If you have diabetes, managing your A1C levels is always top of mind. During the holiday season however, when cookies, cakes and indulgent dishes beckon at every turn, it can be even more of a challenge to stick to your meal plan and keep your blood sugar levels steady.
"It can be difficult to maintain a healthy meal plan when holiday get-togethers are often centered around foods we wouldn’t always consider eating," says Rachel Johnson, a registered dietitian for Abbott. "The good news is that although you should be mindful of what you eat, the right planning can help you make healthier choices while still enjoying this time with family and friends."
We’ve asked Rachel to share some simple planning strategies and easy nutrition swaps, so you can have your cake and eat it too.
1. Plan Ahead
Before you get to any event, have a plan in place for what you will eat. For example, if you know that there will only be hors d'oeuvres, plan to select those that are lower in calories and won’t spike your blood sugar, such as vegetables and lean proteins. Be cautious of dips or sauces that can add hidden calories, salt or sugar.
You can also plan ahead by looking at online restaurant menus to plan your meal ahead of time. If the event is at a house, ask the host what he or she is planning to serve, and offer to bring your own healthy dish that complements the meal.
2. Don’t Skip Meals
Skipping a meal can negatively impact your blood glucose level, especially if you take insulin, Johnson says.
When you do have a meal, aim to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, carrots, spinach), a fourth of your plate with lean protein (e.g. skinless chicken, fish), and the final fourth with grains (e.g., brown rice). Add a piece fruit and/or dairy to complete your meal.
3. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated and drinking water is important for our overall health and well-being, but new research shows it may also help with the calories we consume. Using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, researchers found that drinking more water is associated with eating fewer calories, as well as less sugar, salt and cholesterol.
While more controlled research on this topic should be done to confirm this finding, choosing water may be helpful to limit other sugar-sweetened drinks that may be tempting.
4. Be Smart About Carbs
Foods rich in carbohydrates can provide a lot of good nutrients for us. Yet compared with fats and protein, carbs have the biggest impact on blood sugar. This is why it’s important to choose your carbs wisely, and go with low glycemic foods – carbohydrates that are slowly digested and don’t impact your blood sugar levels.
In contrast, foods with a high glycemic index and glycemic load are digested rapidly and cause spikes in blood sugar. Limit refined and processed carbohydrates and choose fiber-rich whole foods such as apples, carrots, beans and cashews.
5. Pay Attention to Portions
It’s not just what you eat, it’s how much when looking to control your blood glucose. Some simple guidelines for estimated portions:
6. Lighten Up
Most traditional holiday recipes can be made healthier with simple substitutions. Instead of rice or mashed potatoes, substitute with cauliflower; use Greek yogurt instead of high-fat sour cream; replace sweet potato casserole with roasted or mashed sweet potatoes.
Visit the American Diabetes Association website at Diabetes.org or Glucerna.com for additional healthy recipe ideas.
7. Slow Down
Did you know that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to catch up with your stomach and let you know that you are “full”?
Research has shown that when meals are consumed slowly, people ate significantly fewer calories and consumed more water than those who ate fast. To help slow down your eating – try to chew slowly, place your utensil down or take a sip of water between bites.
8. You Can Have Dessert, but…
If dessert really matters to you, then plan ahead for it. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day, so you can enjoy a piece of pie. Remember to be mindful of portion sizes and skip the extra toppings.
Although many holiday traditions revolve around meal time, consider adding a more physical activity into your holiday traditions. Perhaps play a game of tag or hide and seek outside, or go on a family walk after your meal.
10. Get Back on Track
Lastly, if a food setback happens, don’t give up. "A lot of us can tend to overindulge despite our best efforts," Johnson says. "Instead of feeling guilt about it, acknowledge your feelings and focus on getting back on track at your next meal"
Also, try to recognize your triggers to prevent future setbacks. One of the major holiday culprits: stress. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of adults say they eat too much unhealthy because stress. Instead, try other activities to deal with stress such as taking a walk, meditation or talking to a friend.
Despite the stress and tempting goodies around every corner, it is possible to enjoy the holidays and manage A1C levels. Just make a plan… and then be merry.