Diabetes and Holiday Foods: 8 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Holiday Balance

Last Editorial Review: 11/26/2013

Medically Reviewed by: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Holiday celebrations offer temptation for party-goers to abandon healthy nutrition habits, but calorie-laden festivities pose a special challenge to the more than 20 million Americans who have diabetes. "The key to successfully navigating the holiday season is to remember that even though you can take a holiday, your diabetes never does," says Philip Barnett, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Anna and Max Webb & Family Diabetes Outpatient Treatment Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, is a metabolic disorder that affects the way the body uses and stores glucose (sugar). During the holidays, people with diabetes should avoid an overabundance of sugary desserts and rich foods and follow a regular exercise routine, says Dr. Barnett, who leads the medical center's nationally-acclaimed diabetes outpatient program.

"People with diabetes can enjoy the wonderful foods of the holiday season--only in moderation. Regular exercise and sensible daily meal planning should be especially important during the next few weeks," Dr. Barnett says.

Dr. Barnett offers the following tips to help people with diabetes enjoy a healthful holiday season:

  1. Follow a regular exercise routine to help regulate metabolism. Don't have an hour to spare? Try 10- or 15- minute brisk walks at intervals throughout the day - they all add up. Remember, after a holiday meal, to wait 60 to 90 minutes before taking your walk.

  2. Eat something at home before you go to the event or party. When you're hungry, you tend to overeat and are likely to choose foods that are less healthy. Grab a piece of fruit on the way out to the party to tide you over.

  3. Enjoy those special holiday foods in moderation. Pass on the everyday foods like crackers and dip. Instead, take small portions of special holiday items. A small portion is less likely to upset blood sugar levels.

  4. At parties and other social events, gravitate toward the veggies and fresh fruit.

  5. Make water or diet sodas your beverages of choice. If you do choose to drink alcohol, be sure to have something to eat along with it.

  6. Remember to monitor your blood glucose level, and be sure you don't skip meals.

  7. Take extra care to be certain that your meals are nutritious, varied and balanced. If you do have a treat, make sure you substitute it for an equivalent item in your regular menu.

  8. Be positive. Remember that you control your diabetes; it doesn't control you.

According to Dr. Barnett, several hundred people in America develop diabetes every day, but an estimated one-third of those affected by the disease go undiagnosed for several years. Symptoms of diabetes include extreme thirst, frequent urination and blurry vision from time to time. Early symptoms of the disease include unexplained weight loss or weight gain, as well as fatigue.

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SOURCE: Provided with the kind permission of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California.