The holidays are full of tasty temptations that can derail healthy eating habits. And while the focus on food from Thanksgiving to New Year’s can be a test for anyone, it’s particularly problematic for people with diabetes.
Carbohydrate-heavy foods and sweets treats are everywhere, creating a minefield for people with blood-sugar issues. Throw in the hustle and bustle of the holidays — when people grab more food on the go and get lax with their exercise routines — and the holiday season can cause trouble for diabetics, local dietitians said.
But that doesn’t mean people with diabetes or prediabetes can’t still enjoy seasonal festivities, the dietitians said.
“I think you can still celebrate and enjoy some of the goodies and all of the cheer without overdoing the food part of it,” said Robin Hammon, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.
“But just like everything else with diabetes, you have to take a couple of steps ahead of time,” said Kelly Slater, a diabetes educator at The Vancouver Clinic.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease affecting how one’s body uses blood glucose, or blood sugar. When a person eats, his or her pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin helps sugar that is absorbed into the bloodstream during digestion to enter cells.
With Type 1 diabetes, the person’s body is incapable of producing insulin, leaving them to rely on insulin injections or an insulin pump to control blood-sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is the result of the body’s cells becoming insulin resistant, allowing sugar to remain in the bloodstream and blood-sugar levels to rise.
Prediabetes is a condition in which a person has a blood-sugar level higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes.
Here are some holiday tips, offered by Hammon and Slater, to help people with diabetes or prediabetes enjoy the holiday season:
Stick to your plan
As much as possible, try to stick to your regular diet and medication plans established by your doctor, Slater said. And be sure to continue your blood-sugar testing routine, Hammon said.
“That brings you back to reality,” she said. “That makes you more accountable.”
Also, Hammon said, be realistic. The holidays are not the time to try to lose weight. Just work to maintain your weight, she said.
Don’t skip meals
Many people will skip meals all day in anticipation of a big dinner. That, Hammon and Slater said, is a mistake.
“Then you’re going to overdo it because, by then, you’re starving,” Slater said.
Don’t go to parties hungry
“Don’t arrive at a party hungry, because there’s way too much temptation,” Hammon said.
Instead, have a low-carb snack before leaving the house to stave off hunger. Hammon recommends eating some nuts, cheese and fruit, hummus and a vegetable or some other combination of protein and healthy fats.
Try substitutions when cooking
Consider revising recipes by substituting “light” or fat-free ingredients for regular ingredients, Slater said. She also recommends steaming vegetables instead of sauteing them in butter, using spices instead of sugar in baking and swapping regular sugar with sugar substitutes, such as Splenda.
Make wise food choices
If you plan to eat dessert after dinner, consider cutting back on carbohydrates during the meal, Slater said. And if you want to try several high-carb dishes, such as potatoes and stuffing, take smaller portions. Think of your meal as an opportunity to sample dishes rather than take full-size portions, she said.
When snacking, avoid the chips, pretzels and crackers, Hammon said. Instead, she said, choose vegetables with a healthy dip, fruit, smoked salmon, shrimp or cheese, she said.
And be sure to avoid gravy and sauces.
Pay attention to your plate
One easy trick is to use a smaller plate for dinner. “Just grabbing a smaller plate, people reduce the amount they eat by 30 to 50 percent,” Hammon said.
At dinner, eat lower-carb foods — proteins, vegetables, cheeses and fruits — before digging into the potatoes, Hammon said. That way you can fill up on the healthier foods first, she said.
Slater also reminds people to follow the MyPlate method, which recommends that half of the plate consist of nonstarchy veggies. Only a quarter of the plate should be starches, such as rice and potatoes.
People should also try to eat foods in a variety of colors, Slater said. “If your plate is all white, it’s not good,” she said.
Savor your food
Take time to savor your meal by setting your fork down in between bites, Slater said. “Really enjoy the foods you may only get to have once a year,” she said.
And resist rushing back for seconds, Hammon said. “Wait a few minutes before going back to grab more food because that gives your stomach time to communicate to your brain, sending a signal of satiety,” she said.
Avoid alcohol & sweet beverages
Limit alcohol to one drink for women or two drinks for men, Slater said. And if you do enjoy an alcoholic beverage, eat something beforehand or drink it with dinner to prevent low blood-sugar levels, she said. When drinking alcohol, avoid high-calorie mixers, such as sodas and juices, Slater said. Also be sure to avoid nonalcoholic sweet beverages, such as fruit punches, sparkling apple juices, eggnog and hot chocolates, Hammon said. Instead, opt for sparkling water, club soda or infused beverages.
Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity each day. Being physically active not only burns calories, it lowers blood-sugar levels, Hammon said. Physical activity can also help to counter overeating at dinner, Slater said. “The post-meal spikes in blood-sugar can be really high,” she said. “Just a 10 to 15 minute walk can lower blood-sugar by 20 or 30 points.”
Get back on track
If you overdo it at the company party or Christmas dinner, don’t be too discouraged, Slater said. “One day’s not really going to break you,” she said. “Just know the next day you have to get back on track again.”