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Christmas and diabetes

Christmas is a time to enjoy yourself and have treats that you wouldn’t regularly eat at other times of the year. 

But being a time of indulgence and celebration, much traditional Christmas fare tends to be higher in saturated fat, free (added) sugars and salt than our usual diets.

If you have diabetes, or are close to someone who does, you may find that this time of year can make managing your diabetes more difficult, with so much tempting Christmas food and drink to choose from.

Luckily, we’ve got loads of helpful info to help you enjoy yourself throughout the festive season without compromising your healthy eating habits or diabetes self-management.

Also, don't forget to check out our Christmas shop! All sales go towards helping our fight towards a world where diabetes does no harm.

Take a look at our handy advice on:

Looking after your diabetes during the festive season

Make sure you’re stocked up on all the medications you need while your GP is shut. For example, if you test for ketones, make sure you have enough test strips available to do so over the festive break. 

If you get ill, we have advice on how to manage your diabetes when you’re unwell. If you need urgent medical advice while your GP is closed, contact NHS 111.  

Being aware of higher 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, overindulging or changing your routine. 

While one or two high readings shouldn’t affect your long-term diabetes control, take care not to let your glucose stay high for long as you could start to feel unwell. 

If you self-test your blood sugar levels, it’s a good idea to do this more often over the Christmas period, so you can catch changes in your blood sugar sooner and avoid a hypo or hyper. Stress and illness can raise your blood sugar levels. 

Coronavirus and the flu

It’s recommended that you take a rapid lateral flow coronavirus test before visiting very busy places or seeing people who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. This includes people with diabetes. So if you have diabetes, you could ask family and friends to take a test before visiting you. You can order rapid tests for free

If you have diabetes, we also recommend taking up your coronavirus booster vaccine as soon as you’re offered.  

People with diabetes should also make it a priority to take up their offer of a free annual flu jab

Read more about coronavirus and diabetes.

Stay active

Although we all love putting our feet up and relaxing over the festive period, it’s important to keep active. This can help you manage blood sugar levels, blood pressure and blood fats and manage your weight.  

There are lots of easy and fun ways to fit in some exercise, even when it’s cold. A brisk walk is a great way to stay active. Jumping about with the children, dancing the night away at a party, or going ice skating all help as well. You could also try some active party games!

We’ve got loads of advice and resources to help you get active.

Quick tips for healthy eating during the Christmas holidays

Christmas dinner table

To help manage diabetes at this time, try these tips to make your festive occasions a little healthier:

  • Fill up on the array of vegetables available, but watch out for added festive extras like honey as these are free (added) sugars.
  • Also watch out for the hidden sugars in condiments such as cranberry sauce, mint sauce and prawn cocktail sauce. 
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes. Fill your plate up with veggies first as we tend not to get enough of these. 
  • Serve yourself if possible. Someone else might pile certain foods high, so choosing your own options for starchy carbs, snacks or treats will help you keep your blood sugar levels on track.
  • If you’re having a dessert, try to stick to one portion of your sweet treat and think about what it’s served with. Could you have natural yogurt instead of double cream for example?
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach, as this increases your risk of hypos if you manage your diabetes with insulin or some medications.
  • Try to limit the amount of processed meat you eat a day to less than 70g. This includes pigs in blankets, gammon, hams, pâtés and cured meats. Eating these foods frequently could raise your blood pressure and increase your blood cholesterol.
  • Boil or steam rather than roast your vegetables – this will keep more vitamins and minerals. Including veggies at each meal can help prevent your blood pressure and blood cholesterol going up over the holidays. 
  • We should all try to eat less salt to help manage our blood pressure. Try using reduced-salt stock cubes to make your gravy, swap salted to unsalted nuts and check the labels on your snacks for less salty options.

And finally, don’t feel guilty about enjoying some Christmas treats

Remember there are no ‘forbidden’ foods, but go easy on the treats. Be mindful about what food you’re eating, and don’t beat yourself up if you do eat more than you usually would, or choose foods that aren’t as good for you.

A slight break from the norm is to be expected - enjoy it, then get back on track the next day. Why not escape the hustle and bustle, or dodge the family row over the remote control on Boxing Day, and go for an exhilarating walk in the countryside?

Christmas recipes 

We're putting all of these on our foodie wishlist. These recipes will help you make healthier versions of your favourite Christmas recipes because they have less saturated fat, free sugar or salt than the traditional versions. But remember if you’re trying to manage your weight, portion sizes are important too.

