For many people with diabetes Christmas can be a tough time of the year - how do you resist temptation when it’s lurking around every corner?
The good news is that, with a bit of planning, you can also have fun, while keeping your blood sugar levels under control and your waistline in check.
1) Eat moderately and watch your portion sizes
If you have diabetes, you don’t have to eat a different plate of food as the rest of your family. By making a few changes, opting for healthier foods and keeping the “naughty treats” at a minimum, you can also join in the fun.
“On Christmas morning it's important to not eat a huge breakfast or even your regular breakfast,” says Liesbet Delport, dietician and co-author of the Eating for Sustained Energy low-GI low-fat cookbook series.. “Rather eat just a bit of low-GI fruit salad (not more than a cup), together with two to three heaped tablespoons of low-fat yoghurt and maybe just a sprinkle of muesli, as the rest of the day a lot of food is probably going to be consumed.”
At teatime, you can have one piece of lower GI lower fat fruit cake, rather than a Christmas mince pie, which will probably be high fat and high GI.
“For lunch on Christmas day, try to eat a normal plate of food,” says Delport. “Your plate should look like this: 1/4 meat, 1/4 low-GI starch and 1/2 vegetables and/or salads.” If there's more than one type of meat and more than one type of starch, all the meat should still have to fit into 1/4 of your plate and so does the starch! Choose the lower GI options.
“Don't feel tempted to have another lunch-time helping,” Delport cautions, “if you're not hungry, just eat salad to ‘compensate’ for eating more than usual on this day. The Christmas day lunch foods are probably going to be on the menu for the next two to three days, so you won't miss out!”
“Try to postpone the dessert until coffee time or after your Christmas afternoon nap or, even better, after a brisk walk, as blood glucose levels soar higher when too much is eaten in one sitting.”
“Strawberries and low-fat ice cream are the best choice for dessert, but if you want to have Christmas pudding, rather have a piece of lower-GI lower-fat fruit cake again, with just a little bit of low-fat ice cream or low-fat low-GI custard,” says Delport.
Christmas supper should be very small, if you have anything at all.
2) Make wise food choices
Choose dishes with minimal sauces and dressings, Diabetes South Africa says. Cut back on salt, remove visible fat from food, including chicken skin, and give deep-fried foods and pastries a miss.
The traditional turkey that is served for Christmas is actually a good choice of white meat, as it is low in fat (if served without the skin and if it’s roasted, not fried) and high in protein. The real culprits are the rich kilojoule-laden gravy and stuffing that are usually served with the turkey - so, steer away from these.
3) Eat your veggies
Vegetables are an important source of nutrients for everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feature very high on the Christmas menu. Why not add some colour to the table with a choice of veggies? A fresh tossed salad or steamed non-starchy veggies are not only low in carbs and kilojoules, they will also help you fill you up and stop you from overeating on foods high in fat and kilojoules.
Says Delport: “See to it that there are enough salads and/or vegetables at lunch and if you get hungry, have a helping of salad so long instead of nibbling on nuts and chocolates that might be standing around. If you have to have some of these snacks, just have a few nuts and dried fruits and try to skip the chocolates.”
4) Think about the timing of your meal
Many families eat their big festive meals a bit later than usual. For example, your Christmas lunch could only be ready by the middle of the afternoon. It’s therefore good to have a healthy snack on standby, to ensure that your blood glucose levels don’t fall too low. “If you are visiting friends or family, don’t be shy to ask for a healthy snack, to keep your blood glucose levels steady,” Diabetes UK advises.
“If you take insulin injections or a pill that lowers blood glucose, you may need to have a snack at your normal meal time to prevent a low blood glucose reaction,” the American Diabetes Association says. “You can also delay your injection until you are about to eat, however, if you are uncertain about adjusting the timing of your injections, first talk to your diabetes health care team for advice.”
5) Drink in moderation
Remember that alcohol is high in kilojoules. “If you drink alcohol, have some dry or light wine with your meal,” says Delport. “Also stay clear of sugary, non-alcoholic drinks. Rather opt for artificially sweetened cold drinks or water.” Keep a jug of ice water flavoured with lemon slices and mint leaves nearby.
6) Don’t forget to exercise
During the holidays we all tend to get lazy when it comes to exercise. However, physical activity is a good way to manage both your weight and blood glucose levels.
“If you manage diabetes without medication or insulin, a brisk walk after a meal will help reduce your blood sugar levels. Even if you manage diabetes with medication, exercise can help reduce your blood sugar, as long as you find the fine balance between high and low blood sugar. Test often during exercise,” the American Diabetes Association advises.
7) Focus on friends and family instead of food
And finally, remember that the festive season is a time to slow down and focus on your loved ones. Enjoy some quality time with family and friends, doing the things that you love best.
Try these recipes for a diabetes-friendly Christmas:
- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, November 2010)
Diabetes: diet basics
Top 10 fruits for diabetics
The Glycaemic Index