And just like that, Thanksgiving is here. While this time of year brings forth all-things bright, merry, and absolutely delicious, the holiday season can be a slippery slope. Be it a sluggish immune system, too many cookies, or stressful family get-togethers, it’s easy to feel less than stellar come January. Of course, feeling sluggish, guilty, or anything less than grateful isn’t the goal. So, where’s the happy medium? Fortunately, you can celebrate the holidays without sacrificing your health. And I have just the healthy holiday guide for you. Ultimately, this is about finding what works for you. What foods do—or don’t—make you feel your best? What holiday dessert is your absolute favorite (and worth the extra indulgence)? Read on to learn how to feel vibrant as the clock strikes midnight on December 31.
the foundation of optimal health
When it comes to optimal health (not just during holidays, but year-round) there are a few foundational pieces to the puzzle: quality sleep, daily movement, self-care, and quality nutrition. But of this list, nutrition is at the tippy top. After all, food fuels every cell in the body. Therefore, understanding basic nutrition concepts can make all the difference. If you’re not sure where to begin, this meal plan is a great place to start. Ultimately, we all have different nutritional needs, food preferences, and cravings. Yet one thing remains universal: stable blood sugar.
What is blood sugar?
Sugar—or glucose—is the body’s main source of energy. The term “blood sugar” refers to the amount of energy (sugar) present in our bloodstream at one set time. Sugar is produced when we break down food. Namely, carbohydrates. Be it a slice of pumpkin pie, an orange, or a piece of toast, that carb is absorbed into our bloodstream. Immediately or eventually, carbs are used as fuel. When it comes to all aspects of health, we want balanced blood sugar. In fact, you may already be familiar with spikes and dips in blood sugar. Hello, hanger! And unfortunately, most holiday indulgences aren’t exactly blood sugar-friendly.
Everyone Benefits From Balanced Blood Sugar
It’s important to know that everyone benefits from stable blood sugar—not just pre-diabetics and diabetics. It’s instrumental for both near-term and long-term health. Personally, it helped me put my PCOS into remission. It also improved my relationship with food and my body. To say I’m passionate about blood sugar is an understatement. To this day, I teach my clients how to balance their blood sugar for better sleep, hormone health, and optimized fertility. For good reason, it’s a hot nutrition topic. Before we dive into this healthy holiday guide, let’s cover blood sugar basics.
should you wear a cgm?
Throughout the day, blood sugar levels fluctuate. These fluctuations are normal. In fact, we expect a steady rise in glucose after waking, as our food digests, and even when we exercise. However, we want to minimize really high spikes and equally low dips. In part, because these sugar spikes and crashes don’t make us feel our best. Over time, they can lead to unwanted health conditions. In essence, a healthy blood sugar response is one where we have glucose balance after eating. Want to know how your body is responding to glucose 24/7? Consider wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM).
fiber is your friend
You don’t have to avoid carbohydrates (especially during the holidays!) to manage your blood sugar. In fact, that just leads to deprivation and hormonal issues. Whole food sources of carbohydrates—like 100% whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—offer the added benefit of fiber. Fiber helps slow digestion and minimize blood sugar peaks. Though most carbohydrates are broken down into sugar molecules, fiber is an outlier. Instead, fiber passes through the body, undigested. In turn, it helps minimize constipation, regulates hunger cues, and reduces the glycemic index. Win, win, win.
Healthy holiday guide: 8 practical Tips
Without further ado, below are specific tips to keep your blood sugar in check during the holidays. And good news: this healthy holiday guide can be incorporated year-round! Learn how to care for your body while still enjoying the holiday season. Yes, it’s possible!
1. aim for a balanced plate
Depending on your holiday plans, there are likely only a handful of days when you’re eating out of the norm. These are special moments spent with special people—enjoy! In the grand scheme of things, the holidays are a blip on the radar. All of that being said, when it comes to the meals surrounding the holidays, a balanced plate is key: aim for half a plate of non-starchy carbs (greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, etc.), a fist-sized amount of protein (4-6-oz), 1-2 sources of healthy fats, and a serving (1/2-1 cup) of slow-digesting carbs (oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes, etc.).
2. have protein with breakfast
It may be tempting to save room for turkey, but that’s actually doing more harm than good for your blood sugar levels. When you skip breakfast, you’re running on cortisol. Cortisol, our stress hormone, will cause elevated blood sugar. The goal is to honor your hunger, but consider if you’re intentionally suppressing your appetite in the morning. Speaking of breakfast, opt for a protein-forward morning meal. Starting your day with protein has been shown to stabilize blood sugar and may decrease highs and lows over the course of the day. For holiday brunch, make a frittata (packed with protein and fiber) or bake these healthy pumpkin muffins.
3. Eat At Regular Intervals
This goes without saying, but aim to eat meals at regular intervals during the day. For most, that’s every 3-4 hours. Skipping breakfast (or any meal) can actually increase blood sugar when you finally sit down to eat. However, eating every few hours helps keep blood sugar in check by not letting it dip too low. Again, stability is the goal. While this isn’t about eating constantly, it is about eating consistently.
4. Manage Stress
Stress elevates cortisol—one of our body’s main stress hormones. This can increase blood sugar and insulin levels. And while holiday stressors are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to cherish your rituals, make time for meditation, and set proper boundaries. Whether it be sticking to your budget or politely declining a boozy get-together, take care of mental health in order to help manage your blood sugar.
5. come prepared
Worried about the selection of food at your next holiday party? Plan ahead of time. Particularly if you’re heading to a potluck, bring a dish with you that’s both delicious and blood sugar-friendly. For example, these roasted carrots. By doing so, you will have at least one nourishing item to round out the other indulgent dishes. However, this isn’t about deprivation. Enjoy what your friends and family members contribute! Rather, it’s about giving yourself the added boost of nutrients to support your blood sugar.
6. Choose alcohol, wisely
Alcohol and blood sugar can be a tricky subject, especially if you have diabetes. When you drink alcohol—no matter the type—your liver kicks into gear to metabolize the alcohol. In turn, these substances block the liver from making new glucose. Blood sugars fall and you can quickly dip too low. Research also shows that drinking can affect your blood sugar for up to 12 hours. Ultimately, the best types of alcohol are those with a low sugar or carb content. Distilled spirits or hard liquors contain few-to-no carbs. Think: gin, rum, vodka, and whiskey.
7. swap refined sugar
When it comes to baking your favorite pie, bars, cookies, or cake, opt for lower glycemic sugar alternatives. My favorites are monkfruit and allulose. They’re easy to bake with and you won’t taste the difference! Swapping refined sugar (or even maple syrup) for these alternatives can drastically improve your blood sugar response. As we know, the holidays are a sugar bonanza. And too much sugar is a precursor to everything from headaches and bloating to poor sleep, feeling jittery or anxious, and irritability.
8. enjoy daily movement
Moderate, daily movement is beneficial for overall health—but it’s especially helpful for managing blood sugar levels. A moderately vigorous effort for 30 minutes (think: brisk walking, cycling, or strength training) can significantly benefit insulin regulation. All of that to say, a post-meal walk does wonders. In fact, it’s known as the simplest habit to stabilize glucose. In between Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, corral your family and go for a nature walk, throw a football in the backyard, or even encourage a dance party—anything to get moving and grooving.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.