Every culture has its big celebratory holidays. For Hindus one of these is Diwali, the “Festival of Lights.” Starting on November 4 and continuing until the 9, the five-day holiday signifies the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness. Originating in India, the holiday was connected to the return of Lord Rama from exile, 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 Om Ganda, M.D, Senior Physician, and Lipid Specialist in the adult clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, acknowledges can be challenging for people with diabetes.

“During the holiday’s people tend to eat richer foods,” notes Dr. Ganda “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 persons with diabetes 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 for our efforts to eat healthy, and, Diwali in particular tends to include a lot of sugar-laden and calorie-dense foods.

Dr. Ganda recognizes that “It’s unrealistic to expect people to avoid the rich traditional foods altogether, but recommends that PWD choose smaller servings at each event which can make a healthy difference.

“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 have half the amount of sugar or fat. These small changes really do add up,” he 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 you manage your glucose levels and burn off some calories.

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.

Celebratory Meal

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

Spinach Pakoras
2 pieces Calories 100, Carb 9 grams

Dhokla, a traditional Gujarati snack
1 piece Calories 138, Carb 19 grams

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

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

Potato Curry with Yogurt Gravy
1 cup Calories 240, Carb 31 grams

2 ounces Calories 190, Carb 30 grams

Rasmalai, a Bengali dessert consists of soft paneer balls immersed in chilled creamy milk
one ball with liquid Calories 160, Carbs 27grams

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

If you consume just one of each of the food servings above you can see the calorie and carbohydrate content of this meal is quite extravagant and because many of these dishes are fried and the fat content likely more than you would usually eat.
*For example, Dr. Ganda strongly recommends, trying to replace Naan with whole wheat, high fiber bread.

It is helpful to come prepared with an idea of how much carbs you want to eat. Be realistic and expect to eat a bit more than you usually do.

Jo-Anne Rizzotto, MEd, RDN, CDCES
Director, Educational Services  

"For example, if you usually eat 60 grams of carb at a meal, perhaps you will aim for 75 grams,” said Jo-Anne Rizzotto, MEd, RDN, CDCES. After all, it is important to celebrate this special holiday and enjoy yourself without going overboard. If you set your carb target too low, you may end up feeling deprived, too high and it may be a challenge to manage your glucose.

“Once you have decided on a carb goal, decide if you are going to adjust your medication to cover your meal (if you can) or you may choose to increase your activity to help manage your glucose. Since Diwali lasts for five days, it is important to pace yourself. As the days go on, balance out eating the rich holiday foods with a bit of healthy low calorie, low fat, and lower carb foods items to manage your hunger before you celebrate so that the rich, savory offerings. Take time to enjoy 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”.

The temptation to eat less healthy during the holidays will always be there, but there are many ways for people with diabetes to enjoy the holidays while managing their diabetes.

Although this content is reviewed by Joslin Diabetes Center healthcare professionals, it is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.