Glitzy parties and noisy dinners with the extended families and friends – it must be Christmas! If you’ve got diabetes – or are close to someone with the condition – it can be hard to fully relax because you might worry about the changes to the food you eat. If someone else is in charge of the menu – at a restaurant or in someone else’s home – you might feel more worried, particularly as there’ll be more opportunities to indulge than usual over the festive period.
But, like the rest of year, eating with diabetes is a matter of balance. With a little planning, there’s plenty of room in your diet to enjoy the treats that are available over Christmas – you just need to make sure you’re being sensible and sticking to your usual healthy eating principles as much as possible.
And, when you’re having a treat, prioritise your favourite foods, so you don’t go the whole festive season without a delicious mince pie or a couple of crispy roast potatoes.
Whether you’re out at a restaurant or have been invited to someone else’s home to eat, try these tips to help you manage your diet.
Laying the groundwork
On days when you know you are going to eat out – and on Christmas Day itself – stick to your usual routine as much as possible, and start the day with your usual breakfast.
- If you want to give it a seasonal twist, add some seasonal spices such as ground cinnamon, mixed spice or allspice to your porridge – cinnamon in particular has a sweetening effect.
- Top your porridge or usual breakfast cereal with chopped nuts and mixed seeds, or with chopped fresh fruit or prunes or apricots.
- Instead of your usual tea or coffee, try chai (Indian spiced black tea) which is drunk without milk and very refreshing.
- Search for breakfast ideas in ourrecipe finder.
Eating at restaurants
Here are some top tips for eating out over Christmas.
- Over Christmas, a lot of restaurants offer set menus. While the choice is less, the menus are often available online, so you can check the nutritional information, including carbs and calories, in advance and see what your best choices are. Phone the restaurant before you go to ask about any specific changes you might want them to make to your dish – most restaurants will be happy to meet reasonable requests.
- Many restaurants now include the amount of calories, grams of fat and carbs in each dish on their menu – and you can always ask them in advance about what the calorie, fat and carb content is, or about how they put the dish together so you can get some advice about the rough estimates. With so many people on special diets these days, they should be used to it and able to answer your questions.
- Try not to arrive hungry, or you're likely to overeat. Keep to your regular meal pattern and have a small, filling snack just before you head out, such as a cup of veggie soup, a yogurt or a piece of fruit. If you're not ravenous when you sit down, you're more likely to make healthier food choices.
- Order a sparkling or still water or diet fizzy drink once you get there to help take the edge of your appetite. If your first drink is alcoholic, it may make you feel hungrier and weaken your willpower.
- 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, which is not helpful if you're trying to be healthy and everyone is choosing ‘death by chocolate’ for pudding.
- 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. This way you save calories and pounds too.
- Only order pudding after you’ve eaten your main meal, as you may find you're too full for one or now that you’ve eaten be less tempted to order one.
Eating with friends
If you’re going to someone’s house for food, ask your host about what food they’ll serve in advance and at what time they’re aiming to eat, so you know whether to have a snack or light meal before you go. And, knowing what food will follow the welcome drinks allows you to keep an eye on how many of the accompanying nibbles you eat. Don’t feel awkward about asking – people like to be aware of special dietary needs, which are increasingly common. They are also less likely to press you to have more alcohol or second helpings if they know you are being careful about what you eat.
If you’re cooking for people with diabetes, you might not be sure whether you need to make something different for them. Good news: in most cases you don’t. But check with your guest to find out if they have any specific dietary requirements – talking to them in advance will mean neither of you need to worry about it on the day.
Sometimes, guests with diabetes might want to know what’s in the dishes you’re making and how you’ve put them together. This might be so they can work out the carb content of your food – this information will help them to manage their diabetes including working out how much insulin they need to take. Some may also have additional dietary needs, such as gluten free, nut free etc.
At some point in December, you’ll probably find yourself close to a buffet, with loads of tasty temptations. Don’t be deceived by the tiny portions – it's really easy to overeat in a short space of time. A little planning will help you to enjoy the food without going overboard.
- Try not to sit facing the buffet and don’t stand next to it, as you’ll probably end up eating more than you planned to if you do.
- Rather than taking one of everything, take time to browse what’s there and pick up your favourites so you really enjoy the taste of the food rather than just eating it because it’s there.
- Select a small plate to help you control how much you’re eating. Choose veg and salads first, and use the space leftover for meat, fish and carbs. Don’t pile the different foods on each other.
- If someone else serves you, and you end up with something you don’t want on your plate, don’t feel obliged to eat it – it’s fine to leave it on your plate. Or, share it with whoever you’re with.
- Resist the temptation to keep going up and grazing, as you are likely overeat and lose track of what you’ve eaten. Just fill your plate once and then move away.
When it comes to dessert, fruit often gets overlooked. It might not look as appealing next to sticky profiteroles or Christmas pudding, but over Christmas, when you might be eating out more than usual, some fresh fruit salad will taste great and refreshing.
Try and take a broader view of the whole Christmas period – if your dad makes the bestapple crumble, which is great with vanilla ice cream, for you on Christmas Day, maybe don’t have a mince pie at a Christmas Eve party and choose some fruit instead. It’s also fine to decline a dessert every so often too. Maybe have a hot drink in its place.
If chocolates, mince pies or petits fours are served with coffee after a meal, don’t feel that you have to eat them, especially if the meal has already included a dessert. And with desserts it is fine to share a small portion with someone else who does not want a whole portion.
Christmas pudding as an indulgent treat is OK, but be mindful of your portion size as it's sugar and calories. If you're at home, try ourChristmas pudding recipefor a healthier version. A 66g serving of this has 130 calories, 22.4g carbs, 10g sugar and 2.8g fat.
If you like a drink, it's useful to know that half a bottle of red wine could contain about 285 calories and 5 units of alcohol.
If you like an after dinner liqueur bear in mind due to the high fat and sugar content, they are very high in calories. A small 37 ml of Irish cream liqueur contains 150 calories compared to 50 calories for a single serving of vodka, brandy or whisky.
On days when you are going out to eat, don’t forget to drink water regularly throughout the day as well as your usual tea and coffee or herb teas so you are hydrated – and water can also feel filling.
- 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 consquently people who hurry their meals are more likely to overeat.
- Be mindful about what food you’re eating – but don’t beat yourself up if you do eat more than you usually would, or choose foods that aren’t as good for you. There’s no such thing as a perfect diet – it’s the principles of healthy eating that are important, and aiming for an overall balance. So plan how you’re going to manage your diet in advance, and then relax and enjoy delicious food over the festive season.
- If your meal is delayed, and your blood glucose levels are in danger of going too low, then eat the bread rolls to tide you over, but if you don’t need to try to resist because a couple of rolls and two pats of butter can easily add another 500 calories and 60g carbs to your meal.
- Add extra vegetables to your plate. Research shows that the volume of food is important in helping us feel full and vegetables provide the bulk without the extra calories.
- Protein foods are filling – try to include a serving of lean meat, egg, fish or beans.
- Choose skinless chicken or turkey or fish, salmon and prawns in place of fatty meats such as chorizo sausages, rack of ribs, gammon and burgers.
- Make salad your friend, but steer clear of any with added mayo and dressings. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar is fine.