By Lynn Maarouf

Statistics tell us that the “average” American gains about seven pounds over the holidays. Texans, with access to tortilla chips and salsa, fried turkey, jalapeno cornbread and pecan pie might gain even more!

People who have diabetes, in addition to having to worry about weight gain, also have to think about blood sugars and how high they go after a meal with rolls, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes and a piece of lemon pie for dessert. Holidays can be a catastrophic time for blood sugars. During the holidays, people are under more pressure to eat high-fat, high-calorie foods they might not usually choose. In addition to this, we are all genetically coded to eat more when there is an abundance of food in front of us. This promoted survival in our ancestors, but in modern times, we need to modify this code and caution it to back off a bit.

The news media tells us daily that children are becoming dangerously obese. Our diabetes rates are skyrocketing, even in children as young as 5 and 6 years old. Maybe it is time to sit back and look at how we are feeding our family and friends during the holiday season. Let’s look at a few ideas to help everyone stay healthy and avoid crash dieting after the first of the year.

Whether you have diabetes or not the holidays are a good time to:

Get some exercise. The best time to exercise is before a big meal. It gets your metabolism revved and if you have diabetes, it may prevent a blood sugar rise after that meal. Remember, 30-60 minutes of walking can substantially reduce blood sugars. Make time to exercise it can reduce your risk of a heart attack by 50 percent. Think about getting some pedometers for stocking stuffers – 10,000 steps per day is the new rule for fitness!

Fiber is essential. Eat a high fiber cereal with at least eight grams of fiber in the morning. This will help you feel less hungry and decrease the temptation to over-eat. Women need about 25 grams of fiber per day while men need at least 30 grams. When you eat enough fiber, a huge appetite won’t be a big problem. Traditional country foods like beans and greens are also good sources of fiber. Use whole grain breads and rolls or whole-wheat tortillas when possible.

Drink lots of water. More water makes us feel less hungry so water is essential at times of the year when tempting food is everywhere. Flavored waters are tasty and calorie-free.

Plan healthier desserts. Pumpkin or sweet potato pie are sources of beta-carotene and fiber and are much lower in fat and sugar than cheesecakes and pecan pies (an about half the calories). Go to the Equal or Splenda Web sites for healthy dessert recipes. You can also substitute two percent or skim for whole milk in most recipes.

Share a meal. Restaurant meals contribute to the obesity epidemic. A single meal in a restaurant may contain at least 1,600 calories, or even as much as 2,200 calories, more than most of us should have for the whole day. Split a plate with a friend, take some food home, eat from the senior menu or choose low fat menu items.

Exercise daily. Exercise should become a part of your routine in 2007. Did you once swim, ride bike or ride horses? An extreme lack of exercise is one of the reasons why we Americans are becoming obese. Kids are gaining weight from not walking. Computer games and TV play a major role in childhood obesity and diabetes. Though kids love to drink sodas and juices, these drinks may be contributing thousands of extra calories to their diets. Get them to drink more water instead. Remember, 100 extra calories per day equals 36,500 extra calories per year. That’s the equivalent of about 10 pounds of extra weight.

Children learn by watching what you do. If you want them to be more active, you need to be active with them. Check out that bike you have been wanting then get bikes for the whole family. Plan a trip that involves hiking. Exercise is of major importance in weight loss and diabetes prevention for adults and children.

Make 2007 a healthier year. When doing holiday shopping, get a grilled chicken sandwich and skip the fries. Remember how much more fun life was when you felt good? Make a pledge to stay healthy and help your family stay healthy, too. If you need help planning a healthy lifestyle, check out this Web site: http://www.mypyramid.gov for tips on maintaining healthy bodies of all ages.

Lynn Maarouf, M.S., RD, LD, CDE, is a diabetes nutrition educator at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Stark Diabetes Center.
The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.