The holidays are a wonderful time for fellowship with family and friends and bonding over delicious meals. Although this time spent bonding is actually good for one's health, many of the tasty treats can wreak havoc on those with diabetes.
Sara Hunt, MSN, RN, PHN, FNP-C, is a licensed and board-certified family nurse practitioner, a public health nurse, an adjunct assistant professor of health policy, and a doctor of nursing practice student at the University of California, San Francisco. She was the spring 2015 health policy fellow at the American Association of Nurse Practitioners’ Government Affairs Office in Washington, DC.
The holidays are a wonderful time for fellowship with family and friends and bonding over delicious meals.
Although this time spent bonding is actually good for one’s health, many of the tasty treats can wreak havoc on those with diabetes.
Sometimes, people feel like throwing in the towel when it comes to a healthy diet during the holidays and then backtrack on their diabetic control. But people with diabetes can still enjoy the holidays and tasty meals without letting their sugar get completely out of control. This is especially important for people who have uncontrolled diabetes.
The latest nutrition recommendations, as of October 2019, for people with diabetes recommend that their diets should be individualized and take into consideration their cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, motivation, and socioeconomic factors.1
Here is a general list of ways to help keep blood sugar under control during the holidays. As always, follow patients with diabetes should follow the recommendations of their health care providers.
Watch the Alcohol
Alcohol can lead to high and low swings in blood sugar. Those who drink should do so in moderation. Safer alcoholic bets for those with diabetes include champagne; light beers; liquor with seltzer, a sugar-free drink, or water; plain liquor; sugar-free mixers; and wine.2
Carb management varies from person to person and depends on co-occurring health conditions, health status, and medications. For example, low-carb diets are not recommended for lactating or pregnant patients, people at risk for eating disorders, or those with kidney disease.1In general, however, people with type 2 diabetes should monitor carbs.
Other tips include:
Eat Smaller Portions
Americans generally eat too much. There are federal portion-size standards, which many people exceed. Portion sizes in the United States began to increase in the 1970s and got dramatically larger in the 1980s, which could be contributing to the US obesity epidemic.3
Here is what should be on a typical plate, according to ChooseMyPlate.gov:
Examples of recommended serving sizes include:
Eat High-Volume, Low-Calorie Food
Those who eat higher-volume foods that are low in calories can feel full and not deprived. This is typically done by eating foods that are high in fiber and/or water, such as fruits, high-fiber whole grains, and vegetables. High-fiber foods also expand in the stomach, and drinking water with meals can boost the effect. When the contents of the stomach begin to put pressure on the wall of the stomach, it stimulates nerves to signal to the brain that one is full.
Fiber, Water, and Slower Eating
Not only does fiber help people feel fuller for longer, it also can defend against obesity, help blood sugar levels and prevent colon cancer and heart disease.1Drinking water makes one feel full, which helps with weight loss. Eating more slowly can allow the brain time to process satiety signals. It can take up to 20 minutes for the brain to realize the stomach is full. So, slow down. This also helps prevent indigestion.
Get Up and Play
Bodies need to move. Physical activity can dramatically increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, protect tissues from oxidative stress, and reduce the risk of colon cancer, coronary heart disease, and inflammation.4
Do Not Forget Medication
Although this might sound obvious, forgetting to take a dose or running out of medication can pose real problems for patients with diabetes. They should make sure to call for a refill before running out of medication. Traveling can make refills difficult, as there are rules about prescribing out of state, and if a primary-care provider cannot refill a medication, the patient is at the mercy of any urgent-care or walk-in clinic capable of refilling it.
See a Nutritional Expert
Finally, those with diabetes should see a nutritional expert. Diabetic care is best managed by a team that includes a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist or a referral to a diabetes self-management education program that includes instruction on nutrition therapy.1