November 30, 2022
Last Updated:
December 5, 2022

How to Manage Your Blood Sugar During the Holidays

Fall is my favorite time of year. The weather cools down a bit and it gets dark earlier than I would like, but it also marks the beginning of the holiday season. I don’t know about you, but for me that generally means going to a lot of gatherings, spending time with family and friends, and lots of delicious meals!

With Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas lined up back-to-back, it feels like our health really hits a downward spiral until it’s time to make our New Year’s resolutions. The first day of the new year marks that magical day when we all suddenly decide to prioritize our health, lose weight, and make up for a year’s worth of “sinful” eating. But it doesn’t have to be that way! By following a few rules, you can minimize the blood sugar spike that accompanies all that delicious holiday food.

Seven Ways to Manage Your Blood Sugar During the Holidays

For those with underlying chronic medical conditions like diabetes or insulin resistance, the holiday season can wreak havoc on their blood sugars and even land them in the hospital. Things may not be as dramatic for the rest of us, but did you know that 90% of non-diabetics also experience glucose spikes? This not only leads to chronic inflammation, weight gain, and hormonal imbalances but can ultimately lead to insulin resistance and the development of diabetes. Learning to minimize glucose spikes benefits all of us, particularly those with type 2 diabetes and established insulin resistance.

1. Start your day with a savory breakfast

Starting your day with a savory breakfast rather than a sweet one (think scrambled eggs as opposed to a baked pastry), means smaller spikes in your glucose. Research has shown that restricting carbohydrates at breakfast is significant enough to reduce 24-hour exposure to after-meal blood sugars. This is particularly true for people that have diabetes. A sweet breakfast may make us feel happier because it leads to dopamine release, but a savory, protein-rich breakfast leads to steadier hunger hormone levels and less insulin release.

2. Start every meal with your veggies first

We’ve been trained to think of vegetables as a side dish, but we would be much better served if we shifted our minds to think of it as an appetizer. Whenever possible, start your meal with some raw vegetables like a small salad, and/or non-starchy cooked veggies like broccoli, zucchini, etc. Fiber-rich foods like vegetables help coat the small intestine and slow down gastric emptying.  This results in feeling full longer and a smaller glucose spike, which translates to less cravings. 

3. Try to drink some vinegar before eating a meal

Research has shown that the acetic acid in vinegar helps curb the glucose response by up to 30% by allowing the muscles to use up the glucose faster. Add one tablespoon of vinegar (I like apple cider vinegar) to an 8-ounce glass of water and drink it just prior to eating your meal. I recommend using a straw, so you don’t destroy your tooth enamel. You can also consume vinegar on your salad as a salad dressing and it would still be effective.

4. Save your sweets for dessert

Do not eat dessert as a snack. If you want something sweet, do so after eating a meal. When you eat something sweet on an empty stomach, whether it’s fruit or refined carbohydrates, it will cause a big spike in your blood sugar. Combining your sweets with fiber, fat, and/or protein leads to a smaller glucose spike which means less inflammation and less insulin release. Fruit also falls into this category. For instance, you’re better off eating an apple with nut butter as opposed to eating an apple alone.

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5. Cool your carbohydrates

Your typical processed carbs break down into simple sugars, but resistant starches actually “resist” digestion. They stay intact until they reach your large intestine and then are broken down by the bacteria in the colon.

The process of cooling down your cooked carbs creates resistant starches. When you cook your carbs, cooling them down in the fridge for as little as 20 minutes, will lead to a lower glucose spike and less insulin release. At that point you can reheat these items and still benefit from their resistant starches.

6. Get moving

Whether you go for a brisk walk or do calf raises after a meal, the key is that you get some form of physical activity after eating. Muscles need energy, so physical activity for as little as 10 minutes allows your muscles to use up the glucose faster, which means less glucose circulating in your bloodstream.

7. Eat your meals in the right order

The types of foods we eat are important, but so is the order in which we consume them. As a good rule of thumb, consuming your meals in the following order minimizes glucose spikes:

  1. Greens (salad, non-starchy veggies)
  2. Lean protein
  3. Complex carbohydrates
  4. Dessert

The fiber in the veggies coats the small intestine, and fat and protein further slow gastric emptying. This results in less glucose being absorbed. Following this order during your meal can reduce the post-meal glucose spike by 75%.

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

It’s no secret that the pandemic changed our lives forever. Along with the lack of access to routine healthcare, many people had their diet and exercise routines disrupted during this time as well. Most people have still not gotten back to where they were pre-pandemic. In fact, the rates of obesity and other diet- and lifestyle-related chronic diseases have only increased since the pandemic.

As with most things in life, nothing comes easy. Prioritizing our health is something that requires work and dedication. The more you know, the less it feels like work and the easier it becomes.

Author Biography
Armaghan Azad, MD
IIN Content Writer

Dr. Armaghan Azad (aka Dr. Armi) is a double board-certified physician who has been practicing medicine for over 15 years. She is board-certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Lifestyle Medicine.

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