With an earring in his left lobe and a relaxed posture, Michael Van Hoek gives off the aura of “the good life.” A paramedic by vocation and a father of three, he also places a high value on the lives of others.
However, in 1996 — a week after the birth of his youngest son — he was diagnosed with type II diabetes.
“Prior to my diagnosis I just ate whatever I wanted to eat,” Van Hoek said. “I never thought anything of it, but now I have to monitor everything I take in.”
With Halloween right around the corner, it is a troubling time for diabetics like Van Hoek who want to protect themselves and their children from the allure of 87-cent bargain bags of candy that could lead them astray from a healthy lifestyle.
“The holiday season is rough for diabetics,” Van Hoek said. “From now until January you’ve got Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. For months, everywhere you go there’s a bowl of candy — at the doctor’s, at work, at school — you just can’t get away from the temptation.”
For diabetics and anyone concerned about their sugar intake, USF Senior Dietician Kim May said that candy is fine as long as it is eaten in moderation.
“For diabetics, a piece of candy won’t be too terrible, but it’s advised that you stick to sugar-free candies or other alternatives like fruit cups, dried fruit or trail mix,” May said. “Diabetics can have candy, it’s just a very small amount. Usually 30 grams of sugar a day on average, but there are different diets for different folks.”
As for non-diabetics, May said she recommends going to the official Web site of the food pyramid, mypyramid.gov. Near the top right corner, visitors can click on “My Pyramid Plan” to see how many calories should be taken in daily from each area of the food pyramid.
“You can go there and input your age, sex, weight and amount of physical activity you do in a day, and all the information you’ll need is provided,” May said. “If you’re concerned with keeping your kids healthy, too, just stay within reason as you would for yourself. Allowing a child to choose a small amount of candy — about two to three pieces a day — is acceptable.”
This holiday season, spooks and ghouls aside, May cautioned students not to forget a few basic truths about dieting.
“We’re told the same stuff over and over again, but that’s because it’s been tested countless times,” May said. “And these are always the key ways to avoid health issues like diabetes: Maintain or lose weight, get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day and eat a balanced diet. It’s simple, but it works.”
November, which is American Diabetes Month, is a little more than a week away. Van Hoek said he hopes that the more people think about diabetes, the more discerning they will be when it comes to eating patterns.
“When I was diagnosed it increased the awareness of everyone in my family,” he said. “Once everyone saw what happened to me, we all began to watch what we do. I still have a piece of candy every now and then, but my wife and kids help keep me on track.”
To maintain a healthy lifestyle this holiday season and learn more about American Diabetes Month, visit diabetes.org/adm.