What to eat at Christmas if you have diabetes
Stephanie Kudzin, Nutritionist at Diabetes UK, shares some tips to help make some of those festive traditions a little healthier.
The festive season is a time for relaxing, and enjoying food and drink that you might not usually have. But this time of year might be more difficult if you have diabetes, or know someone who does.
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 and having healthier versions of classic Christmas dishes is a good way to enjoy food, whilst also looking after your diabetes. This might mean adapting certain recipes so that they are more balanced, lower in sugar, saturated fat and salt, and include plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Be aware of blood sugar levels
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 or changing your routine. Don’t worry about the odd high reading as this shouldn’t affect your long-term health or blood glucose management. Be aware of high glucose levels though, especially if you have symptoms or are feeling unwell [EE2] and aim to avoid persistently high readings as in the long-term they can increase your risk of developing diabetes complications such as neuropathy and retinopathy.
Make sure you’ve stocked up on all the medications you’ll need while your GP is closed over the Christmas period. And if you’re unwell during this time, we have lots of advice on managing your diabetes when ill on the Diabetes UK website. If you need urgent medical advice while your GP is closed, call 111.
Don’t get stuck on the sofa
Although a lot of people enjoy relaxing at this time of year, it’s important to make time to exercise to help with your diabetes. Being physically active can help manage your blood glucose levels, blood pressure and blood fats.
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 you're only heading to the shops to check out the sales! Jumping about with the children, dancing at a party, or skating at a local pop-up ice rink all help towards keeping healthy during this period.
Make sensible choices (but still enjoy yourself!)
Here are some examples of ways you can make your main Christmas meal that bit healthier without compromising on taste.
Our recommended portion size for turkey is about two slices. Remove the skin and eat light-coloured meat (breast) rather than dark meat (thigh) to reduce your fat intake. If you have different dietary preferences, there are some great alternatives to turkey – why not try a nut roast, or some fish, like salmon?
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 one or two pigs in blankets, as they are a processed meat. Eating too much processed meat is linked to heart problems and certain types of cancer. Processed meat can also be high in salt. You could try vegetarian sausages if you prefer a meat-free alternative, but make sure you check the salt content beforehand.
Keep the amount of fat you add to a minimum by dry-roasting or using spray oil. Try using baby potatoes with the skin on or sweet potatoes instead, as a higher-fibre option.
Try to avoid high-fat, high-calorie sausage meat. Instead, use vegetarian stuffing, such as sage and onion and cook in a separate dish to the turkey.
Fill at least one-third of your plate with vegetables. They are a good source of fibre and are rich in vitamins and minerals. If possible, steam rather than fry or roast.
Of course Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a 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 half-fat crème fraîche or natural yogurt instead of double cream or make your own custard but use a little sweetener rather than sugar.
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While it’s important to be mindful of what you’re eating, don’t beat yourself up if you eat more than you usually would, or have foods that aren’t as healthy for you.
What to drink?
For some people, enjoying a few alcoholic drinks is a part of the festivities. While it’s fine to let loose a little, alcohol and diabetes can be tricky to navigate. Read our tips below to ensure you’re having fun while still staying safe:
- Alternating between alcoholic and soft drinks can help to limit the amount of alcohol you consume and keep you hydrated at the same time. But soft drinks, like fruit juices, tend to be high in free sugars, so keep to just a 150ml serving of these (around one small glass) a day.
- Use sugar-free or diet versions of other soft drinks – they can be used as mixers too.
- One way of reducing calorie intake and the number of units is to choose a lower strength wine.
- Try not to drink too much alcohol, however freely the drink is flowing. If you take insulin, or certain diabetes medications that can cause hypos, alcohol also increases this risk. A hypo is where your blood glucose levels fall dangerously low. It’s not uncommon for some people to mistake having a hypo for being drunk. So, carry hypo treatments around with you and snacks that have carbs in them, eat before you go to bed, wear some medical ID or make sure whoever you’re with knows you have diabetes, and knows how to help with a hypo if you need them to.
- And remember not to drink on an empty stomach as this can increase your likelihood of having a hypo when you’re drinking, or the day after.
Where to get more info and support on diabetes
Diabetes UK are the leading diabetes charity in the UK. Here for you – whether you live with diabetes yourself or know someone who does. For advice, support or a community, visit their website at www.diabetes.org.uk or call their free helpline on 0345 123 2399.
We’ve got lots more tips on healthy eating with diabetes and hundreds of recipes for you to explore.
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