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Diwali and Diabetes

Every culture has its big celebratory holidays.  For Hindus one of these is Diwali, the “Festival of Lights.” Starting on November 3 and continuing until the 7, the five-day holiday signifies the triumph of good over evil. Originating in India, the holiday was connected to the end of the harvest season when Indians would pray for a good new year. Families often take the holiday to clean out the home and welcome good into their lives.

Like many other celebrations all over the world, food plays a central role. Exchanging gifts, which include sweets and dried fruits, is an important aspect of the holiday. It is common for friends and families to eat big meals throughout the day and put the “diet” aside, indulging in a variety of high fat, fried foods.

Meals during Diwali are typically set up buffet style and guests are encouraged to eat additional portions during the holiday, which Greeshma Shetty, M.D, Senior Physician in the adult clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, says can be challenging for people with diabetes.

“During the holidays people tend to eat richer foods,” said Dr. Shetty. “Sometimes people try to eat less during the day prior to a party to reduce their calorie intake, but this can be a poor strategy because then they arrive at the festivities very hungry and tend to over-eat the rich festivity foods.  I recommend that patients try eating a consistent healthy meal plan throughout the day and even consider a small healthy low fat snack prior to the festivities, this way they can try small servings of the rich traditional food, but will be less likely to overindulge.”

Holidays in general can be difficult on our diet and, Diwali in particular tends to include a lot of sugar laden and calorie dense foods.

“It’s unrealistic to expect people to avoid the rich traditional foods altogether, but choosing smaller servings at each event will make a healthy difference,” recommended Dr. Shetty.

“If you cook for Diwali, try making more baked foods rather than deep frying foods. You can also cut down on some of the ingredients. Cutting the sugar in half or substituting low-fat milk for whole milk will also make a difference. It will still taste good and it will have half the amount of sugar or fat. These small changes really do add up,” she said. Another way to compensate for the unhealthy foods during Diwali, and any other holiday, is to exercise. One way to incorporate activity into your schedule is to exercise in the morning before you go out to celebrate, which will help keep your blood glucose levels in check, and burn off some calories before you take in some more.

Music and dance are huge during Diwali, and dancing is another way to incorporate more activity into your holiday celebrations, while still partaking in the holiday spirit. So when planning your gathering, make sure people have room to move around and dance off some calories.

To give you an idea, below is a representative of a typical celebratory meal.  The menu is from Manjula’s kitchen

Appetizers
Spinach Pakoras
2 pieces Calories 100 Carb 9 grams

Dhokla is a traditional Gujarati snack
1 piece Calories 138 Carb 19

Main Dishes
Bhindi (an spicy okra based vegetarian dish)
½ cup  Calories 150 Carbs 11

Urad Dal Puri –fried puffed bread with a mix of lentils and spices
1 puri  Calories 200 Carb 15

Potato Curry with Yogurt Gravy
1 cup   Calories 240 Carb 31

Naan
1 piece Calories 200 Carb 31 grams

Desserts
Rasmalai is a Bengali dessert consisting of soft paneer balls immersed in chilled creamy milk
one ball with liquid Calories 160 Carbs 27

Moong Dal Halwa It is a rich, creamy and pudding-like dessert
½ cup Calories 150  Carb 33

As you can see the calorie and carb count of this meal, if you consume just one of each of food servings, is quite extravagant, not to mention that because many of these dishes are fried the fat content is quite high.

“It is helpful to come prepared with the amount of carbs you want to eat at the meal. Be realistic and expect to eat a bit more than you usually do. For example, if you usually eat 60 grams of carb at meal, perhaps you will aim for 75 grams,” said Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., and Manager of Nutritional Service at Jolsin. “After all, the whole point of holidays is to enjoy yourself without going overboard.  If you set your carb allotment too low, you will end up feeling deprived, too high and it will be difficult to control your blood glucose.

“Once you have decided on a carb goal, decide if you are going to adjust your medication to cover it (if you can) and/or increase your physical activity to keep your blood glucose in control. Keep in mind that extra insulin will “cover” the carbs but only exercise will work off the extra calories.  Since Diwalli lasts for five days, it is very important to pace yourself. As the days go on, eat a bit of healthy low calorie, low fat, and low carb items to assuage your hunger before you celebrate so that the rich, savory offerings will not be as enticing.  Take your time enjoying each of the delicacies served and leave the table before you feel stuffed, that will allow you to be awake and alert to appreciate the non-food aspects of the holiday,” she said.

Temptation to eat poorly during the holidays will always be there, but there are many ways for people with diabetes to enjoy the holidays while safely managing their diabetes.

Page last updated: October 25, 2014