By Dr. Steve Cohen
The holidays will certainly be different this year. Due to the pandemic, many families will avoid big gatherings. But there is one tradition bound to continue regardless of the virus—indulging in large meals and holiday treats. It's been a stressful year. Many of us will seek comfort in food.
I encourage marking the end of 2020 in a healthier way. Let's embrace this year of change and change the way we eat.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in ensuring overall health and can be incorporated into your holiday traditions.
I get it. For most people, it's hard avoiding sweets and other holiday specialties. It's especially difficult to go cold turkey on Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and New Year's Eve. However, merely adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to meals in place of rich casseroles or heavy desserts is a small and easy step in the right direction.
Speaking of steps, going for a brisk walk before cozying up on the couch for games or movies is also something families can easily do to add a wellness boost to their holiday routines.
Minor, commonsense changes can make a big difference in preventing diseases like diabetes, one of the most common health problems Americans face today. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 34 million Americans have diabetes.
In a nutshell, diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body can't use glucose normally. Glucose, a type of sugar that you get from foods you eat, is the main energy source for our cells. The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which helps move glucose into cells. In type 2 diabetes, your body makes some insulin but can't use it properly. People with type 1 diabetes don't produce insulin.
Diabetes type 2 is the most common type of diabetes, and it is highly influenced by diet and lifestyle. It is usually seen in middle age but is affecting ever more teens and even children. Type 2 diabetes puts you at risk for stroke, heart disease, kidney dysfunction, limb amputation, vision loss and poor wound healing. People with diabetes have much higher rates of serious complications and death from COVID-19 than people without diabetes.
If your health care provider believes you are at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, there are things you can do right now to prevent it. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that losing just five to seven percent of your body weight can help. Incorporating moderate exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week can help, too.
It's also beneficial to avoid being sedentary and sitting for too long. And regular health check-ups are essential because many people with type 2 diabetes do not know they have it. There is no cure for it, but type 2 diabetes can sometimes be reversed if caught and addressed early.
I know this isn't a very "jolly" topic of conversation for the holiday season. But I, like many people, have taken stock of what matters most to me this year. For me, it's about health. And I cannot think of a better gift to give my loved ones, and myself, than taking care of my health.
Steve Cohen is a medical doctor, certified physician assistant and associate professor in the Masters in Physician Assistant Studies program at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. He is one of only 40 Nutrition Outreach Fellows of the Physician Assistant Foundation nationwide. Fellows are trained to provide information about maintaining good health through nutrition.