Managing Diabetes During the Holiday Season

4 min read  |  November 15, 2023  | 

With the holidays come a tempting array of delicious hor d’oeuvres and entrees. Add to that a cornucopia of side dishes lathered in butter or marshmallows, plus half a dozen different pies to choose from, as well as an assortment of cookies and candies. It’s a challenge to avoid over indulging, but if you have diabetes its important to try.

According to the CDC, approximately 11.6 percent of Americans have diabetes (type II accounts for 95 percent), and it’s a growing concern. That is more than 1 in 10 people.

Certain factors raise your risks for developing diabetes:

  • Being overweight
  • Having an inactive lifestyle
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Race – African Americans, Asian Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics are at an increased risk
  • Age – risks go up as we age, especially after age 45
  • Fat distribution – if your fat is mostly around the abdomen or belly, your risks are higher

Controlling blood sugar levels during the holidays

Eat carbs last. A new study suggests that eating carbs at the end of the meal can reduce blood sugar levels. When carbs were eaten at the beginning of the meal, the post-meal glucose level was almost twice as high and insulin levels were 25 percent lower.

Dr. Ernesto Bernal-Mizrachi, endocrinologist and diabetes expert at the University of Miami Health System, cautions that while the results are provocative this study is small, and more research needs to be done.  “Eating carbs last is fine, just don’t use it as an excuse for eating more carbs then you would normally,” he says. “The key is portion size.”

Natalie Sinel-Rojas, a UHealth dietitian and diabetes educator working at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center, adds that if you fill up with protein and veggies first, then that may lead to eating less carbs.

Plan for it. Ask yourself these questions before you go:

  • When will I be eating? Is this a different time than I normally eat? If so, you will probably need a snack. Bring one with you. Sinel-Rojas suggests instead of having a full plate, try a spoon of different things. “However, if you love your grandma’s famous stuffing that you only get once or twice a year, then you may want to choose that carb and forego the rest,” she says.
  • How important is dessert? Some people would rather spend their carbs at the savory buffet instead of the dessert table, but sweet treats sure are hard to resist. If you want to enjoy a piece of pecan pie or a chocolate chip cookie bar for desert, first decide which carbs you can avoid at dinner.

Test and Test Again. It can be hard to remember to check your levels during the holidays, but try to check it before you eat and two hours after or check your continuous glucose monitoring.  Also check it if you begin to feel dizzy, shaky or otherwise unwell.

Walk around the block. Just 10 minutes of walking after a meal can lower your blood sugar levels. “Exercise improves glucose levels dependent of insulin,” explains Dr. Bernal-Mizrachi. “It also prevents weight gain, which is directly related to diabetes and other health issues.”

According to Sinel-Rojas, exercising before you eat helps, too.

“When you exercise before eating, your body may not be as sensitive to the sugar or carbs that you ingest,” she explains. “This can help prevent blood sugar spikes after meals.”

Just breathe. Don’t forget that stress can contribute to higher blood sugar levels and make you hungry. Sometimes family get-togethers can cause anxiety for even the calmest among us; if this happens to you, deep breathing exercises can help calm you down. Or, take that walk – it will also help lower your stress.

Reviewed in November 2023 by Dr. Rodolfo Javier Galindo, an endocrinologist with the University of Miami Health System.

Originally published on: December 18, 2017

Tags: blood sugar, Diabetes, diet, Dr. Ernesto Bernal-Mizrachi, holidays, Lennar Foundation Medical Center, weight gain

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