World diabetes day and the festival of lights happen to fall on the same day this year, after a gap of 20 years. Health experts have called for the celebration of a ‘Blue Diwali’, to symbolize the effort required to fight diabetes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the health ministry, over 70% of the COVID-19 deaths have been found to have co-morbidities, diabetes being one of the most common conditions observed.
This year’s World Diabetes Day also focuses on the critical role nurses play in helping diabetic patients navigate their journey – from diagnosis to clinical assistance, often extending to coaching and emotional support as well.
Can people with diabetes indulge during the festival?
Diwali is celebrated across the country and is referred to as the 'festival of lights'. Equally, food is also an important aspect of the festival and in particular, sweets are the highlight. While too many sugary and refined sweets are not healthy for anyone, they are especially unhealthy for people which blood sugar challenges. People with diabetes can certainly celebrate like everyone else, and also indulge to some extent if they have been managing their blood sugar well. The key will be to exercise restraint and control portions carefully, keeping a close watch on the overall calories and sugar intake.
Here are a few tips for diabetic patients to help them maintain their blood sugar this Diwali:
- Keep portion sizes in check - Though tempting, people with diabetes should limit the portion size of sweets and savouries, and consider eating in smaller plates. This will not cause a significant spike in blood glucose after a little indulgence.
- Opt for natural sweeteners – Prepare homemade sweets with natural sweeteners like dates, raisins, figs and other dried/fresh fruits. There are also options to shop for sugar-free sweets, which are essentially made with sugar substitutes.
- Combine sweets with other healthy foods – Sweets tend to be refined and sugary, with a high glycemic index. Combining sweets with a high-fibre healthy food will lower the aggregate glycemic index, preventing high spikes in blood sugar.
- Look for healthy fats – Most sweets contain saturated fats which are unhealthy. Cook or buy sweets with healthy fats like yoghurt, nuts, unsaturated oils. etc, as they slow down the digestive process and prevent a quick rise in blood sugar.
- Keep away from excessive alcohol – Alcohol, in small quantities, can be a part of the celebrations. Diabetic patients should keep in mind that alcohol interferes with sugar levels and excessive consumption reduces the effectiveness of the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar.
- Keep away from stress - Household chores can make the celebrations stressful, but it is important to relax and enjoy the festival. Diabetic patients may consider yoga for relaxation, and it is also a step towards healthy living.
- Avoid eating food at irregular timings - During festivals, people tend to skip having food on time because of festive preparations. In diabetic patients, fasting for long durations can cause a drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and fatigue.
- Avoid feasting - Feasting and binge eating during celebrations can raise blood sugar levels rapidly. If you cannot avoid such an event, try to balance it out by healthy snacking in advance, which will reduce the temptation to binge eat.
- Stay hydrated - For diabetic patients, inadequate amounts of fluid in the body during fasting can lead to dehydration. They should always consume enough fluids to keep themselves hydrated.
- Monitor blood sugar regularly - The festive season may involve eating different foods that may affect blood sugar levels. Hence, it is necessary to measure blood sugar more frequently than on other days during this period. And don’t forget to keep a note of these.
- Take medication or insulin injections on time – During festivities, it is not uncommon to forget a medication here or an insulin dose there. One should keep reminders on their mobile phone or health apps so they never delay or skip these.
- Focus on being physically active - During the festive season, exercise routine usually takes a backseat. Diabetic patients should balance out the indulgence by being more physically active during this period – try sneaking in a swim, yoga or even a brisk walk before or after you’ve eaten.
- Avoid fried snacks - Fried snacks are high in saturated fats, and combining them with Diwali sweets would be akin to a double whammy. Try baked instead of fried foods, which come close in taste and texture.
- Choose the right carbs – People with diabetes should avoid the intake of refined carbohydrates and look out for healthy alternatives like fibre-rich whole foods and other low-glycemic index foods.
- Follow mindful eating - Enjoy a dessert with the company of your family and friends by mindfully eating each bite rather than eating large quantities, which will quickly add up the calories.
A diabetic diet does not mean that one should eliminate sugar or sweets completely. People with blood sugar problems can enjoy a small serving of their favourite dessert as an occasional treat.
Diwali is a joyous occasion and largely incomplete without great food and sweets. It should be no different for people with diabetes, especially if they can make small tweaks to their diet, and find a few smart and healthier alternatives. All the tips discussed above will go a long way in regulating diabetes better, without having to forego any of the festive fun.