What to eat at Christmas if you have diabetes

Enjoying the indulgent festive season can be a struggle for people with diabetes. Pav Kalsi, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, shares some tips to enjoy Christmas if you have the condition...

A woman checking her blood sugar levels at Christmas time

Eating at Christmas is part of the fun, and there’s no need to completely miss out on certain foods. But a healthy diet is important for managing diabetes, so if you have the condition then you can always consider having healthy versions of classic Christmas dishes. This might mean adapting recipes so that they are more balanced, lower in fat and include plenty of vegetables and fruit. If you are planning a party it’s also a good idea to keep healthy snacks such as vegetable crudités or a small portion of unsalted nuts around so that you’ve got an alternative.

Festive glucose glitch

At some point during the festive period, you may find that you have higher blood glucose levels than normal due to being less active than usual, overindulging or changing your routine. Don’t worry about one or two high readings as this shouldn’t affect your long-term diabetes control, but aim to avoid persistently high readings in order to avoid compromising your health.

Don't get stuck on the sofa

Making sensible food choices and keeping physically active could help you to control blood glucose levels, blood pressure and blood fats and to manage weight.

There are lots of easy and fun ways to fit in some physical activity. A brisk walk is a great way to stay active – and it still counts if it’s in a shopping centre checking out the sales. Jumping about with the children, dancing at a party, or skating at a local or pop up ice rink all help towards keeping healthy during a typically overindulgent period.

Make sensible choices (but still enjoy yourself!)

Here are some examples of the kind of easy ways you can cut calories and fat from your main Christmas meal without compromising on taste:

Turkey: Remove the skin and eat light-coloured meat (breast) rather than dark meat (thigh) to reduce your fat intake.

Pigs in blankets: Use low-fat cocktail sausages and pierce the skins. Wrap with lean back-bacon (with the excess fat trimmed off) and grill, rather than fry or bake, to allow any excess fat to drain away. Try and limit yourself to two or three.  

Roast potatoes: Keep the amount of fat you add to a minimum by dry-roasting or using spray oil. 

Stuffing: Avoid high-fat, high-calorie sausage meat. Instead use vegetarian stuffing such as sage and onion or chestnut and cook in a separate dish to the turkey.

Vegetables: Fill at least two-fifths of your plate with vegetables. They are low in calories, help you feel fuller for longer and leave less room for unhealthy foods. If possible boil or steam rather than fry.

After-dinner treat: Of course Christmas wouldn’t be the same without dessert, such as a traditional Christmas pudding or mince pies served with brandy butter, custard or cream. Make your mince pie without a lid, and choose single cream instead of double cream or make custard with semi-skimmed or skimmed milk.

What to drink?

  • Alternating between alcoholic and soft drinks can help to limit the amount of alcohol you consume and keep you hydrated at the same time. Fruit juices tend to be high in sugar, so go for sugar-free or diet drinks instead and use these for mixers as well. Another way of cutting down on calories and the number of units is to choose a lower strength wine. 

  • Try not to drink to excess, however freely the drink is flowing. Diabetes UK recommends men should have a maximum of 3-4 units of alcohol and women a maximum of 2-3 units. If you take insulin or some types of tablets, alcohol can lower blood glucose levels and therefore increase the risk of having a hypo, which is where your blood glucose level falls dangerously low.

  • Remember not to drink on an empty stomach, as this can send your blood glucose level low and so can increase risk of a hypo. A protein-based snack, such as unsweetened yogurt, can help to slow the absorption and effects of alcohol. Always have a starchy, slow-release snack before bedtime such as toast, cereal or a sandwich.

For more information on diabetes and managing the condition visit Diabetes UK.

Find healthy recipes chosen by Diabetes UK our diabetes recipe collection.

Now read...

Christmas Day under 2,500 calories
How to eat to manage diabetes – 10 top tips
Healthy cooking tips from Diabetes UK

This article was written by Diabetes UK. It was last reviewed on 2nd November 2018 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.


Comments, questions and tips

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17th Dec, 2015
I do lots of low carb baking. Please go to my blog for some Christmas baking ideas www.diabeticgoodbaking.com
17th Dec, 2015
It's disappointing that DUK are still pushing low fat when it's the carbs that matter not fats for diabetes. Think carbs not calories to keep blood sugar and weight down.
5th Dec, 2013
Thank you so much for the advice. I help to control my husbands condition by making all foods, including bread, pasta etc at home. I use this site to follow correct calorie and carb counts. Great to see u teaming up with diabetes uk, especialy at this awkward time of year.
4th Dec, 2013
This will be my first Christmas as a Type 1 Diabetic. I was only diagnosed last month after having blood tests, but my symptoms were an obvious sign - eating about 4000 calories a day and still LOSING weight, drinking about 15 glasses of water a day and also being completely exhuasted all the time, as well as my vision rapidly deteriorating. I am 15 years old. I've always been obsessed with cooking and baking and I love creating new healthy recipes. If you enjoy Christmas baking, swap plain flour for wholemeal and swap sugar for granulated sweetener. Agave syrup is also much healthier than regular golden syrup, and will not spike your blood sugars as much as honey would. If you crave chocolate, add a couple of teaspoonfuls to your morning bowl of dry oats, and THEN add a splash of milk. Simply microwave for 1 minute and you will have delicious chocolatey oatmeal, for less sugar and calories! If you fancy a fizzy drink, instead of going for diet coke fill a glass with sparkling water and add a small amount of barley fruit squash (a low sugar alternative to high juice). A great fruity fizz without the harmful additives! I hope I've sparked your creative fire that burns within us all
3rd Dec, 2013
I do find it challenging at Christmas time as it can be hard to see everyone else indulging and know that I have to "hold back" a bit, but then this is only my second Christmas with diabetes so I guess it will just be a matter of time until I get used to it. I've seriously cut back on the amount that I drink, I'll have a glass of Champagne but after that tend to stick to water as I cannot stand diet drinks/low sugar alternatives, and I have certainly retrained my palate to resist sugary puddings and sweets. Wishing you all the happiest Christmas ever....
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19th Dec, 2013
Hi there - My husband has just been diagnosed with diabetes - we are still waiting for a Type but leaning now towards Type 2 (whereas at first they thought Type 1). He is fit lean and apart from losing weight had no symptoms!!! It was a complete shock but with the help of our daughter (see www.nourishedtherapy.com) we are getting there. I tried the Panna cotta with mixed berry recipe and it is delicious! Have asked Good Food to feature Diabetes and they have said they will so look out for more help in the future.