Everyone should be making healthier food choices year round, and it’s important that the Christmas indulgence doesn’t last for weeks. Occasional treats shouldn’t affect your long-term diabetes management as long as you get back on track by the New Year.

Wholesome nut roast 

Nut roast

Christmas dinner isn’t just about turkey. There’s plenty of delicious meat-free food, which is great for all the family. This nut roast is a veggie centrepiece which tastes great alongside traditional roast dinner trimmings, like sprouts, carrots and parsnips.

The fat comes primarily from the nuts which are healthier fats, with less saturated fat than the traditional meat feast.

Roast turkey

If turkey is the only way for you, have a go at this recipe to cut back on saturated fat. 

Tasty layered potatoes

This classic bake will brighten up your potatoes, providing a tasty side dish. You could do this with other root veg like swede.

Carrot and swede mash

A tasty vegetable dish which is a lower carbohydrate alternative to traditional mashed potato.

Flavoursome sage, onion and sweet potato stuffing

No roast is complete without stuffing – this classic Christmas recipe comes with a twist.

Or keep the traditional flavour of chestnuts with this alternative.

Smoky roast vegetables with sesame yogurt

If you fancy something a bit different for Christmas this year, this vegetable dish is full of delicious middle eastern flavour.

And don't forget the sweet treats… 

When it comes to dessert, luckily the majority of Christmas puddings and cakes are vegetarian friendly. 

Christmas pudding

This tasty pudding has no added free sugars, only sugar found naturally in the fruit ingredients. It keeps for up to a week if stored in the fridge.

Mini Christmas puds

Mince pies

Bite-sized, healthier versions of the traditional Christmas pudding, with fruit and spices.

Crumbly, fruity mince pies

A Christmas classic gets a healthier twist. Perfect for tucking into in front of the fire with the family.

Alcohol and diabetes

Alcohol is often part and parcel of celebrating, but, when you’re enjoying yourself, drinking a little more mulled wine than you intended is a common pitfall.

Regardless of whether you have diabetes or not, guidelines recommend that men and women should not regularly consume more than 14 units a week and if you do have as much as 14 units, spread this over three days or more.

If you’re trying to manage your weight, remember alcoholic drinks can contain a lot of calories. For example, a large glass of wine contains 225 calories and is three units. And a generous home-poured spirit (50ml) of rum, whisky or gin is 100 calories before adding a mixer. 

For a festive alternative to alcoholic Christmas tipples, shake up a virgin mojito when friends come to call. Or you could try mulled apple juice as a tasty alternative to mulled wine.

You could also opt for a clear spirit with a diet mixer, such as vodka or gin, to reduce calories and sugar. One little tip is to add sugar-free cordial to a vodka and diet lemonade, it tastes just like a cocktail!

Watch out for hidden sugars in your mixers. Some mixers may claim they are ‘refreshingly light’ but that does not mean they are low in sugar or sugar free, just a little less sugary than the original. So double check the labels and opt for those with less than 2.5g sugar per 100ml as these are low in sugar. 

And, remember if you treat your diabetes with insulin and certain type 2 diabetes medications that can cause hypos, be aware that drinking alcohol can make hypos more likely.

See our tips to prevent hypos whilst drinking alcohol.

Eating out at Christmas when you have diabetes

Many restaurants offer set menus over the Christmas period. If you’re eating out, see if the nutritional information is available online, so you can plan ahead and pick a healthier option. Here are some more tips:

  • Make sure you're the first to order, research shows you're more likely to be swayed by other people’s choices if you wait.
  • If you have a smaller appetite, there's no reason why you can’t order a starter as a main meal especially if you know the restaurant serves large portions.
  • Only order pudding after you’ve eaten your main meal, as you may find you're too full for one, or that now that you’ve eaten you feel less tempted to order one.
  • Also, it’s always useful to follow the golden rule of filling most of your plate with tasty vegetables or salad – this can help you to feel full and provide helpful nutrients.
  • Eat slowly and put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls. Research shows it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register you are full and consequently people who hurry their meals are more likely to overeat.
  • If your meal is delayed, and your blood glucose levels are in danger of going too low, ask if there is a bread roll to tide you over.
  • Protein foods are filling – try to include a serving of lean meat, egg, fish or beans.

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