Diabetes-Friendly Tips for Holiday Eating

by Michelle Cole, RD, LDN, CDE


TitleThe holidays are a time to enjoy friends, family and food. And although it seems inevitable, you can enjoy all three without high blood sugar and weight gain.

On average, Americans gain approximately two to three pounds in the holiday season. Since weight gain usually ties in closely with elevated blood glucose levels, physicians and diabetes educators caution their patients to avoid weight gain, especially during the holidays. While this weight gain isn’t dramatic, research shows we don’t lose it, and it tends to add up over the years. However, those pounds can be avoided through mindful eating in moderation and a few simple tips and tricks.

In preparation for a big holiday party or feast, do not skip meals throughout the day, as this may result in overeating.  One way to consume fewer calories throughout the day is to eat breakfast. Include lots of fiber in your diet by eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Most adults need on average 25-35 grams of fiber daily. High-fiber foods are filling and will satisfy hunger, but are lower in calories. Be sure to also drink plenty of water throughout the day.

If you have diabetes, you can always talk to a registered dietitian about which foods to include in your meal plan. Some foods raise blood sugar more than others, and no two meal plans are the same (much like no two people’s blood glucose levels are the same). An example of a food that would raise blood glucose levels is a potato in comparison to steamed broccoli, a food that would likely not raise blood glucose levels. Perhaps including more steamed broccoli than potatoes on your plate at mealtime would be a good plan for better glucose control.

Holiday meals tend to be large, buffet-style and include second and third helpings.  Eating large portions of foods that are perceived as healthy is a common mistake. It’s important to include nutrient-rich foods in your diet, but also remember that these foods have calories as well and should be eaten in moderation. Having a very small portion of many foods is a good strategy, rather than large portions of every food.  You may also be able to have a small piece of dessert as well.

A very useful strategy to prevent overeating is using a smaller plate, which allows you to put less food on your plate and encourages proper portion sizes. Also, start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. Eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall. Eat slowly and savor every bite, and before you go back for seconds wait   10 minutes to see if you really are still hungry.

A good rule of thumb is to use the “plate method” for meal planning. Make half your plate non-starchy vegetables (such as salads, broccoli and greens), a quarter of your plate grains (such as whole-grain rice, beans and quinoa), and a quarter of your plate lean meat. Serve with water or unsweet tea, a side of fruit, and a milk or yogurt.

Be sure to test your blood sugar before and two hours after the meal.  The American Diabetes Association recommends a blood glucose level of less than 180 two hours after the start of a meal.  Talk to your doctor if your blood sugar is higher than 180 regularly after meals and discuss ways to better control your glucose levels.

Finally, after dinner, get some physical activity. This is a great time to go for a walk and catch up with family members. Sitting down after a meal is not a good idea, as this can lead to elevated blood sugar levels. Be as active as possible and drink plenty of calorie-free liquids.


Michelle Cole is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with the FirstHealth Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center. FirstHealth’s Diabetes and Nutrition Education Center offers services in Moore, Montgomery, Hoke and Richmond counties. To schedule an appointment or to learn more about our services, call 800-364-0499.