Five things to consider during the festive season if you have diabetes

Five things to consider during the festive season if you have diabetes

Living with diabetes can be a daily struggle. Making wise decisions of hat to eat, and what not to eat, can be tiring. Kajsa Ernestam, in-house dietitian at global health app, Lifesum comments: A lot of the things that we consume have an effect on both our health and our blood sugar level, so it is important to eat a healthy and balanced diet, especially if you are living with a health condition, such as type one or type two diabetes. In addition to eating healthily, regular physical activity is vital. But it can be difficult to stay on track all year round, especially during the holidays when indulgent food and drink is aplenty.

Here are five top tips to help you manage your diabetes over the holiday season, and keep your sugar levels under control:

Portion control

It’s always tempting to overeat during the Christmas season, especially when all of our favourite dishes are lined up in front of us. However, to reduce the chance of overeating, commit yourself to a food plan. Decide in advance how much you want to eat - and stick to it. If you are attending an event with a buffet, for example, then opt to use a smaller plate so that your plate still feels full, but you are consuming less. Always limit yourself to one serving, too.

Don’t skip breakfast

With all the food consumed during the festive season, breakfast may not be the first thing on your mind, but it is important that you fuel up with something healthy at the beginning of the day. Try to start your day with a serving of porridge or low-fat yoghurt with some blueberries and almonds. It is important that you get your metabolism going to break the evening fast, and to prepare for the large meal that will no doubt ensue. By not skipping breakfast, you may not be as tempted to overeat when the Christmas meal finally comes around.

Balance your meal

Picking the right foods to eat when you have diabetes can help keep your blood sugar stable, and while no foods are off limit when you are diabetic, some are better than others. This season, try to ensure that you are opting for non-starchy vegetables along with lean proteins and healthy fat sources as often as possible.

Some of the best vegetables to choose from include brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, and cauliflower. Turkey is okay but consider swapping the butter-basted turkey with skin on for a skinless turkey leg, and why not enjoy a vegetarian stuffing filled with cranberries, orange, and roasted chestnuts, instead of one made of sausage meat.

Christmas food can also be high in fats. Fat makes the stomach process food much slower than usual, in turn leading to a late rise in blood sugar. This is usually a positive thing- if consumed in fair amounts. Therefore, make sure to combine nutrient rich carbohydrates and lean protein on the plate, and not over consume unhealthy saturated fats.

Finally, while it is not advised, if you decide to indulge in an alcoholic beverages or fizzy drink, be aware of how it can affect your body and how to best manage this. Alcoholic beverages and fizzy drinks are nutritionally low and high in calories, and can make it harder for you to monitor your diabetes. If you decide to opt for a fizzy drink, then choose sugar free or low sugar options and, in either case, make sure that you stay hydrated by continuing to drink a lot of water throughout the night.


Christmas meals often mean that you are eating for an extended period of time. By controlling your portion size, and by ensuring that the meal is well-balanced, your blood sugar can be better kept under control.

Also, if you self-test, then commit to testing your blood glucose levels more often to be aware of variations. Be prepared to make the necessary adjustments as you move through the holiday season. If you notice that your blood sugar is not where you want it to be, then take the time to reflect on what you ate, and learn what works, and does not work, for you.

Do physical activity

Christmas is, in part, about watching the classics on TV and eating lots of delicious food, but make sure that you motivate yourself to move around throughout the day and still meet the 10,000 recommended daily steps. Physical activity increases insulin sensitivity and non-dependent insulin uptake of glucose in the cells. This means that less insulin is required and, as such, by being active after a meal, you can help the body’s process of absorbing the energy (sugar) to the cells, an important part of the non-medical treatment of type 2 diabetes. Moving around also helps with digestion and will keep you energised, so why not encourage your family and friends to join you for a walk, to breathe in some brisk fresh air - or maybe use it as an excuse to get away from the relatives for a couple of minutes!

About Diabetes

The difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes: Immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This is a chronic condition that is not caused by lifestyle and dietary factors. It can occur at all ages and symptoms are faster (often in a few weeks) Type 1 diabetes requires insulin treatment.

Type 2 diabetes: In type 2 diabetes, the cells stop responding to the insulin's order to absorb glucose, and so the body develops insulin resistance. It was previously called "age diabetes" because, in the past, it was mainly the elderly who suffered from this form of diabetes. Today, a larger population of people live an unhealthy lifestyle, and, unfortunately, we see younger people suffering from diabetes. Type 2 diabetes can be treated at an early stage with a good diet, exercise, and weight loss (increase insulin sensitivity and normalise blood sugar).

Treatment for type 2 diabetes

There are some medications available that can help you manage the diabetes. Some of these are Metformin (Glucophage), which reduces blood sugar, as metformin increases the sensitivity of the cells to insulin, and insulin.

In addition to medications, changing your lifestyle can help you to manage the diabetes, such as physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a well-balanced diet, stopping smoking, and monitoring your blood sugar levels. This might all seem overwhelming at first, but try to take small steps towards changing your lifestyle in order to improve your overall wellbeing. 

The best diet plan or food suggestions for managing type 2 diabetes

Diet changes can help you to achieve good blood glucose control, blood fat levels, blood pressure and a healthy weight.

An ongoing study called DiRECT, (Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial) by Diabetes UK is looking into a new weight management treatment. They found there was a close link between Type 2 diabetes remission and total weight loss. Remission meaning when blood glucose levels are in a normal range again.

Nowadays, there aren't strict guidelines for what to eat or not eat. The important thing is that you find a healthy diet plan that works for you, and that you can stick to in the long-term.

However, there are a few things you should consider, such as avoiding sugary drinks, instead opting for water. Eat on a regular basis, don't skip meals, and incorporate plenty of vegetables and fruit into your diet. Minimise the proportion of saturated and trans-fat in the diet. Avoid high-fat animal foods and choose low fat alternatives when it comes to dairy products. Make sure you eat healthy unsaturated fats such as avocado, natural nuts, olive oil instead of butter, and fatty fish. Choose your carbohydrates with care and the amount of carbs you eat as it has an effect on your blood glucose levels. However, keep in mind that carbohydrates can be great sources of vitamins, mineral fibers and whole grains. Therefore, carbohydrates should not be excluded completely, but chosen with care. Opt for nutritious and complex carbs containing whole grain and is rich in fibre such as brown rice, rye bread and vegetables. Exclude nutritionally low, refined and energy-rich carbs such as white bread and pastries. 

Before making any changes to your diet you should consult with a dietitian or a doctor. You can also find more useful advice on