Six Healthy Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day With Diabetes

The saying goes that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Traditionally observed as a religious holiday (and still is observed as such for many), St. “Paddy’s” day is also viewed as a celebration, with plenty of corned beef and Irish soda bread to go around. If you’ll be celebrating this ancient feast day on March 17, here are six tips to stay healthy while having fun.

1. Be prepared

Marching in a parade, going to church, enjoying a few drinks, or sitting down to a hearty meal (or all of the above), can throw a curve ball into your routine.

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Plan ahead by thinking about how you’ll be spending the day and where you’ll be. This may mean packing some snacks and treatment for low blood sugars. Wherever you’re headed, don’t forget your meter and your diabetes meds. It’s also a good idea to check check your blood sugar more than you usually do.

2. Dress for the occasion

Go ahead and wear green, but don’t forget to dress for the weather if you’ll be outdoors. Since spring has yet to arrive in some parts of the country, chances are that it may be a wee bit chilly. Wearing layers is a smart bet, along with a hat and gloves. If you’ll be outdoors, wear sturdy walking shoes or boots with a cushioned sole and ideally, laces or Velcro straps that you can adjust. Skip the heels, the loafers, the flip-flops, and the open-toe shoes in order to protect your feet against blisters and other injuries that can quickly snowball into a more serious problem, especially if you have neuropathy or poor circulation. Wearing the right socks can also keep your feet healthy. Choose socks that wick away moisture, that are free of seams, and that are fitted so that they don’t slide down and bunch up. If you’ll be on your feet for a long period of time, wear socks that are padded for extra cushioning. You can even go “high tech” and get socks made with silver or copper threads that kill bacteria and fungi, preventing infections.

3. Balance out your carbs

If you’ll be munching on corned beef and cabbage (or any special meal, for that matter) on St. Patrick’s Day, your inclination may be to skip a meal earlier in the day, or cut your carbs and splurge later on. However, short-changing yourself on carbs can put you at risk for low blood sugar. On the other hand, saving up those carbs for a large meal later on can lead to high blood sugars. The best course of action is to stick with your daily eating schedule as much as possible. For example, eat your usual breakfast and lunch, and then enjoy a festive dinner without going overboard. If your meal will be later than usual, fit in a snack that contains both carbohydrate and protein to keep your blood sugar and your energy level up. Good choices include plain Greek yogurt mixed with berries or granola, whole-grain crackers and nut butter, or an apple and string cheese. Or grab an energy bar that contains carbohydrate, protein, and fat to fuel you and help keep your blood sugar levels steady.

4. Watch those portions

Eating healthfully isn’t only about watching your carb intake — calories count, too. That corned beef and cabbage meal can contain (conservatively) about 500 calories — and that’s if you’re sticking with just 4 ounces of corned beef, a small potato, and a small portion of carrots and cabbage. Add in a slice of Irish soda bread and a couple of bottles of Guinness and you’ve increased those calories to closer to 1,000. Not a big fan of corned beef and cabbage? Maybe a mint green sugar bomb is more your thing. A large McDonald’s Shamrock Shake (yep, it’s baaaack!) will set you back 800 calories, 131 grams of carb, and 113 grams of sugar — and that’s no blarney! Granted, St. Patrick’s Day comes just once a year, but the same can be said for any holiday. Enjoy your favorite foods, but don’t forgo good nutrition. Fill up on vegetables, limit the bread, go easy on the alcohol, and if you’re craving something green, whip up a smoothie using unsweetened almond milk, a scoop of whey protein, some avocado, and fresh spinach. For added fiber, mix in a tablespoon of ground flax seed. Blend and enjoy.

5. Imbibe with caution

Alcohol, tends to flow freely on March 17. Whether it’s green beer, Irish whiskey, or Irish coffee, the best advice is to be smart. Alcohol and diabetes don’t always mix well, especially if you take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills that put you at risk for low blood sugars. Better choices include light beer; red or white wine; or distilled spirits mixed with club soda, diet soda, or diet tonic water. Other advice for staying safe: Always eat something when drinking alcohol, pace yourself — alternate your booze with non-alcoholic drinks — and be extra diligent about checking your blood sugar. Low blood sugar can occur long after the celebrating is over, so, as unappealing as this may be, it’s not a bad idea to set your alarm for 2 or 3 a.m. to do a blood sugar check.

6. Drink more — water, that is

Walking the parade route, eating salty foods, drinking alcohol, and dealing with higher than desired blood sugars can leave you a bit dehydrated when the festivities come to an end. Take breaks and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Better yet, keep a bottle of water with you to remind yourself to drink.

A happy, healthy, and safe St. Patrick’s Day to you. And as this Irish blessing goes:

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.

Want to try some healthy, festive recipes for St. Patrick’s Day? Whip up our Stovetop Shepherd’s Pie, Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Cabbage Patch Stew, or Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding.