Healthy Holidays

Diabetes-Friendly Holidays

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By Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN

Even if you’ve been good all year long, the holiday season can wreak havoc on your healthful habits. With nearly six weeks of family feasts, cocktails and sweets — not to mention pressure to overindulge from well-meaning loved ones — it almost seems okay to be naughty instead of nice.

While food takes center stage at nearly every holiday celebration, the after-effects can be catastrophic, especially if you have diabetes. Fried appetizers, rich sides and sweet desserts can send blood sugar levels soaring. Add alcohol to the mix and your blood sugar levels may suffer a double hit.

The good news: Eating nice doesn’t require nibbling on celery sticks and sipping diet soda. But it does require a game plan — one that enables you to dodge dietary minefields while still making room for your holiday favorites.

Here’s how to make merry without the accompanying blood sugar hike:

  1. Plan ahead. Plot out your day around the feast and time your meals accordingly. Then come up with strategies to avoid dietary pitfalls. Maybe you’ll sip on sparkling water instead of a cocktail, eat a satisfying snack before the feast so you don’t arrive famished, or come up with a canned response for hosts who insist you have seconds.
  2. Don’t deprive yourself. Make room in your calorie and carbohydrate budget by allowing yourself mini portions of the holiday foods you love most, while bypassing ones you can get year-round (goodbye, cheese and crackers). You’ll get to feast on your seasonal favorites without the accompanying heartburn or blood sugar spike.
  3. Pay attention to portions. Traditional holiday fare is laden with calories, fat and sugar, so if you really want a slice of pumpkin pie or a touch of eggnog, keep an eye on serving sizes. Ensure portion control by helping yourself to only half of what you might normally consume.
  4. Get physical. The best way to compensate for eating too much is to move more. Make exercise part of your holiday festivities. Play a game of flag football before dinner, go for a nature hike or shoot hoops in the backyard. Not only will you burn calories, you’ll also promote familial bonding.
  5. Survey the buffet. Rather than working your way aimlessly down the buffet line, scope out what’s available and strategize, making sure to include low-cal options like fruits and veggies. Load your plate with those low-cal favorites and opt for miniaturized portions of carb-laden fare. Once you’ve filled your plate, turn your back to the buffet — and nix the idea of seconds.
  6. Beware of cocktail calories. Beverages can have just as many carbs as food, so take time to decide how you want to consume your calories. Drinking water helps you feel full and avoid mistaking hunger for thirst. Opting for booze? Keep it to one serving for women and two for men, avoid high-calorie mixers, and sip it with food.
  7. Lighten up. If you’re the one doing the cooking, cut down on calories and carbohydrates (without sacrificing taste) by substituting chicken broth for butter and nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream (or go half and half). Amp up flavor by using herbs and spices. You can even lower the sugar in desserts by using cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg more liberally. Dining at a friend’s? Bring a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate side dish. That’s your guarantee of one safe thing to eat.

Check out these Heart Smart recipes:

For more advice on healthy eating all year long, visit our EatWell section.