Celebrating the Jewish Holidays With Diabetes
The Jewish High Holy Days, with their ten-day period of prayer, self-examination, and repentance, are fast approaching. Though deeply religious in nature, these holidays often also include family celebrations centered around traditional foods, which may add both fun and – sometimes – tension, especially if you are living with diabetes. So I’ve gathered some of my favorite High Holy Days coping strategies to help you appreciate the joys of the season.
Make a Plan
In my experience, the holidays are happy times, but they may also be hectic, and can include preparing big dinners, spending time with distant relatives, even taking time off work. All of these changes to your normal routine may be stressful. For some people living with diabetes, excess stress may cause the release of hormones that may increase blood glucose. And for many people (me included), extra tension and busyness may lead to poor food choices, a break in exercise, and too little sleep. Help yourself by making a plan ahead of time. Make a list of your obligations, extra chores, and the steps to complete them. Then decide what you can ignore or delegate. Can someone else set the dining table, shop for groceries, or pick up flowers? These are the chores I pass on to others because I’m not willing to let someone else do the cooking, but I’m not willing – or able – to do every single task by myself. Once you’ve pared down your list, schedule exercise for the upcoming days, and reaffirm your commitment to healthy eating and adequate slumber. Hard, I know, but oh so important.
To Fast or Not to Fast?
In my experience, making a decision about fasting is important for many people who are living with diabetes. Jewish law does not obligate you to fast if it puts your health at risk, but many people living with diabetes wish to do so anyway. If you choose to fast, do so only in consultation with your healthcare team; and if you do fast you may need to check your blood sugar more frequently. Because High Holy Day services are often very long, you may need to test your blood glucose during the service, whether you fast or not. Many people use their meters discreetly without having to leave, while others prefer to excuse themselves to go to the restroom. You should do whatever feels comfortable, but do make sure to have your meter, glucose tablets, necessary medications, and supplies with you.
Can you actually enjoy the sweet Charoset and that raisin challah from dad’s favorite bakery, even if you’re living with diabetes? The good news is that most people may be able to enjoy these holiday favorites if they’re careful about how much they eat and the other foods they eat them with. The key, I believe, is to replace other carbohydrate-rich foods in your meal plan to make room for special holiday treats. Before the start of the High Holy Days, decide which of the traditional foods are really important to you. If your aunt prepares her delicious noodle kugel just once each year, you might want to plan right now to include some. However, if bagels are always within reach, you might want skip those when the family gathers to break the fast. Matzoh balls and gefilte fish are typically fairly low in carbohydrates, while noodle kugel, potato kugel, and honey cake are on the higher end.
If you’re hosting a gathering or preparing food to share at someone else’s house, you can tweak your recipes to make them diabetes-friendlier. No one could guess that my noodle kugel is lower in sugar and made with fat-free milk, sour cream, and cottage cheese. A few of my most useful holiday cooking tips:
● Trim sugar and honey by one-quarter to one-half.
● Switch to reduced-fat and non-fat dairy products.
● Bake a honey cake or other dessert with white whole-wheat flour.
● Add extra vegetables wherever you can. They especially fit well in couscous, tsimmes, rice dishes, and stuffing.
You can find more information and holiday recipes on the Jewish Diabetes Association website.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week,contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience