If you have diabetes, monitoring blood sugar 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 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 normally consume," says Owen Kelly, a diabetes nutrition expert at Abbott. "The good news is that although you should be mindful of what you eat, especially carbohydrates, the right strategy can help you make better choices while still enjoying this time with family and friends."
With these ten planning strategies and food swaps, you'll be able to enjoy the festivities and stay on track with your nutrition.
1. Plan Ahead
Before you get to any event, have a plan in place for what you'll eat. Looking at restaurant menus ahead of time is also a good way to help lower your calorie and sugar intake. And if the event is at a friend's house, ask the host what they're planning to serve. While you're at it, offer to bring a healthy dish that complements their meal.
For example, if you know that there will only be hors d'oeuvres, plan to select those that are lower in calories and minimize spiking your blood sugar. Welcome vegetables and lean proteins to your plate, and be cautious of dips or sauces, which can add hidden calories, salt or sugar.
2. Don't Skip Meals
Skipping breakfast can negatively impact your nutrient intake and blood glucose, and increase the risk for type 2 diabetes Kelly says. A new study by Abbott and The Ohio State University found that adults who skipped breakfast ate more snacks, increasing the intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugars. The study published in The Journal of Nutrition, also found that skipping breakfast negatively impacted the overall diet of adults, particularly those with diabetes. There is a reason mom always said breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
If you are too busy to sit down for a meal, consider preparing portable meals and snacks for these grab-and-go kinds of days!
If you're not sure where to start, our diabetes meal planning guide has you covered. With multiple healthy options for every meal of the day — and snack time, too — alongside nutrition tips and facts, keeping your blood sugar under control just got a little easier.
3. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated and drinking water is essential for our overall health and well-being, but research shows it may also help with weight and cholesterol management. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that drinking more water is associated with eating fewer calories, as well as less sugar and salt.
While more studies need to be done to confirm this, researchers believe that drinking more water may reduce the temptation to consume sugar-sweetened drinks.
4. Be Smart About Carbs
Foods rich in carbohydrates can provide a lot of good nutrients. But compared to fats and protein, carbs have the most significant impact on blood sugar. That's why it's important to choose your carbs wisely and opt for whole grains and low glycemic index foods — carbohydrates that have less of an impact on blood sugar levels — whenever possible.
Diabetes-specific meal or snack replacements, such as Glucerna®shakes and bars, are always a good option. Composed of blends of carbohydrates, designed to minimize blood sugar spikes, fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals, and with up to 250 calories per product, they're a smart, portion-controlled choice to keep in your arsenal.
Related: Better Choices Add Up! Check out the Interactive Snack Swap Calculator
In contrast, foods with a high glycemic index and glycemic load cause blood sugar to rapidly increase, which causes spikes in blood sugar. Aim to 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 of it, too. When looking to manage your blood glucose, here are some simple guidelines to keep in mind for healthy portions:
6. Lighten Up
Most traditional holiday recipes can be made healthier with simple substitutions. Instead of rice or mashed potatoes, swap in cauliflower. Use Greek yogurt instead of high-fat sour cream. And sweet potato casserole can be replaced with roasted sweet potatoes for a more diabetes-friendly offering.
For more than 800 additional healthy diabetes holiday recipes and swaps, visit the American Diabetes Association's content hub.
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're full? Eating slowly can help you recognize that you feel full before you overeat meaning you consume fewer calories. To help slow down your eating, chew slowly, place your utensil down or take a sip of water between bites.
8. You Can Have Dessert, but …
If dessert matters to you, plan for it. Eat fewer carbs beforehand so you can enjoy a piece of pie later. Remember, the pie will probably be high glycemic index carbs, so be mindful of portion size and consider skipping the sugary toppings.
9. Keep on Moving
Although most holiday gatherings revolve around sharing a meal, consider adding more physical activities to the festive agenda. A game of tag or hide and seek outside can be a fun tradition, as can going on a family walk after mealtime.
10. Don't Beat Yourself Up
If a food setback happens, don't give up. "A lot of us can overindulge, despite our best efforts," Kelly says. "Instead of feeling guilty about it, focus on getting back on track at your next meal."
Even when there are tempting goodies around every corner, it's still possible to stay healthy while monitoring blood sugar this holiday. And with diabetes holiday recipes in your back pocket, you can ensure there's always something you can eat guilt-free at the table. So plan, be mindful, and cut yourself some slack, so you can eat, drink and be merry with the best of them.
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