Diabetes & The Holidays: How to Choose Desserts, Cocktails & More

Enjoy the holidays without worrying about your blood sugar.

By Toni Gasparis
woman eating cookies

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Having diabetes and managing the holidays can get tricky. With all the parties and events, it can be hard to resist the temptation to eat and drink all the delicious things that can harmfully raise your blood sugar. If you’re a scrooge this time of year for this very reason, you’re in luck. There are a few ways to indulge and still be mindful of your blood sugar.

Of course, there’s no right or wrong way to manage your sugar intake that can be discovered in an article — only your personal doctor can give that kind of guidance. But if you’re looking for healthier dessert swaps (diabetic or not), these simple tricks can help you snack smarter at your next holiday event. So enjoy sugar the healthy way this season with these four substitution suggestions.  

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Choose Dark Chocolate 

If you’re looking for something sweet, go for dark chocolate. The cocoa plant contains something called flavonoids, which have been shown to potentially improve insulin resistance — meaning your body might be able to respond better to insulin. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives showed that dark chocolate might be helpful when managing diabetes and insulin and may even prevent cardiovascular issues in individuals with diabetes. 

When shopping, make sure you’re getting authentic dark chocolate. Look for bars that contain at least 70 percent cocoa or higher. Chances are, the holiday party you attend will not just have bars of dark chocolate lying around, so you might want to consider bringing a small bar with your in your bag to enjoy and avoid the temptation of other desserts. Keep in mind that even dark chocolate still has sugar and will impact your blood sugar levels, so always consume it in moderation and pay attention to how you are feeling.

If you’re making dessert at home to bring to a party, try dark chocolate covered strawberries or even some sort of dessert bark made with dark chocolate and nuts for a healthy, decadent treat to enjoy. 

Add Cinnamon to Your Coffee 

With all the holiday shopping there is to do, there’s no doubt that coffee breaks are a necessity. But don’t be tempted by high-sugar beverages like peppermint mochas and eggnog lattes. Instead, opt for coffee, sans sugar, and sprinkle some cinnamon on top. WebMD notes that while there have been some small studies on cinnamon’s effects on blood sugar, there is no definitive proof that it lowers blood sugar in patients with diabetes. 

However, with that being said, it is fewer calories than sugar. So give your coffee a kick and use it as an alternative to sugar not only during your mall shopping coffee runs during this season, but throughout the year as well.  

Bake With Dates 

If you love baked goods but find it hard to enjoy them because of your health condition, there is a way to alter them to make them healthier for you. Try baking with dates instead of sugar. Dates are high in fiber and have a lower glycemic index, meaning they won’t increase your blood sugar as much as some other foods. Foods with a glycemic index of 55 or less are low and better for your blood sugar — and dates are a 42. Try making these coconut truffles or this bread pudding using dates. Remember that the other ingredients you use may impact your blood sugar more than the dates, though, and that the overall snack might have a glycemic index over 55.

You can also try other sugar substitutes in baking, just remember to check with your doctor or a nutritionist and make sure the swaps you want to make won’t impact your health in any way. 

Use Sparkling Water as a Mixer

If you're at your office's holiday party and don't know which drink to reach for, always go for ones with less sugar. Common cocktail mixers, like flavored seltzer or soda, may contain added ingredients and sugars. Try swapping these bubbly beverages for plain sparkling water — which has zero sugar but still gives you the carbonation you’re looking for. Avoid adding juices into your cocktails as those are an easy way to increase blood sugar. Instead, add a couple pieces of real fruit into your drink for flavor. 

You should always practice moderation with alcohol. If you have diabetes, specifically, it’s important to watch your servings and not overdo it with alcohol, since alcohol can both raise or lower (sometimes to dangerous levels) blood sugar depending on a variety of other factors. Keep count of your drinks and make sure to hydrate with water.  

Remember: Always Monitor Your Blood Sugar 

The holidays are a fun time of year and you should be able to enjoy them. However, it’s important to realize that your body has certain limitations you should pay attention to. Don’t go overboard on foods and beverages that are high in sugar: you should always consume things in moderation. Continue to monitor your sugars per usual and manage your condition accordingly — including regular exercise and a nutritious diet. If you have any concerns about your diet or begin to exhibit unusual symptoms, contact your doctor to discuss. While this is not a lifestyle that should be practiced on a daily basis, these tips and tricks can help you have your cake and eat it too during the most wonderful time of the year. 

Related: 

The Essential Diabetes Shopping List

How to Burn Off Your Favorite Holiday Foods

Cooking Hacks to Make the Holidays Easier

Article written by Toni Gasparis