With only three weeks to go until Christmas, Libby Dowling, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, writes about how those with diabetes can keep well over the festive period and the winter months.
People with diabetes should make it a priority to take up their offer of a free flu jab. Nearly a third of people under 65 with diabetes don’t get the flu vaccine, despite being almost six times more likely to die from flu than someone their age who does not have the condition. Uptake of the flu vaccine is particularly poor in children with diabetes.
Having flu can really upset diabetes control and cause blood glucose levels to fluctuate. This can leave people with diabetes open to many serious health problems, including complications of flu such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
If you have diabetes and haven’t already been invited for your free flu jab, contact your GP surgery to find out when they are holding clinics.
The festive glucose glitch
At some point during the festive period, you may find that you have higher blood glucose levels than normal due to being less active than usual, overindulging or changing your routine. While one or two high readings shouldn’t affect your long-term diabetes control, take care not to let your glucose stay high for long as you could start to feel unwell.
Get off the sofa!
Keeping physically active can help you to control blood glucose levels, blood pressure and blood fats and to manage weight. There are lots of easy and fun ways to fit in some physical activity. A brisk walk is a great way to stay active – and it still counts if it’s in a shopping centre, checking out the sales.
Also, jumping about with the children, dancing at a party, or skating at the local ice rink all help towards keeping healthy during a typically overindulgent period. You can also resolve to take steps to improve your lifestyle in the New Year.
Christmas and food
Eating at Christmas is part of the fun, and there’s no need to completely miss out on certain foods. But given that a healthy diet is important for people with diabetes, why not choose healthy versions of classic Christmas dishes to make sure you are still looking after yourself.
This might mean adapting recipes so that they are more balanced, lower in fat and include plenty of vegetables and fruit. If you are planning a party, it’s also a good idea to keep healthy snacks, such as vegetable crudités, olives or dried fruit around so that you’ve got an alternative to hand.
We don’t expect people not to enjoy a drink or two when everyone else is celebrating, but there are ways you can limit your intake. Alternating between alcoholic and soft drinks will help to reduce the amount of alcohol you consume and keep you hydrated at the same time. Fruit juices tend to be high in carbohydrate, so limit them and go for sugar-free or diet drinks instead and use these for mixers as well.
Try not to drink to excess however freely the drink is flowing. Diabetes UK recommends men should have a maximum of 3-4 units of alcohol and women a maximum of 2-3 units. If you take insulin or some types of tablets then be aware alcohol can lower blood glucose levels and therefore increase the risk of having a hypo, which is where your blood glucose level falls very low.
Finally, remember not to drink on an empty stomach, as this can send your blood glucose level low and so put you at risk of a hypo. If you’re having a drink then make sure you have something to eat with it, and have a starchy snack before bedtime such as toast, cereal or a sandwich.
For more information visit www.diabetes.org.uk
Libby Dowling has been a clinical advisor at Diabetes UK for 7 years. Her background is in nursing and she works across all aspects of diabetes care to provide the most up to date advice.