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Holidays are Filled with Tempting Treats that Can Spike Blood Sugar

October 01, 2013

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Tips for Seasonal Success

The holidays can be a difficult time for people with diabetes. The next three months will be filled with food minefields. Soon it will seem like candy, baked goods, and other high-carb foods are everywhere for the taking. But just like the rest of the year, people with diabetes have to be diligent about keeping their blood sugar levels under control despite the temptations.

"For so many people, the holidays are all about eating," said Anna Mazzei, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. "Food is everywhere, and that can be a problem for people with diabetes. But if you have diabetes, there are some steps you can take that will increase your chances of surviving the holidays without putting your health at risk."

Mazzei will offer tips for keeping your diabetes under control when she presents 'Seasonal Success for Diabetes Meal Planning' on Thursday, October 3, from 7 to 8 p.m. The seminar is part of Washington Hospital's free monthly Diabetes Matters education series and will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or is not able to use it properly. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugars and starchy foods into energy. When this process doesn't work properly, glucose (sugar) in the blood can get too high and lead to complications.

What You Eat Matters

"Everyone with diabetes knows that what you eat impacts blood sugar levels," she said. "That's why proper meal planning and portion control are so important."

Mazzei said it's important to plan the meals and snacks you eat all year long. But with so many temptations during the holidays, it becomes much more critical.

"Don't use the holidays as an excuse to overeat," she added. "Set up your home and work environments so they support your efforts. Don't keep tempting treats around, and have healthy snacks on hand so you have an alternative to the high-carb, high calorie foods that are available during the holidays."

One way to avoid overeating at parties and other holiday gatherings is to eat something before you head out. If you arrive hungry, you are more likely to overeat, she said.

"Don't hang out around the buffet table," Mazzei added. "It's also a very bad idea to skip meals so can overdo it later. That will wreak havoc on blood sugar."

She recommended checking blood sugar levels more often during the holidays, particularly if you are eating foods you don't normally eat. That way you can monitor how the extra eating is affecting your diabetes and determine what you can and can't get away with.

If you do plan to indulge, step up your physical activity to help keep blood sugar under control, she added. Find ways to incorporate physical activity into your holiday plans.

Focus on What is Important

Another important theme of Mazzei's talk is the need to focus on what is important during the holidays, whether it's a particular food that is a special treat or managing expectations to keep stress levels down.

"The holidays can be a stressful time, which often leads to overindulging in food and alcohol." she said. "Evaluate what you want to accomplish during the holidays and be reasonable about what is really possible. Manage expectations. You can't do it all."

When making food choices during the holidays, only eat the special treats that are important to you. Don't eat food you could get any other time of the year.

"Don't eat it just because it's there," Mazzei added. "Spend your carbs wisely. Stick to the special holiday foods you really enjoy."

She will also talk about recipe modifications that can help you avoid overindulging. For example, you can reduce the amount of sugar in some recipes by using dried fruit or other sweeteners. Substituting low-fat dairy products can help cut calories and fat from many recipes.

"The holidays should not undo all your good efforts during the rest of the year," she said. "You can enjoy the holidays and still not overdo it. Eat a few treats you enjoy, but be selective. Stay focused on spending quality time with family and friends. Take a hike together or go ice-skating rather than just sitting around eating all the time."

To learn more about Diabetes Matters and other diabetes programs at Washington Hospital, visit