The Type 2 Diabetic’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Table

Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
by Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
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The Type 2 Diabetic’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Table

The holiday season is a time to celebrate, savor and indulge! Whether you’re planning an extra special surprise for your hubby or enjoying a gingerbread man (or three!), what makes this time of year so special is that we all celebrate…with food!

Being a Type 2 diabetic and being surrounded by cookies, potatoes and carbohydrate-laden treats is no easy feat. Have no fear: a little bit of planning and preparation before party time goes a long way! Rest assured that there is plenty of room on your plate for any holiday craving. You deserve to not just survive the holiday scene but to cherish all the good food, carbs included, and even better company!

Let’s face it: living with diabetes is a daily struggle. It’s not uncommon to feel anxious, stressed and emotional during holidays that focus so heavily on food. You’re stuck counting carbohydrates and tracking medications while others are grabbing a slice of cake. That said, adopting a few tricks of the trade can help you manage diabetes on those special occasions where treats are the highlight. You may learn that focusing more on family and friends rather than food tastes even sweeter!



When in doubt, think ahead and be prepared for any and all situations. If you know you’ll be eating at an unusual time, be sure to have nutritious snacks like dry-roasted edamame, a small apple or a baggie of almonds nearby to combat low blood sugar. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have medications such as bolus insulin, bring them with you for the meal ahead.


Obviously this strategy works well for potlucks, but your dinner hosts will likely appreciate you bringing food to share. Plan a dish or two with your own spin on it so you know there will be at least one seminutritious option on the table. If your favorite holiday staple is stuffing, make a lighter version with more vegetable broth than oil, extra veggies and whole-wheat sourdough. If you’re on cranberry duty, reduce the sugar by a third, use raw honey instead and add plenty of orange peel and cinnamon for flavor.


Experiment with herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro and warming spices like nutmeg, ginger and cardamom. Herbs and spices help flavor dishes without all the extra sugar. Experts suggest that you may not even notice the difference if you cut back on a third to half of sweeteners that a recipe calls for. A splash of vanilla extract does wonders for baked goods, and while you can’t expect miracles, there is some evidence linking cinnamon to lower blood sugar.


Bring an appetizer plate with colorful fresh veggie slices and roasted red pepper hummus for dipping. For a light and colorful side, sauté fresh green beans in olive oil and garlic, then stir in fresh pomegranate arils and toasted almonds.



That may sound impractical, but the best way to prevent spikes and dips in blood sugar is to stay relatively consistent with your intake. For example, don’t skip breakfast that day in order to eat a bigger plate of food in the evening. Keep your carbohydrate consumption as steady as possible, and snack mindfully so you don’t overeat when mealtime rolls around.


Be sure to have a nutritious snack before the drinking starts to avoid a dip in blood sugar. Holiday cocktails can be especially sweet and high in carbs, so cap yourself at one or two drinks. Or choose lighter sips with less sugar. Vodka soda with a splash of lime and cranberry, anyone?


Holiday meals tend to be filled with carbohydrate-rich foods. While it may not be the best decision to take big spoonfuls of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and stuffing, it’s OK to have a couple of tastes of everything. Build a plate with your favorite foods, but don’t go overboard with the portion size. Remember, this isn’t the last day you’ll ever eat! There will be plenty of leftovers tomorrow. Check out our beginner’s guide to portion sizes to learn more.


Among the high-carb fare, try sneaking in some fiber-filled vegetables, healthy fats from nuts or avocado and lean protein from chicken, fish, beans or tofu. Both protein and fat are helpful for satiety and curbing blood sugar highs and lows. Remember, if your plate is mostly refined carbohydrates, your blood sugar will spike and then crash, which may leave you sleepier and hungrier.


If there’s ever a time to indulge in that piece of cake, it’s now. The world won’t end if you treat yourself, but remember to do so smartly. If you want a snowball cookie, pass on the dinner roll.



You’re likely going to eat more than usual over the holidays. Don’t sweat it. Or do! Take a walk, help clean up, toss the Frisbee or chase the grandkids. Whatever you do, make sure you’re moving. The more you hover around the dessert table, the more you’ll eat.


When all is said and done, realize that you’re not actually there for the food. You’re there to create new memories and cherish old ones with family and friends. Life is too short to spend precious holiday time stressing about food choices. Think ahead, set yourself up for success and know that you can do it!

Do you or someone you know have Type 2 diabetes? Share your experience in the comments below.

About the Author

Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD
Alexis Joseph, MS, RD, LD

Alexis is a nationally recognized nutritionist and media personality specializing in nutrition communications and intuitive eating. She founded Hummusapien, a multi-faceted food, wellness, and lifestyle website in 2011 and co-founded Alchemy Juice Bar + Cafe in Columbus, OH in 2014. Alexis also works as a writer, speaker, and nutrition consultant for food brands and commodity boards.


2 responses to “The Type 2 Diabetic’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Table”

  1. Avatar Moooo says:

    I am a type 2 diabetic, in January my numbers were: A1C 12.1, blood glucose 300, ALT 34. Today: A1C 5.8, BG 103, ALT 30. This diet is to keep you buying their medications. Our problem is to much sugar in the blood so, why would you put more sugar in the blood? Walk/run daily, minimize your starch, and eat a serving of veggies before evey meal.(broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts) Most importantly, NO EXCUSES!!!

  2. Avatar Jennifer Robbers says:

    I have to say the advice about edamame or nuts isn’t very helpful for a truly low blood sugar, great snacks, but not going to bring you out of a low.

    Also, using raw honey in place of sugar is not saving any carbohydrates, just replacing one with another.

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