If the person you love loves chocolate, grabbing a gift for Valentine's Day is a breeze. But if the person you love has diabetes or prediabetes, you have to think outside the heart-shaped box, says Debora Nagata, R.N., diabetes educator at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.
All holidays can be gift-challenging events when buying for people with dietary restrictions. But Valentine's Day is in a not-so-sweet league of its own for those who love a diabetic. The American Diabetic Association estimates that more than 29 million Americans have diabetes and 86 million have prediabetes.
Nagata recommends creating your own Valentine's traditions that preserve the romance of the holiday without compromising your loved one's health. And because Valentine's Day falls on a Sunday this year, your celebration can include together-time activities.
These will obviously vary from one person to another, but here are some suggestions:
1. Skip the box of chocolates altogether and instead share one really delicious cookie. Keep in mind that "sugar free" does not mean "carb free," and carbs raise blood sugar levels. "Don't buy the whole package of cookies," Nagata advises. "Just buy one."
2. Instead of a fancy restaurant dinner, plan a special outing that includes a hike, bike ride or invigorating walk with your sweetheart. This can be especially worthwhile if you take insulin because being active for at least 30 minutes a day helps insulin work better. "Take your Valentine to a museum, a public garden, on a trail hike or to the beach," says Nagata. "You'll both enjoy the together time and benefit from the exercise." Some of her favorite places are Santa Monica Beach, Palisades Park, the Will Rogers State Park, Leo Carillo Beach (it's amazing at low tide, she says) and the Huntington Gardens and Museum.
3. As part of your special outing, consider packing a picnic basket. Specialty low-fat cheese, olives, fresh veggies with a raita Indian yogurt dip, nuts, hummus, antipasto salad, sliced apple, smoked salmon or low-sodium, low-fat sliced turkey and a special bottle of sparkling water are all great in a picnic basket, says Nagata. "You could even include a small glass of red wine," she adds. "Be sure to have food with your wine," she cautions, "as alcohol can initially increase your blood sugar, but then it can cause a drop, or hypoglycemia."
4. Sugar-free chocolates or dark chocolates might be an option -- in moderation. Depending on the severity of your Valentine's diabetes, buy a piece or two of handmade candy. "Everyone needs an occasional treat or they feel deprived," she says, "but think quality, not quantity."
5. Raw, unsalted nuts can also make a nice gift. They have no sugar and lots of fiber, but it's important to remember that a ¼ cup typically has about 240 calories, so don't go overboard.
6. Exotic fruits and savory gift baskets can make a nice impression. Nagata offers caution here. Check the carbohydrate content -- often called CHO -- because some fruits are very high in carbs, which translate into sugar. Choose those with a lower CHO and a higher fiber content. Meat and cheese baskets can also be great, but again, choose low-fat, low-sodium items.
7. Go crazy with the roses. Valentine's Day wouldn't be Valentine's Day without roses, and it's one tradition that isn't limited at all by diabetes. "Jewelry's always great, too," adds Nagata with a chuckle.
Materials provided by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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