October 28, 2016

Celebratory holidays and festivals are an important part of every culture.  For Hindus, Diwali, a festival of lights, is one of the most auspicious festivals. Coinciding with Diwali, Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandi Chhor Divas or a day of liberation. Like many other celebrations with nations all over the world, a large part of Diwali celebrations revolve around food. Diwali in particular tends to include a lot of sugar laden and calorie dense foods. A popular highlight of this festival are the sweets involved. Sweet treats known as mithai are traditionally given as gifts to friends and family during this holiday. For people affected by diabetes, the celebratory food, especially the sweets can be a challenge for blood sugar control and for managing weight. With more than five days of continuous Diwali festivities, and some of the pre and post-Diwali celebration banquets lasting well over a month, it can be difficult to stay focused on your diet. It can start with a little bite and before you know it, you may have eaten a day’s worth of extra calories-—making it a challenge to get back on track after the holiday. It’s unrealistic to expect people to avoid the rich traditional foods altogether, but following a few tips may help keep you from overdoing it:

  • Avoid eating less during the day before going to a party; because you will tend to eat more when you arrive hungry at the festivities.
  • Follow your regular healthy meal plan throughout the day and a healthy snack prior to the festivities, this way you will be less likely to overindulge.
  • Practice portion control. Taking smaller portions of sweet foods will allow you to get a good taste of Diwali without losing control of your blood sugar levels.
  • Cut portions of sweet foods into halves or quarters, so you can enjoy more variety of sweets.
  • If cooking for Diwali, try more baking and less frying. Substituting low-fat milk for whole milk or reducing the sugar by half or using a sweetener will also make a huge difference.
  • Have an idea of the number of carbohydrates you want to eat at a meal. Realistically, you will most likely eat a bit more than you usually do. Setting the number too low may leave you feeling deprived.
  • If you take insulin with your meals and normally adjust the amount to cover any extra carbohydrates you might eat, keep in mind that extra insulin will help take care of the extra carbs, but not the extra calories and hence can lead to weight gain.
  • Test your blood sugar levels at regular intervals, so you know how your food decisions are affecting you.
  • Don’t skip physical activity. Aim for about 30 minutes of walking or other aerobic type exercise each day during Diwali festivities. Balance the extra calories taken in with more calories burned off.
  • Take part in dance exercise with your family and friends to celebrate Diwali. This is a great way to bond with your near and dear ones and burn off some calories consumed. 
  • Choose water or unsweetened teas as your beverage of choice. The extra calories and sugar from sweetened beverages like pop, juices, or alcoholic drinks can take you off track.

For friends and family, whether they are affected by diabetes or not, a little less traditional and healthier gifts can be exchanged instead of traditional sweets, while staying within the same budget. A gift that is delicious and healthy can be the best gift of all – and may encourage a new trend of healthier Diwali gift-giving. Fill gift baskets with:

  • Dried fruit and nuts. Some dried fruit such as figs, cranberries, apricot, peaches and prunes have a low or medium glycemic index, which will have a smaller effect on blood sugar than other traditional sweet gifts. Nuts are also a great source of fibre, protein and healthy fats.
  • A variety of flavourful teas. Look for traditional flavours and some new or different ones. Unsweetened flavoured tea is a great alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Scented candles or home fragrance such as incense sticks. This gift will be enjoyed long after the holiday is over.
  • Fresh fruit. Share fruits with a low glycemic index such as apples, oranges and pomegranates.
  • A selection of dried herbs and spices. These will last for months and will add intense flavour to food, making it easier to cut back on salt used in cooking.
  • A spa session. This gift could help your friend or family member relax after eventful Diwali preparations and parties.
  • Exercise equipment. For example, stretch bands, or a membership to an activity place (e.g. gym or athletic/sports club).

There is no doubt that food is a significant aspect of this celebratory festival. People affected by diabetes can and should enjoy the time with family and friends without feeling guilty, deprived, or having to spend weeks making up for the overindulgences. During this time, planning ahead and trying a new spin on traditional approaches, can help minimize the sweets and maximize the “sweetness” of the festival season.