Egg Nutrition Center Blog

Managing Blood Glucose During the Holidays

Today’s post comes from Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDE. Campbell is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Joslin Diabetes Center. She is actively involved in education initiatives, both at Joslin and with the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She has authored several books published by the American Diabetes Association and recently received the 2012 Will Solimene Award for Excellence in Medical Communication. Campbell is also a member of the Egg Nutrition Center’s Health Professional Advisor panel.

The holiday season is upon us!  Now starts the whirlwind of shopping, cleaning, cooking and, of course, eating.  While all of us probably need to be mindful of eating healthfully, fitting in physical activity and preventing weight gain, people with diabetes have an extra challenge of trying to keep their blood glucose under control as best they can.  Here are a few tips that may be helpful for enjoying the holiday season without wreaking havoc with diabetes management:

Eat well, but eat right. There’s no reason why a person with diabetes can’t partake in a favorite holiday treat, whether it’s a slice of pie at Thanksgiving or a few home baked cookies at a holiday party.

  • Budget those carbs.  Because many holiday delicacies are laden with carbohydrate, it’s wise to help patients to budget their carbs accordingly.  Remember that one carb choice contains 15 grams of carbohydrate, the amount that’s in one slice or one ounce of bread.  As an example, a slice of pumpkin pie may contain about 45 grams of carbohydrate, or the amount found in three slices of bread.  Can one eat their pie and have it too?  Sure – it’s just a matter of perhaps cutting back on carbs elsewhere in the meal (e.g., forgoing some stuffing and potato) and having a smaller slice of pie or cake for dessert.
  • Bake and cook more healthfully.   Traditional holiday recipes tend to be laden with sugar and fat.  Help patients shave calories, carbs and fat by cutting back on sugar and fat, such as butter or oil by 1/3 to ½.  In most instances, the product will come out tasting and looking like the regular version and no one will be to tell the difference.
  • Stick with the plate method.  Aiming for a plate in which half is filled with low-calorie vegetables, one quarter with a whole grain carb (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta) and one quarter with protein (lean beef, poultry, fish , eggs) can help patients balance their portions and carbs, and aim for a variety of healthy foods throughout the holidays.

Move more.  Usual physical activity plans often fall by the wayside over the holidays, thanks to changes in eating schedules, shopping and festivities.  Patients may feel that they just don’t have time to go for a walk or get to the gym.  Remind them that physical activity is more beneficial than ever at this time of the year, helping to alleviate stress, burn calories and keep blood glucose levels in check.

  • Do shorter amounts of activity.  Doing 10 minutes of activity at a time is certainly better than doing nothing.  And doing 10 minutes of activity several times a day is often more manageable than finding a block of 30 minutes.
  • Take the stairs.  Cold, snowy, icy weather is a deterrent for many people to go for their usual walk.  Climbing stairs will give just as much of a benefit, and 10 minutes of stair climbing burns 100 to 150 calories.
  • Put up resistance.  Using a resistance band, kettle bells or hand weights while watching television or during a break from cooking is a great way for patients to tone up, burn calories and lower blood glucose, even in as little as 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Enjoy the great outdoors.  Ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing are fun ways to play in the snow and get more fit, too.  Remind patients that they don’t have to be stuck inside to get a good workout.
  • Give a gift.  The gift of health is the best gift to receive.  Suggest that patients either request or give themselves sessions with a personal trainer, a new pedometer or heart rate monitor, or a gym membership this year.

Keep on Checking

The best way for a person with diabetes to know how their doing on a daily basis is to check their blood glucose with their meter.

  • Change the focus.  Blood glucose numbers are neither good nor bad; they’re just information.  Results that are below or above a patient’s target mean that a little tweaking is likely needed to the treatment plan.
  • Check after meals on occasion.  Suggest that the patient periodically check their blood glucose 2-3 hours after meal (reminding them that the goal for most people at that time is less than 180 mg/dl).  If they’re above or below their goal, brainstorm some ideas for what can be done differently the next time, such as eating less carbohydrate and more protein, or going for a walk after dinner.

Finally, remind patients to make time for themselves over the holidays.  Getting plenty of rest, saying “no” on occasion, and de-stressing with a good book, massage or just some quiet time can help make the holiday season enjoyable for everyone.  For more information on diabetes, visit Joslin Diabetes Center’s website at




Author: Anna Shlachter MS, RDN, LDN