Have a Healthy Diwali

Diwali or Deepavali is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in the autumn. Diwali is known as the festival of lights and it is one of the major festivals of Hinduism. On Diwali, people go for prayers, decorate their houses, light all the diyas (lamps and candles) in their houses and have dinner with their families.

With Diwali approaching we thought we would talk to some dietitians to find out how you can have a healthy Diwali.

I had a chance to speak to endocrinologist, Dr. Tharsan Sivakumar, and registered dietitian Anar Allidina.

“Persons of South Asian descent face a significantly increased risk of developing cardiometabolic disorders including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and diabetes related-kidney damage,” said Dr. Sivakumar.

“In particular, South Asians tend to consume carbohydrate rich meals which are often low in protein content, this is especially true of South Asian vegetarians,” said Dr. Sivakumar.  “High carbohydrate, low protein meals cause a sudden increase in blood sugar (glucose) levels worsening diabetes sugar control and promoting the development of diabetes-related complications in the eyes, nerves and kidneys.”

“South Asians with type 2 diabetes can still enjoy traditional holiday foods by making healthy choices and minding their portions,” said Allidina.

“South Asian food can be carb heavy and high in fat: think rice, naans and samosa. However, there are traditional dishes that are healthy such as vegetables and lentil based dishes. Diwali usually is celebrated over 5 days so when you are meal planning make sure you include more vegetable and lentil dishes than meat dishes,” said Allidina.

“It is important to focus on balanced meals, especially during the Diwali holiday season where there is often extra consumption of both meal portion size and frequency, as well as sugar-laden delicacies as appetizers or desserts at social gatherings,” said Dr. Sivakumar.


As per Dr. Sivakumar here are some tips that can be employed to help ensure that you maintain good nutrition while enjoying the Diwali celebration:

1)  Ensure that there is an adequate balance between the three main macronutrients: fats, carbohydrates, and protein. The CDA (Canadian Diabetes Association) recommends that the daily intake of energy should be derived approximately 45% from carbohydrates, 20-35% from fats and 15-20% from protein.

2) Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, milk, egg and cheese.  For vegetarians, good sources of protein include, tofu, chickpeas, soybeans, nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, pistachios) and lentils.  And whenever possible, consume carbohydrates that are whole grain or multi grain (e.g. whole grain chapatis).

3) Practice portion control with Indian sweets. Healthier snack options include: masala peanuts, fruit salad, dhokla, idlis. Avoid as much as possible sodas, fruit juices and artificial juices, as well as cream milk based coffees. Recognize that it’s okay to say no to second servings.  South Asian culture often dictates that hosts wish to serve us multiple times, but it is okay to politely turn down that extra serving.

4)  Increasing exercise level can help balance the increased caloric intake that often occurs during the holidays.

5)  Several studies have shown that South-Asians with Type 2 Diabetes have a higher incidence and faster progression of renal (kidney) disease compared to those of European descent.  If you have kidney disease, certain diabetes medications may need be changed or the dose adjusted.  This may be especially important around the holidays because of changes in fluid and salt consumption.  Be sure to discuss with your healthcare provider.


Registered dietitian Anar Allidina also has a few tips for this festive holiday.

1) For those with diabetes you want to make sure that half your plate is filled with veggies, ¼ of you plate a protein such as chicken, tofu, fish, lentil or meat and ¼ of your plate with a carbohydrate such as rice or roti.

2) You really want to stay away from deep fried foods as much as possible. Fried foods usually contain carbohydrates, such as samosa, jelabi and gulab jamun, and because fat slows digestion you may see a higher glucose level a few hours later. The combination of high fat and high carbohydrate can lead to high blood sugars. 

3) You also want to ensure that you minimize your intake of simple carbohydrates this include foods that are made with white flour, white rice, corn and potatoes and opt for complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest and don’t spike your blood sugars. For example swap in roti in place of the naan and white rice and don’t take the potatoes when you are serving yourself curry.

4) You also really want to pay attention to your beverage choice – avoid mixed cocktails and choose sparkling water instead and try to take your tea sugarless.

5) Using smaller plates is an excellent strategy to help control portions. A smaller plate means less food intake.  Studies show that eating from smaller plates decrease the amount of food people eat without having an effect to fullness or satisfaction.

6) Another important point to keep in mind when preparing menu items is to watch the amount of salt you use to cook with. With kidney disease, less sodium is filtered out of our body and can make our blood pressure go very high. Thankfully, South Asian foods includes using  aromatics like garlic, lemon and ginger as well as  fresh herbs and a variety of spices like cumin, cilantro, turmeric and chilies to boost the flavour – so when you cut back on the salt it won’t be missed!

7) Before going to a gathering make sure you eat something so you are not starving when you get to your event. Have  a snack that contains protein and complex carb, examples include an apple and pear with a handful of almonds or some plan Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese or a whole grain cracker with some avocado slices.  The combination of protein and carb will keep you full and satisfied so you don’t arrive to the party hungry and are able to make mindful choices when it comes to your meal.

8) Allow yourself a piece of dessert or a serving of something you really enjoy. If you deprive yourself you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, allow yourself some room so you can share and enjoy the celebration. You can always share dessert with a family member.

9) If you cook for Diwali, try making more baked foods rather than deep frying foods. You can also cut down on some of the ingredients. Reducing sugar by ¼ or substituting low-fat milk or yogurt for whole milk and cream will also make a difference. It will still taste good and it will have half the amount of sugar or fat. These small changes will really help. 

10) During this time be more diligent with checking your blood sugars, if you typically check once a day try testing 2x a day to see if you are meeting your targets.

Diwali involves lots of dancing! So use this as an opportunity to get moving. Exercise is very beneficial to those who have diabetes, because as we move our cells pick up the extra sugar that is in our blood. Enjoy in the festivities and celebrate by dancing. You may also want to consider increasing your exercise during Diwali as a way to manage your blood sugars. Increase your walk by 10 minutes or do your best to walk as much as you can as you prepare for the festivities – parking far, taking the stair, as well as helping the host of the party with set up and clean up.

By following these tips, one can ensure a festive celebration of Diwali while maintaining good nutrition and controlling diabetes.


Here are a couple great recipes from Anar Allidina:

Delicious cauliflower curry – low in carbohydrate and high in vitamins and fiber. Cauliflower is also low in potassium, a mineral that needs to be limited if you have chronic kidney disease as many people with type 2 diabetes do –  See link https://www.instagram.com/p/yODnZYwtx4/

Here is a great recipe for cumin and garlic infused quinoa, it’s full of fiber and protein which is ideal to prevent blood sugar spikes. https://www.instagram.com/p/zQ7QTSQtw3/