Operation Safe Holiday: Avoid unhealthy eating habits this season

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – No one likes to police their eating, especially during the holidays, but the way we eat can cause major health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75 million Americans have high blood pressure. 30 million have diabetes, and 23 million don’t know they are living with the disease.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic of them all – 610,000 Americans die from heart disease every year.

But there are ways to avoid the long-term implications of bad eating habits and still have a joyous holiday.

News 3 spoke with Mary Widener, who was a caterer for 25 years.

She loves whipping up her famous pumpkin bread – especially during the holiday season.

But this year, Widener says she won’t be eating a slice. Instead, she’ll be giving it away.

Widener was diagnosed with diabetes last month and on top of that, she has to manage her high blood pressure.

“It’s hard to cook it and not be able to taste it,” Widener says, “but yet at the same time, it’s not hard to cook and give away.”

She says she had to cut back on salt, meats, and high sodium snacks that she loves.

Widener’s case is fairly common, which is why St. Joseph’s/Candler offers diabetes management classes.

Dietitian and Education Specialist, Aggie Cowan, helps those with chronic health diseases like high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes.

“When you have those kinds of illnesses, some of which can be life-threatening, that and a few days of eating rich foods can get you into trouble,” Cowan explains.

Cowan stresses taking responsibility this holiday season to make sure the one life you have is as healthy as possible.

“Be in the moment. Enjoy what you’re having in front of you and savor it and the time that you are away hopefully it’s a happy time,” says Cowan. “But at the same time, recognize that it’s one meal, it’s one or 2 days, and enjoying it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the kind of thing that has a lot of negatives or put you in the hospital.”

Belinda Baptiste, owner of Unforgettable Bakery in Savannah knows just how tough it can be to watch your diet during the holidays.

She believes her food is good medicine for customers with health conditions.

“I cook with like fresh ingredients, and I cook with like honey instead of sugar,” Baptiste says. “I cook with a lot of fresh herbs, and I cook with like ginger, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric — things like that.”

She enjoys cooking up a holiday meal that people can feel good about eating – like her healthy collard greens and sweet potatoes.

But whether or not you’re preparing your own holiday meal, you can take a lesson from Widener, Cowan and Baptiste.

Don’t let those holiday foods impact your health.

For more information on St. Joseph’s Candler diabetes management classes, visit their website here or call 912-819-6146.

And check out a list of eight misconceptions about diabetes here.

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