin. The other 10 percent have Type 1, which onsets as a result of the body's inability to produce insulin. By 2050, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is estimating that a third of the population will have diabetes.

On Friday, the Dougherty County Health Department will host a diabetic cooking class at 11 a.m. in its education center, which is being presented in coordination with the Dougherty County Extension Service. For more information, call (229) 430-6230.