Holiday eating tips with type 1 diabetes

Lauren Plunkett, RD

The scent of pumpkin spice is in the air, holiday decorations are up, and the music of the season is playing aloud. Holiday parties, family gatherings, and cookie exchanges are being planned. Specialty food items are a popular gift, chocolate candy tins, bags of caramel and chocolate drizzled popcorn, and sugar coated pecans. How will we ever count it all?

Here are a few tips to managing blood sugar when the sugar plum fairy is tempting around every corner:

  • Read the nutrition label and portion out one serving into individual baggies to help with portion control; write the carb count on the bag for easy snacks on the go!
    • The FDA requires a Nutrition Facts label on most food packages for sale or distributed by larger companies. Some exceptions are small businesses, ready-made meals, and free samples. Look up similar foods to draw a comparison if you find yourself without a label.
  • Eat dessert after a balanced meal, not by itself! Eating balanced means eating a variety of foods to give you all the carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals your body needs.  Choosing fiber-rich foods like veggies, grains, legumes/beans, and fruit can help stave off the sweet cravings later in the day!  A few examples of fiber-rich meals with minimal preparation are tacos with veggies, salsa, and beans in a whole wheat tortilla or veggie stir fry with brown rice, peanuts, and soy sauce.
  • Specialty coffee drinks can be full of sugary syrups for flavoring. Major restaurants and cafes like Starbucks and Caribou coffee have nutrition information available for easy carb counting. Specialty drinks can always be modified by portion size or made with sugar-free syrup for less impact on BG. The tip to remember is to treat any sugary drink like a dessert, enjoy it with a balanced meal, carb count accurately, and deliver insulin before starting to drink it.
  • Choose a few favorites and clear out the rest. Sometimes we feel the need to try everything we see even if it’s not what we really want. One method is to eliminate temptations by putting the sweets out of sight and out of immediate reach. Another option is to give the gift of re-gifting! School teachers, neighbors, co-workers, are all friendly options to share the holiday sweetness with outside of the house.

If you are making your favorite items from scratch add up the total amount of carbohydrates from ingredients like flour, sugar, and chocolate chips, first. Then divide by how many you make to find how many carbohydrates are in one item. Or try using an easy recipe calculator on your family favorite recipes!

Example (please read your labels for precise information):

1 cup flour 100g
1 cup sugar 200g
½ cup chocolate chips 100g
Egg, butter, oil, spices No carbohydrates
Total carbohydrate 300g
Makes 12 cookies 300 divided by 12
1 cookie= 25 grams


Most important tip of all: The holiday season can be fun and healthy with a little preparation. Small changes to understand portion sizes and carbohydrate amounts can go a long way to keep your BG in target without giving up your favorite foods. Spend time with family, eat together, be active together, and enjoy the holiday season!