Aunt Pat’s Pumpkin pie, Uncle Boudreaux’s bread pudding, mom’s mac and cheese, pop’s fried turkey and cousin Trey’s turduckin… so goes the foods of the holiday season, especially in south Louisiana.
As we gather together to celebrate the holidays, our grazing patterns may shift to more rich, high sugar, fatty fare. But for the millions of people in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes, overindulging during the holidays could yield major consequences.
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 29 million Americans - 9.3 percent of the U.S. population - have type 2 diabetes. For those of us living in the south where rich flavorful foods are the norm and in abundance during the holidays, making smart food choices may be a bit stressful during the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Lucky for us, we have Dr. Jackie Stephens, LSU professor of biological sciences and Claude P. Pennington Jr. Endowed Chair of biomedical research at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, to help us all, particularly those managing type 2 diabetes, navigate through the pitfalls of unhealthy holiday eating. Stephens has spent 25 years studying the link between type 2 diabetes and obesity. She recently identified a new player, the protein oncostatin, that could help us better understand how inflammation in fat tissue affects insulin resistance.
College of Science: In Baton Rouge, LA, and the surrounding parishes, the incidence of diabetes is 50 percent greater than the national average. Why are the cases of diabetes so prevalent in our neck of the woods?
Jackie Stephens: Well, we are one of the happiest states. Part of that happiness comes in the form of eating too much of all the good food that is available. Another contribution can be that working a lot reduces the amount of time to prepare yourself a good meal and so you opt for fast food or a similar quick option that is not healthy. Also, many folks simply don't do enough physical activity and exercise is very helpful in the control of blood glucose levels.
College of Science: I think it is safe to say that everyone knows someone with Type 2 diabetes and we are inundated with information about preventing diabetes and managing the disease, but we rarely here about how you get it in the first place. How does a person develop diabetes?
Jackie Stephens: Most people afflicted with diabetes have Type 2 Diabetes. This form of diabetes is the most prevalent type and is highly associated with obesity. Obesity is not as simple as most people think. Some people who are obese are healthy because their fat cells still function properly. However, other people who are obese have fat cells that don't function properly and that is a major cause of developing diabetes.
College of Science: The holidays are here and many of us are going from holiday party to holiday party with fabulous spreads. Should we all just run pass the banana pudding and sweet potato pie and make a bee-line for the veggie tray? How do diabetics and just about anyone wanting to eat healthier navigate the holiday season without overindulging?
Jackie Stephens: This piece of advice can be applied to lots of situations - everything in moderation. Try to pay a bit more attention to your caloric intake. Try the chocolate cake, but try not to eat the entire serving. And if you can, still find time to exercise.
College of Science: Are there any foods that we should just avoid at the holiday get together?
Jackie Stephens: I don't really tell people to avoid any food in particular. It is very important to consider the overall caloric intake and don’t forget the calories from alcoholic beverages as they add up pretty quick for some of us.
College of Science: What are some of the warning signs that your diabetes may be out of control?
Jackie Stephens: Increased thirst and urination, increased appetite and increased fatigue. Blurry vision is another warning sign and can be indicative of high blood glucose. Tingling and numbness in your hands and feet are also signs of uncontrolled diabetes.
If you are still planning your holiday meal or agonizing over what to bring for the New Year’s soiree, here are a few diabetic-friendly holiday meals that you may want to try.