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Christmas can be both a wonderful time to celebrate and a tricky time to navigate food choices. We’ve put together a list of the most commonly asked questions around food by friends, carers and family of people with diabetes at this time of year.
If you’re inviting friends or family for a Christmas meal and one of your guests has diabetes, you really shouldn’t change the menu. Christmas is a time for celebration, and people with diabetes are just as able to enjoy celebration food. There are some things you can do though that might help them to feel relaxed and manage their diabetes on the day.
If possible, let them know what food you plan to serve before the day – this will help them to plan ahead.
Be upfront about when food will be served – and try and stick to this plan on the day. This is especially important if your guest needs to take insulin with their meals.
If you are providing nibbles or snacks before the meal, try to provide a range of options – including some lower carbohydrate choices, for example nuts, cheese, popcorn, vegetable sticks and guacamole. Foods low in carbohydrate won’t directly raise blood glucose levels so can be easier for people with diabetes to manage before eating a big Christmas meal.
Keep the label from any packaged food that you serve – this information can be very useful for people with diabetes.
Provide a range of drinks, including sugar-free and alcohol-free choices. Make sure that whenever you are serving alcohol, there is food available at the same time.
For the main meal, serve plenty of vegetables and salad, alongside any meat/seafood, potatoes, bread etc. This will make a more balanced meal for all your guests, not just those who have diabetes.
Allow people to serve themselves – this will allow guests with diabetes to choose what and how much they want to eat.
There is no need to buy special foods marketed for people with diabetes – people with diabetes can choose to enjoy treat foods at this time of year just like everyone else. Special ‘diabetic’ products usually contain less carbohydrates and sugar than the regular version but may be just as high or even higher in energy (kilojoules) and saturated fat, so they are not necessarily a better choice.
Most Christmas food gifts are high in sugar and saturated fat and will raise blood glucose levels quite a lot if eaten in large portions. So, the best option is to buy something higher quality in a small portion – for example some nice chocolate or a small package of shortbread.
Alternately you could look for a gift that is not food related.
Christmas cake is dense in dried fruit and often sugar, and will raise blood glucose levels quite a lot if eaten in large portions. However, this does not mean that people with diabetes cannot have regular Christmas cake – most people can manage a small piece of regular Christmas cake if they choose to. And the fact that Christmas cake is so dense in sugar and energy means that a small portion is the best option for all of us, not just those with diabetes.
If you are looking to buy someone with diabetes a Christmas cake, there is no need to buy a special ‘diabetic’ version. It is up to the person with diabetes to serve themselves a portion of cake that is suitable for them. Choosing a smaller sized cake is a good option as people often get several food-based gifts at this time of year, all high in sugar.
If you would like to make a Christmas cake, there are recipes that are lower in sugar and saturated fat, making them healthier choices. However, all Christmas cakes have a lot of dried fruit, so even without added sugar, it still needs to be enjoyed in small portions. Try this simple recipe using only four ingredients, or this recipe with healthy fats and extra fibre from almond meal and wholemeal flour.
Just like Christmas cake, people with diabetes can enjoy regular Christmas desserts in small portions. However, many people with diabetes will appreciate having healthier dessert options available that are lower in sugar, total carbohydrate and saturated fat as these will make it easier to keep their blood glucose levels in target.
Healthier options with lower energy (kilojoule) content are also a good option for all of us if we are enjoying these Christmas desserts throughout the Christmas season, not just on Christmas day. Regardless of the recipe, serve desserts in small portions – people can always come back for seconds, but they are less likely to overdo it.
are low in added sugar. Many recipes will work quite well if you just halve the suggested sugar amount.
contain high fibre ingredients like wholemeal flour, fruit, legumes or nuts.
use healthy unsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, sunflower or canola oil.
are lower in total fat, lowering the energy (kilojoule) content – for example recipes that swap high fat ingredients like butter or oil for Greek yoghurt or buttermilk.
Family and friends play an important role in helping a person to manage their diabetes. However, it is important to remember that people with diabetes are the experts in their own condition and are free to make their own choices about food. So instead of asking questions like ‘should you be eating that?’, ask your friend or family member if there is anything you can do to help them with managing their diabetes, particularly at this time of year when they probably just want to relax and enjoy themselves.
Read more about alcohol and diabetes.
Read more about making healthy food choices.
If you’d like to speak with a dietitian, contact the NDSS Helpline on 1800 637 700. Dietitians from Diabetes Victoria are available to answer your queries on the Helpline Monday to Friday.
Please note that the dietitian service will be unavailable from Monday 21 December, returning on Monday 4 January 2021, due to the Christmas break. The NDSS Helpline will continue to operate throughout this time, you can find the festive season hours here.