‘Tis the Season: Balancing Holiday Treats With Healthy Eating

The holiday treats have been trickling in to my office’s kitchen. First, a vendor sent a box of delectable cookies. Then, another vendor sent a package of chocolate-covered and sugar-coated pecans. And then one of my colleagues brought in a gingerbread cake last week. Did I partake of any of these? I admit that yes, I did. And this coming week we have a cookie bake-off at work.


Of course, Christmas is this week, which brings its own set of treats. Granted, I don’t have diabetes, heart disease, celiac disease, or other conditions that practically demand healthful eating. So I don’t mean to whine or complain.

For those of you who have diabetes, what kinds of challenges do you face at this time of year? And how do you handle them? Do you indulge a little? Do you shy completely away? Are you able to adjust your insulin (if you take it) to compensate for high-carbohydrate treats? It’s always helpful to hear about strategies that you use. There’s no one right way to do things, by the way. But you’ve likely come across some ways to make managing diabetes a little easier, and I’m sure others would appreciate hearing about them.

This week I’m not going to lecture about what one should stay away from at the dinner or buffet table. I figure that by now, you likely know this and even if you don’t, you maybe don’t want to hear about it. After all, the holidays are here and it’s a time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends. Instead, I thought I’d focus a little on what’s actually pretty healthful on the dinner table (besides the salad).

Are we doing anything right when it comes to eating at the holidays? I came across some information from the NPD Group, a company that specializes in market research, including market research on food and nutrition. The information is titled “Top 10 foods and beverages consumed at dinner on Christmas day.” Foods eaten are ranked according to region of the country: West, Central, South, and East. With the exception of central US, the number one food consumed on Christmas is…(drumroll)…vegetables! Granted, we don’t know if these are vegetables smothered in butter or cheese sauce, but that’s pretty good! The number two food is potatoes (in the central US, potatoes are number one and vegetables are number two).

As I mentioned last week, the holidays are a time of tradition, and not many people like to mess with tradition. But making a few tweaks here and there is surely permissible. Think for a moment about the foods that you eat over the holidays. Rather than focusing on the calorie-laden, fatty foods, can you name one or two foods (or beverages) that are pretty healthy? I’m sure that you can. Here are a few things to get you started:

  • Sweet potatoes. A favorite at Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes often show up at other holidays, too. And why not? These starchy vegetables are bursting with beta-carotene and have a decent amount of vitamin C. They also have a fairly low glycemic index, too. Yes, they contain carbohydrate, but there’s no reason that you can’t enjoy them.
  • Cranberries. Most people don’t eat cranberries “as is.” Likely, they’re mashed up and made into a sauce or else folded into muffin or pancake batter. These tart little berries are near the top of the list of foods high in antioxidants. Cranberries may also lower the risk of getting a urinary tract infection.
  • Turkey. Turkey’s an easy one when it comes to health. It’s got a lot going for it, including protein, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins. Four ounces of breast meat has just 150 calories and practically no fat. And who care if you just had it at Thanksgiving? One caveat: Leave off the skin.
  • Hot chocolate. How could this be good for you? Cocoa is another food that’s sometimes overlooked in terms of nutrition. The Kuna people in Panama drink up to 40 cups of cocoa each week. Yet this population has very low rates of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Like cranberries, cocoa is chock full of antioxidants. But we’re talking about real cocoa powder, not the packaged, processed kind. Try making your own hot chocolate with pure cocoa.
  • Cinnamon. Many of our readers have shared their “success” stories with cinnamon. This popular spice may be helpful for lowering blood glucose in some people. Even if it doesn’t for you, it’s still a flavoring that you can add to just about anything without worrying about calories, carbohydrate, or fat.
  • Pumpkin pie. It’s hard to resist desserts. If pumpkin pie is a choice, go for that. Pumpkin is low in calories but rich in beta-carotene, fiber, and potassium. The crust is what will get you, so leave the crust or if you’re the baker, try a graham cracker crust instead.

See? There are a lot of healthy holiday foods. I’ll bet you can share some others! Happy Holidays!

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  • Dale Pettiner

    I think another pie might be a chocolate pie made with either sugar free dark chocolate or chocolate fudge pudding (the cook it type). I add a spray of Redi-Whip too.

  • acampbell

    Thanks, Dale. Although probably not as nutritious as a pumpkin pie, a chocolate pie made with sugar-free pudding and skim or low-fat milk can certainly be a tasty treat.

  • Linda Spencer

    Try rubbing cold butter on inside of ribbed pie tin, coat with panko crumbs pushed into butter….Then add pumpkin pie mix and……….. bake as usual…Cuts calories and tastes great….!!!!!

  • Kathy Sparks

    My problem at the holidays is in-law family. The problems and drama keeps my sugar high even though my diet is really good. I try to not let things get to me but they manage to do it. Any help?

  • Eva Walker

    Anything that calls for sugar you can cut it in half and still taste as good with pure vanilla extract and not the artificial ones.It won’t work with that.If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla add a full tablespoon of vanilla and then you can add half the amount of sugar,maple syrup or honey.You will never know the difference.It’s great with mixed drinks and hot chocolates and you favorite egg nogs with skim milk

  • sunburst

    Pumpkin pie has always been a favorite. I was diagnosed with Celiac prior to my Type II diagnosis, so I already was enjoying it sans crust.
    Now the few people in our circle of family and friends who make pies make a point of making some in custard dishes in various sugar-free/low sugar versions for me to enjoy.
    What a great time of year for us pumpkin pie lovers.

  • acampbell

    Hi Kathy,

    Well, I’d say you’re not alone! Family and holidays can bring stress to everyone. The key is learning how to best manage it. I always find that taking a few deep, slow breaths can help you feel calmer, lower your heart rate (and likely your blood pressure, too!) and generally help you think more clearly about the situation. The other thing you can try is to walk out of the room or even pop outdoors for a few minutes if there is too much drama going on. Again, removing yourself, even for a few minutes, from the situation can help you better cope with the stress. You can also take the bull by the horns and talk to your in-laws about whatever issues are bothering you (or you can wait and do that after the holidays). Can your husband help you out in any way? Have you talked to him about the situation? Fortunately, the holidays are usually over pretty quickly, so a few days of higher-than-desired blood glucose readings won’t lead to any lasting damage.

  • Kathryn Crandell

    For my pumpkin pie crust I use old-fashion oats. I spray a good non-stick coating on the glass pan and carefully press the oats on. If butter is used the oats stick better. Then I carefully pour in the pumpkin, ready to bake, so as not to disturb the oats. I let that soak into the oats for 10-15 minutes. Bake.

    Yummy and Healthful!!