Dietitians Dish: Controlling blood sugars during holiday season

Stephanie Whitley

Controlling blood sugars around the holidays can be nerve-wracking for those with diabetes. But it can be done among the parties, cookies from neighbors, family feasts and new recipes you have been waiting all season to try.

The two key concepts to keep in mind for controlling your blood sugars are to eat consistently throughout the day and consume a moderate amount of carbohydrates at meals and snacks.

For those with diabetes, it is ideal to get at least three meals a day and a snack before bedtime. Even better would be five to six small meals a day. By having consistent food intake throughout the day, your body will do a better job at keeping your blood sugars in your goal range. Skipping meals is just asking for a blood sugar low, especially if you are on any medications to help control blood sugars.

Another negative to skipping meals is that it will make your body hold on to the calories that you do eat at other times during the day. Think about it this way: If your body does not get energy consistently, it will hold on even tighter to the energy it does get.

This contributes to a slower metabolism and weighing more than you logically should for your daily calorie intake. Apply this to your holiday meals and snacks by planning your food for the day. Do you have a gathering in the early evening? Eat five to six small meals that day, counting a few treats from the party as one of them.

Maybe you have a big family meal in the afternoon. Eat two small meals before your feast, eat a slightly larger meal for your feast and finish the day with a small meal or snack a few hours before bedtime.

Secondly, carbohydrate intake is just as important as timing.

The goal is to get three to four servings of carbohydrates at a meal, two at a small meal and one at a snack. A carbohydrate serving looks like a fist-sized piece of fruit, a cup of milk, six to eight ounces of light yogurt, a slice of bread, a small handful of chips or crackers or about one half of a cup of starchy vegetables, grains, cereals and legumes.

Any sweets or sugar-containing beverages should be avoided as much as possible. On a nutrition label, one carbohydrate serving is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates and don't forget to check the serving size.

The correct amount of carbohydrate servings can usually be achieved by filling most of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (low in carbs), a palm-size portion of meat (3-4 ounces) and the rest of your plate with carbohydrate foods.

If you want to eat dessert, make room on your dinner plate for that item in your carbohydrate section.

Either put it directly on your plate at meal time or leave an empty area and eat the dessert later. Be mindful of your snacks, making sure you get some protein and/or fat with your carbohydrate.

A holiday example would be having a choice between peanut brittle or fudge. Obviously these are not very nutritious snacks, but sometimes these are the options or we want to eat something out of the ordinary for a special occasion.

The better choice would be peanut brittle because of the nuts that provide healthy fats and some protein, whereas the fudge would provide unhealthy fats and almost no protein.

Enjoy celebrating the holidays with friends and family while following these tips. Just remember balance and consistency, and your holiday blood sugars should be A-OK.

Stephanie Whitley is a registered and licensed dietitian DeTar Healthcare System. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.