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Prediabetes Diet: 6 Tips to Prepare for Those Holiday Meals

Limit processed foods, refined carbs and more

A festive holiday table with traditional foods served - San Diego Health Magazine

Limit processed foods, refined carbs and more

The holiday season is a time for meals with those we love. For people with prediabetes — a condition involving elevated blood sugar that’s not quite high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes — keeping healthy amid the festivities can be a struggle. 


“The holidays can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety,” says Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, medical director of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute and an endocrinologist at Scripps Clinic. “In addition to trying to eat right, you may find you have less time to exercise, are feeling more stress and not getting enough sleep.” 


Prediabetes is considered a hidden epidemic. The National Institutes of Health estimate that 1 in 3 adults, or about 88 million people, have prediabetes. Most don’t even know it. 

Low-carb foods are healthier

So how can you plan for holiday meals if you or your family members might be at risk of developing diabetes? Dr. Philis-Tsimikas says moderation is key. Lower-carbohydrate options are a good place to start, and that includes counting carbs in beverages. 


It’s also beneficial to eat something light before going to a holiday gathering, says Caitlin Dahl, RDN, clinical supervisor of outpatient education programs at Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute. That way, you’ll be OK with eating smaller portions if there are too few low-sugar options. 


“If it’s a potluck situation, you bring the vegetables so that you know there is at least one healthy option for you,” Dahl suggests. 


“And if it’s a buffet, do a lap around the table before you start plating so you can prioritize what foods you want to put on your plate.” 


But what’s a reveler to do when the table is filled with every holiday delight? 

Six tips for healthy eating during the holidays:

1. Starchy vegetables are great choices for carbohydrates 

Starchy vegetables are full of fiber, which helps you feel full longer, keeps your blood sugar steady and helps lower your cholesterol. Examples: roasted potatoes or yams, creamed corn or butternut squash soup. 

2. Non-starchy vegetables should make up the bulk of your meals

Watch for added ingredients like butter and oil in your non-starchy vegetables. Instead, season vegetables with festive spices, like ginger for carrots and broccoli, and sage and rosemary for Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and green beans. 

3. Avoid refined carbohydrates and foods with added sugars

Foods like white bread dinner rolls, white rice or cranberry sauce can create a blood sugar spike that eventually crashes, causing cravings and making people want to eat more. 

4. Look for leaner cuts of meat 

Do this when picking your holiday roasts or opt for chicken and turkey with the skin removed. To keep meat moist, use a meat tenderizer, a healthy marinade or a moist-heat cooking method like braising, stewing or poaching. 

5. Consider portion sizes

Watch portion sizes by splitting your plate into three parts: half for non-starchy vegetables, a quarter for protein and a quarter for carbs. 

6. Don’t need to skip desert

Believe it or not, don’t skip dessert. Over-restricting can lead to over-eating. Instead, allow yourself to eat a sweet treat if you want and don’t feel bad about it. If possible, bake with a sugar alternative, such as Splenda, stevia, or monk fruit. 

Get moving after eating

When you’ve finished your meal, Dahl says to resist the urge to fall into a holiday food coma. 


“Go for a walk or hit the dance floor after your meal,” she says. “Walking for 30 minutes after a meal will help lower your blood sugar, boost your metabolism, aid in digestion and relieve stress.” 

SD Health Magazine Winter 2023 Cover

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.