The 7 Secrets of Holiday Dining with Diabetes

Categories: Diabetes Education,Diabetes Nutrition

If you have diabetes, the holidays can feel like daunting. Candy canes at cash registers, pies in the office kitchen, wine and spirits added to just about everything.

A lot of my patients tell me that they enter the holiday season feeling defeated. They just assume they are going to go backwards 10 steps, and then, not surprisingly, they do.

For some people, indulging during the holidays affects their waistline. For people with diabetes, it can affect their long-term health. At the most extreme, irregular eating can cause diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin.

So, this holiday season, instead of resigning yourself to diabetic defeat, look for ways to enjoy the holidays without sacrificing your health.

  1. Stay on schedule. To maintain your blood sugar, it’s important to eat meals and snacks at roughly the same time every day. Some people skip breakfast the morning of a big holiday feast, but it’s far healthier to eat regular, measured meals throughout the day. If you are traveling or don’t have much say over the schedule, keep some high-protein, low-carb snacks with you to keep your blood sugar under control.

  2. Go green. At a holiday dinner, fill up two-thirds of your plate with low-carb veggies, salad and low-fat proteins. This will help you avoid creams, gravies, butter and starches that can wreak havoc on your blood sugar. If the party is a potluck, bring the good food with you! has some great recipes (for example, cauliflower mash is a tasty alternative to standard, starchy mashed potatoes).

  3. Pick one “treat.” If it’s not the holidays without grandma’s pumpkin pie, take a small slice, but skip the mashed potatoes, rolls and other desserts.

  4. Stay hydrated and stick to water. Fruit juices and punch are filled with sugar, and alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, because it blocks the production of glucose in the liver. This drop can occur shortly after drinking and for up to 24 hours later. So, if you’re going to drink, check your blood glucose before and after drinking and before you go to bed that night. (It is also best to choose wine over mixed drinks, which have higher carb and sugar content.)

  5. Carry a glucagon emergency pen and choose a partner. Educate someone who will be in the room with you to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia and teach them what to do in case you need help.

  6. Exercise. You might be traveling, you might be sticking to a hectic holiday schedule, but odds are you can squeeze in a 10-minute walk per day. Keep your body moving, and you’ll go a long way toward staying healthy and fit during the holidays.

  7. Remember why you’re there. Even though food is a big part of the holidays, the season is really about family. Make new traditions that suit your needs. Maybe instead of (or in addition to) the embarrassment of desserts at Christmas, you an institute a holiday football game, or family dance party.

If you have diabetes, there is no need to spend December feeling defeated. The holidays are meant to be joyous for everyone – and with some planning, exercise and mindful eating, they can be.

American Diabetes Association:

Asha Robertson, MD is an endocrinologist with Hoag Medical Group in Irvine.