Help At Your Fingertips

Managing diabetes during Chinese New Year

This festive season, you may feel obliged to eat more or savour different treats that are being offered up at meals and social gatherings.

This may not be ideal for those with diabetes as they may lose control of their usual dietary patterns, which would result in higher sugar levels.

Dr Ian Phoon, a family physician with SingHealth Polyclinics at Pasir Ris, noted that diabetes control among patients may worsen a little during the festive periods.

"This is worrying as the risk of complications will rise if the blood sugar level remains high for long periods of time," said the chairman of the cardiovascular disease workgroup committee at SingHealth Polyclinics.

But there is no need to halt the celebrations. Dr Phoon and Ms Peggy Tan, who is a dietitian at SingHealth Polyclinics, outline some handy tips for diabetics during Chinese New Year.

CHECK YOUR BLOOD SUGAR REGULARLY

  • DAILY GUIDE

  • Diabetics can follow this rough guide on how much common Chinese New Year treats to eat in a day. This should replace the usual snack in one's diet plan.

    • Two small cookies, such as love letters, kueh bangkit and cashew nut cookies - up to a maximum of four pieces. They should be the size of a $1 coin or smaller; and

    • One small cookie with filling, such as pineapple tarts, kok chai and kueh bolu. Do not eat more than two a day.

    OR

    • A thin slice of either nian gao or kueh lapis, with no other cookies. This is because these two pastries pack more calories and carbohydrates. A small 50g piece of kueh lapis has 237 calories.

    Source: Ms Peggy Tan, dietitian, SingHealth Polyclinics

One should do this, whether it is a festive period or not.

If the blood sugar level is high, step up your efforts to control your diet and stay physically active.

LET YOUR HOST KNOW ABOUT YOUR CONDITION

Having diabetes is nothing to be ashamed of. Tell your host, family or friends about it, so they will avoid tempting you with sweet pastries, desserts or extra helpings of food. That way, you will not appear rude for refusing food and drinks.

SPREAD OUT THE SNACKS

Diabetics should not eat the maximum amount of cookies and pastries in one sitting. Instead, spread them out throughout the day.

Similarly, have a few segments but not the entire mandarin orange at each visit. This can add up to one orange a day and is on top of the recommended daily fruit intake.

Doing this helps to guard against weight gain, which will affect the management of one's diabetes.

MAKE SMALL DECISIONS TO EAT HEALTHIER

Ask for sugar-free beverages such as water, Chinese tea and diet soda. Or, when indulging in yusheng, drizzle less of the seasoning, such as sweet sauce and oil.

Take the salad from the top of the dish to avoid bits drenched with sweet sauce, which tends to pool at the bottom of the dish.

TAKE MEDICATION WHEN YOU GO VISITING, AND DON'T SKIP MEALS

Most people with diabetes take oral tablets, usually with meals.

Yet, snacking is a norm during Chinese New Year - to the extent that one may skip meals altogether.

But it is unhealthy for diabetics to skip regular meals and substitute them with snacks, which tend to be higher in carbohydrates and sugar.

Have your main meals, take your medication with these meals as instructed by your doctor, and limit the snacking.

FIND TIME TO BE ACTIVE

Exercise raises metabolism and improves the body's response to insulin and uptake of blood sugar into muscles and organs. This helps keep blood sugar levels under control.

As you may be eating more during the festive period, working out helps to burn the extra calories too.

WATCH FOR DANGER SIGNS

If your blood sugar level is very high, especially if you are ill, you may experience symptoms like extreme thirst, passing a lot of urine, headaches and lethargy.

If this happens, seek immediate medical attention.

Occasionally, your blood sugar level may be too low, especially if there is a long gap between your meals. This causes symptoms such as cold sweats, tremors, light-headedness, drowsiness and confusion.

Check your glucose levels if you have a glucometer on hand.

If the reading is below 4 millimoles per litre, drink half a cup of fruit juice or soft drink, or three teaspoons of sugar, or three pieces of sweets, to quickly normalise the blood sugar level. 

If you do not feel better, make sure you seek immediate medical attention.

Poon Chian Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Managing diabetes during Chinese New Year'. Print Edition | Subscribe