Twenty-nine million Americans suffer from diabetes, which means that someone sitting at your holiday dinner table quite possibly has the disease. The holidays are meant to represent the spirit of giving, understanding, and compassion, and there’s nothing that better signifies these principles than being aware of your guests’ eating restrictions.
Meals can easily incorporate the dietary needs of diabetics without detracting any flavor, but as a host, what is the best strategy for creating a diabetic-friendly holiday meal?
Dietician Rory C. Pace, director of nutrition services at Satellite Healthcare in San Jose, California, and an expert in nephrology, diabetes, and cardiac rehabilitation, has some answers.
Strive for Balance
No one food is necessarily excluded from a diabetic’s diet, but it’s important to maintain a balance between starchy foods, like stuffing and yams that raise blood sugar, and vegetables. “Steamed or sautéed green beans, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and green salad are great options to round out a holiday meal,” Pace notes. Additionally, “corn, peas and potatoes should be considered starches rather than vegetables.”
Serve Dressings and Sauces on the Side
It’s better to allow guests with diabetes to season and sauce their own food. Leaving dressings and other condiments on the side “will help guests manage their food choices more easily while enjoying their favorite holiday dishes,” Pace says.
Avoid Celebratory Beverages
Sweet cocktails, eggnog, and mulled wine are iconic holiday beverages, but these drinks are loaded with sugar and can affect blood sugar levels. Diabetics are not putting themselves at risk by having a drink, but Pace recommends offering guests non-alcoholic beverages such as sparkling water, fruit-infused “spa” water, or seasonal teas that specifically help fight diabetes.
Don’t Overdo Dessert
Sugar is problematic for diabetics, but this doesn’t mean they can’t have any dessert. “Including dessert is therefore a matter of portion and balance,” Pace says. “Consider small servings, particularly if there are many delicious options to choose from.”
When in Doubt, Ask
Guests might have questions or requests regarding the meal, but might keep silent for fear of being an extra burden to the host. Be proactive, and don’t be afraid to ask people about any eating or dietary restrictions they might have. “People living with chronic diseases are often very knowledgeable about their nutrition needs and will likely appreciate your interest and support,” Pace notes.