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How to Serve a Diabetes-Friendly Holiday Meal

Meal Planning for Guests With Diabetes

The holidays can be a time of great anxiety for someone with diabetes. Eating at odd times, being surrounded by tempting food and neglecting a daily routine can wreak havoc on their blood sugar. And when blood sugar is too high or too low, it can make them feel tired, even crabby — not in the holiday spirit at all.

Whether you are navigating the holiday with diabetes, or hosting a loved one with diabetes, take the bite out of your next celebration with these tips for serving a diabetes-friendly holiday meal.

Keep an Eye on the Time

Timing is everything. Northwestern Medicine Endocrinologist Jyothi Gogineni, MD, says, “If someone is on insulin, they need to take it in relation to their food.” Therefore, the time you serve a meal makes a difference for a person with diabetes, whose medicine or insulin is time sensitive.

For example, quick acting insulin lowers blood sugar levels, so if your guest ends up waiting too long to eat after taking it, they may have a low blood sugar reaction, causing them to feel weak and shaky. Let your guests know the time you plan to serve so they can plan ahead and make any necessary adjustments to their schedule.

Prepare Appetizers for the Unexpected

Unexpected delays can sabotage blood glucose levels. Serve up almonds flavored with pumpkin spice, an assortment of cheeses, or seasonal fruits and vegetables to bridge the gap. For guests, Dr. Gogineni adds, “If you have low blood sugar and the meal is delayed, have snacks or take glucose tablets, which can help raise your blood sugar.”

Choose Healthier Recipes

People with diabetes can enjoy the same food as your other guests. The difference is that they will need to manage their portions sizes and carb intake. Preparing traditional favorites with healthy substitutes and low-carb options can be a welcome nod to dietary restrictions. Check out some suggestions for green bean casserole, whole grain apple cranberry stuffing and seasonal fare such as pumpkin, which is low in calories and can help stabilize blood sugar.

Go Easy on the Alcohol

Alcoholic drinks have extra calories and cause hypoglycemic reactions, so choose wisely and serve food with beverages. Opt for a variety of flavored waters or sugar free tea, or consider one of these recipes for modified alcoholic drinks.

Let Them Eat Cake

Diabetes offers a lot of flexibility in how people manage it, so don’t be shocked if someone with diabetes asks for a piece of pie. Be supportive about your guests’ food choices. While you may have very good intentions, it’s up to your guests to successfully plan ahead and navigate the holiday fare.

Plan After-Meal Exercise

Feeling stuffed after a great meal? Bundle up and invite your guests to get moving to compensate for the extra calories you’ve all consumed. A brisk walk around the block or an impromptu turkey football game can speed up digestion, burn calories and help lower blood sugar, too – not to mention create great family memories. Dr. Gogineni adds that as a general rule, 30 minutes of walking can reduce blood sugar by 50 points.

Look For the Signs

Dr. Gogineni suggests anyone with diabetes should check their blood sugar frequently, even if they are feeling well. Your blood sugar level can drop unexpectedly, especially if you are not in your regular routine. Dr. Gogineni encourages hosts or family members to look out for signs of blood sugar problems. Symptoms of low blood sugar, for example, are confusion, dizziness or disorientation.

Be Supportive

Diabetes is a disease that people can’t see, but it can be physically and emotionally draining to stick to a daily routine of testing your blood sugar, taking insulin injections and counting carbs. “Individuals with diabetes shouldn’t be embarrassed to take insulin,” says Dr. Gogineni. “If there’s any sort of delay, family members can help them out and encourage them to do what they need for their health.”

If someone you love is feeling frustrated, a little encouragement goes a long way. Tomorrow is another day, when you can get back on track and resume your usual eating habits.

“You can still be responsible while indulging,” says Dr. Gogineni. “It’s just important to take portion control into consideration. That way you can enjoy without overloading throughout the day.”

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Jyothi Gogineni, MD
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