Healthy Holiday Tips for Diabetics

Kamal Bhusal, MD

The holiday season is here, and one thing many people are looking forward to is the food! You might be planning to get as stuffed as the turkey, but for those with diabetes, approaching holiday meals can be a little more intimidating.

Here are a few tips for managing diabetes during the holidays:

  • For those who need to keep their keep blood sugar levels steady, keep an eye on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates (“carbs” for short) are one of the main nutrients found in food and drinks, and they include sugars and starches. If you have type 2 diabetes and take oral medicine, avoid eating too many carbs in each meal. If you have type 1 diabetes and take insulin with meals based on the carb count, adjust the insulin based on the carbohydrates you are planning to eat.
  • Reach for low-carb foods that are non-starchy, such as vegetables, including asparagus, broccoli, celery, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas, carrots and mustard green.
  • You can also eat protein-rich food, such as chicken, eggs and other meats – meaning the holiday turkey is still up for grabs but note that the white meat is healthier than the dark meat because it contains less fat and fewer calories. Remember to bake meats, not to fry, as most breading on fried food is high in carbohydrates. If you are going to fry, use an air fryer, which offers a low-carbohydrate alternative to heavy, fried breading. Protein-rich plant food like peanuts, beans, lentils and chickpeas are also stronger food choices than starches and grains like rice, spaghetti, sweet potatoes and potatoes.
  • Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are better selections than milk and ice cream. Whole wheat bread is a healthier alternative to white bread because of the white flour and added sugar contained in white bread; however, whole-grain breads with high-fiber ingredients, such as oats and bran, are usually the best option for people with diabetes. If you do eat bread and have diabetes, consider choosing breads that have the lowest amount of sugar, don’t have added sugar and are high in fiber.
  • Be careful when it comes to fruit and how it is prepared, as most fruits contain sugar. When it comes to dessert, focus on options that are healthier and lower in carbs. Most dessert are rich in carbs, so it’s best to limit the amount to less than 1 tablespoonful at most.
  • Stick to water and avoid drinks with high sugar, such as regular sodas and iced tea. Limit yourself to one to two artificially sweetened drinks daily.
  • Children with diabetes are different from adults but should still play it safe with their holiday meal plan. Children need to grow, so it’s not necessary to restrict carbohydrate intake, however they should adjust their insulin dose based on how much they are going to eat.
  • Lastly, don’t wait until the New Year to start healthier habits. Find an exercise that you enjoy and do it at least 30 to 50 minutes, three to five times a week. Quitting bad habits such as smoking and drinking is highly encouraged as well for those with diabetes. Alcohol is high in calories and most drinks can be high in sugar too, which can cause negative side effects relating to blood sugar levels.

November is American Diabetes Month. This month is an important time to help spread awareness about diabetes and the impact it has on millions of people. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 30.3 million people have diabetes – that’s 9.4 percent of the U.S. population. Roughly 7.2 million of people with diabetes are undiagnosed, meaning they don’t even know that they have it.

Stay supportive of your friends and family who have diabetes this holiday season and keep their health in mind when planning the dinner menu. The holidays can still be a time of celebration and fellowship without food being the focus of the day.

To learn more about American Diabetes Month, visit The American Diabetes Association offers many helpful tips for those with and without diabetes, and has recipes and meal planning suggestions, including plans for special holiday meals.