The holidays are a time of celebration, family and a lot of sweet, salty and fatty foods. And although they have dietary restrictions, diabetes patients can still safely enjoy holiday food — with a few simple substitutions and some smaller portions.
Having diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean you must forgo the traditional foods of the holidays, but it does mean you need to make an extra effort to plan your meals carefully.
If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make insulin or you can’t use it properly. Insulin is the hormone that regulates your blood sugar. Chronically high blood sugar can cause heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. MedlinePlus notes that, when you have diabetes, you should take the following steps to manage the condition:
- Limit high-sugar foods
- Eat smaller portions over the course of the day
- Control your carbohydrate intake
- Eat a variety of healthy foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables every day
- Eat less fat
- Limit alcohol
- Use less salt
The same guidelines apply to holiday meal planning, whether you’re planning for your own meals or hosting a party.
Substitutes and Smaller Portions
Many people see the holidays as a time to pull out all the stops. Eggnog, pumpkin or pecan pie, appetizers loaded with cheese or sour cream and rich meats are just some of the foods that may grace a holiday table. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says diabetes patients have two main options when it comes to meal planning during the holidays: substitute foods or take smaller portions.
Substituting foods may mean swapping out a turkey basted with butter for one that has been soaked in a salt brine to make it juicier. Or, as the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends, substitute low-fat sour cream or yogurt in a dip for full-fat sour cream.
Dr. Barry Sears, creator of the Zone diet and a specialist in type 2 diabetes, weight loss and obesity, had several recommendations for people with diabetes during the holiday season.
"Eat only the non-starchy vegetables with low-fat protein to maintain stable blood sugar levels," he told dailyRx News. "Alternatively, only eat the nuts as they have a good balance of protein to carbohydrate to stabilize blood sugar, and the monounsaturated fats will improve satiety."
You can also modify recipes. Instead of pumpkin pie, for instance, bake the pumpkin filling in a pie dish and eat the sliced pumpkin custard with a smidgen of whipped cream. Replace the traditional green bean casserole with steamed beans and use a flavored vinegar or herbs to spark up the taste. Use yogurt to replace the mayonnaise on your steamed broccoli.
Holidays are often carb-heavy. The ADA suggests limiting yourself to the carb intake you would normally have with your meal. For instance, the table may have mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls and sweet potatoes — not to mention two or more desserts. If you try to eat standard-sized servings of everything, odds are you’ll be way over your recommended carbohydrate intake.
Instead, decide on your favorites first. If you love mashed potatoes and rolls, make a choice between the two. If the choice is too much for you, take a half serving of each.
Alcohol and Dessert
Alcohol can be a problem in more than one way. First, the ADA notes that your drink — particularly if it's a mixed drink — could be high in sugar. Second, alcohol can decrease your inhibitions and make you more susceptible to overeating.
Limit your alcohol — the ADA recommends no more than one drink for women and two for men per day — then stick with sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet drinks. The CDC says you should drink alcohol only with your meal.
"Try not to drink any alcohol as the body treats it as a super-sugar," Dr. Sears said. "If you do have a drink, make sure you have a protein chaser with it in order to better balance the resulting blood sugar levels. An example would be a glass of wine and a piece of cheese."
Dessert can be the downfall of many people with diabetes, especially when it’s something you rarely see on the table any other time of year, like pumpkin pie. Fresh fruit is the ideal choice, but it may be in short supply on a holiday table. In that case, use the same strategies you followed during the meal — substitute or eat less.
If you’re the one making the fruit pies, try using less sugar, the ADA recommends. Also, many pies can be made without a bottom crust. At a party where you have no control over what’s served, take half a standard serving.
If the dessert is on a buffet, serve yourself and move into another room to decrease temptation, the CDC suggests.