Written by Vanessa van der Linden, Certified Nutritional Specialist
Delicious food is one of the things that makes the holidays special for so many people! Sharing food and enjoying seasonal treats can help us connect with loved ones, connect with culture, and remind us of fond memories. At Families Together, we are all about supporting optimal health with nutrition and enjoying delicious meals around a table.
Today we’ll be sharing some simple ways to enjoy the foods of the season while also making choices that support your health. If you have pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or are interested in having better energy and metabolism, these tips are just for you! Whether you are at a gathering, baking at home, or are in line at your favorite coffee shop, keep these tips in mind all season!
1. Listen to your body
Pay attention to your body so you can tune in to when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. It can be easy to skip meals, overeat or graze on snacks instead of balanced meals when you are in a rush, stressed out, bored, or distracted. Under eating, over eating, and grazing on snacks all impact blood sugar in different ways. When you learn to listen to your body for hunger and satiety cues, you will also be supporting stable blood sugar.
2. Slow down
It can be hard to listen to your body when you’re eating too fast. Eating too fast can lead to overeating and impact digestion which can both lead to higher blood sugar levels. Chew your food very well and put your utensil down between bites to help you slow down. Consider taking a few deep breaths before eating to help you relax and get in tune with your body.
3. Follow tradition, or don’t
Sometimes we go through the motions of making decisions around what we eat (or don’t eat), how much we eat, and how we act around food, for the sake of tradition. Remember that you always have the option to change and choose what supports your health and your values. If you find that certain foods you used to eat no longer make you feel your best or support stable blood sugar, give yourself permission to evolve.
4. Move your body daily
If this season is busier than normal and it feels challenging to maintain your normal or “ideal” exercise routine, give yourself permission to make this simpler so that you can stay consistent. It is much better for your health to do something over nothing! This may look like splitting your walk in two and doing two short walks a day, doing an at home workout by following a YouTube video, or booking a personal training session at our Wellness Center once a week so all you have to do is show up!
5. Never skip breakfast
Eating a balanced breakfast with 20-30 grams of protein and plenty of fiber and healthy fats is a sure way to not only support balanced blood sugar, but also support your energy and metabolism. It can be easy to skip meals when you’re anticipating a special dinner, if you’re busy and forget to eat, or tend to have a low appetite in the morning. But if you plan ahead and listen to your body’s hunger cues, you will be making a huge difference in your day! Some ideas include a protein smoothie, egg and veggies scramble with whole wheat toast, or plain Greek yogurt with fruit and seeds on top.
6. Enjoy the carbs, but be mindful of the portion
There is a way to enjoy special holiday dishes while keeping your blood sugar stable but you must remember that the types and amounts of carbs you consume are what will make the most difference. Carbs that are rich in fiber and low/no sugar will have a much smaller blood sugar impact than carbs without/low fiber and containing sugar. Prioritize lower glycemic carbs like whole fruit, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. Limit, or ideally avoid, foods made with sugar and white flour. Keep starchy carbs to a ¼ of your plate or about a handful. So if you feel like eating rice, tamales, and beans in one meal, we recommend taking a very small amount of each so that it doesn’t go past a handful of portions. Having double or even triple servings of starchy carbs are what lead to high blood sugar.
7. Remember to add color with vegetables
Vegetables are a great source of fiber which helps slow digestion and keeps blood sugar from getting too high. Vegetables are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which lower inflammation and support your health in countless ways. Aim for 2-3 cups of non-starchy vegetables daily. Add vegetables to smoothies, eggs, soups, salads, and main dishes. Boost their flavor by adding olive oil, vinegar, citrus, garlic, onion, herbs, and spices.
8. Skip the sweetened beverages
As you may know, sweetened beverages like soda, juice, energy drinks, sports drinks, hot chocolate, eggnog, and sweet cocktails are extremely high in sugar and lack nutritional value. Instead try a festive beverage with no sugar or one that is sweetened with a low glycemic natural sweetener like stevia or monk fruit. Here are some ideas: sparkling water, unsweetened tea (hot or cold), hot chocolate, Zevia (soda sweetened with stevia), mojito mocktail, sangria mocktail, Hibiscus tea mocktail.
9. Be mindful when snacking
Grazing throughout the day instead of having balanced meals can lead to a blood sugar rollercoaster. Prioritize eating 3 balanced meals a day plus 1-2 balanced snacks. A balanced snack should always contain protein and carbs with fiber (i.e fruit and nuts or hummus and veggies). Avoid snacking on sweet treats, chips, and other high carb processed foods. If you are going to have a sweet treat, make sure to eat it after you have had a balanced meal as a dessert instead of by itself or on an empty stomach. This will help make sure your blood sugar doesn’t get too high.
10. Choose low glycemic desserts
We understand that around the holidays you may want a sweet treat! If you follow the tips above like moving your body, eating balanced meals throughout the day, and being mindful of portions, you may be able to tolerate a low glycemic dessert while keeping your blood sugar steady! Try experimenting in the kitchen with some low glycemic desserts such as: Chocolate truffles, chia pudding, chocolate clusters, low carb cookies, sautéed apples.
Families Together encourages you to enjoy food around the holidays all while supporting your health! If you are looking for ways to start implementing healthy habits into your life, check out our blog, where we share healthy recipes and monthly workout routines. Patients are also welcome to make an appointment at our Tustin Wellness Center, where they will have access to our services which include nutrition classes, exercise sessions with our weight resistance trainer, and mental health services focused on the individual needs of every patient. Please call 1(800) 597-7977 ext. 507 for more information on any Wellness program we offer.