The holiday season is upon us, and that means parties, more time spent indoors, travel, and plenty of eating and drinking. Even for the most health-focused among us, it’s tempting to throw our healthy lifestyle practices out the window for the last six weeks of the year and plan to pick them up in the new year.
Unfortunately, this can leave you feeling less-than optimal. The lack of exercise compounded with sugary foods and alcohol can leave you on a blood sugar roller coaster; one that makes you feel amped and energized one minute and then sleepy, cranky, and foggy-brained the next.
If you can relate to this, you’re far from alone. Blood sugar issues are way more common than you might think.
What you need to know about blood sugar highs and lows
According to the CDC, about 33.9% of adults (1) in the U.S.—that’s more than 84 million people—have pre-diabetes. What’s even more shocking is that only one-third of them know they have it. Many of us don’t think about our blood sugar until there’s a problem; and sadly, blood sugar problems that go untreated can progress to full-blown diabetes, which is a leading cause (2) of heart attacks and strokes.
Pull back the curtain on diabetes and pre-diabetes and you’ll find insulin resistance at their core. Insulin is the hormone that directs the sugar in your blood to your cells, which your cells then use for fuel. When you become insulin resistant, the insulin receptor sites on your cells become weak and you end up with blood sugar that is too high. This can cause side effects like fatigue, cravings, and excessive thirst.
But don’t worry, it’s not all bad news. (I promise I’m not on a mission to ruin your holiday!) The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices can make a huge difference in insulin sensitivity. And it is possible to enjoy the holidays without sabotaging your blood sugar health.
By leaning on a few blood sugar-friendly lifestyle practices—and indulging in moderation—you can have a happy and healthy end to 2019.
How to balance blood sugar over the holidays
Whether you have a diagnosed blood sugar problem or just want to avoid the ups and downs many of us experience over the holiday season, here are a few tips to incorporate into your end-of-year routine:
1. Try intermittent fasting
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting can help regulate blood sugar levels, even in those who are at risk for type 2 diabetes. One study in particular showed (3) that fasting improved blood sugar response in men—regardless of how much food they ate.
As you might guess, this makes fasting a great practice to adopt over the holidays. It’s also super simple. To get started, just leave a 14- to 16-hour window between dinner and breakfast the next day. (To read more about intermittent fasting, check out my guide here.)
2. Move your body
I know it’s tempting to sit on the couch this time of year, but if you can get active for just a few minutes every day, your blood sugar levels with thank you. It doesn’t really matter what you do—it could be something as simple as tennis or an at-home yoga routine. Or, opt for HIIT and resistance training, which have been shown to improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity. (4)
If you haven’t had a chance to get active during the day, take a 10-minute walk after dinner. Studies have shown that walking after a main meal resulted in lower blood glucose levels. In fact, one showed that it reduced (5) blood glucose by around 12% compared to a 30-minute walk at any other time of day. Make it a family activity and invite everyone to go with you. The dishes can wait!
3. Make water your new best friend
Of all the blood sugar offenders, sweetened beverages are probably the worst. Studies have shown that people who consume more than two servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day have a 99% increased risk (6) of developing LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) and a 20% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
If you can avoid sweet cocktails, sodas, and high-sugar holiday drinks (I’m looking at you, pumpkin-spiced latte), you can drastically cut down your sugar intake without missing out on any of your favorite foods. Instead, keep your water bottle with you at all times and sip regularly. If you get bored with plain water, add some fresh lemon juice, a splash of blood-sugar balancing (7) apple cider vinegar, or pick up some sparkling water on your next grocery store run. Being properly hydrated will also help you avoid snacking mindlessly, as many people mistake thirst for hunger.
4. Add cinnamon to…everything
Cinnamon is famous for its blood-sugar-balancing properties. Studies have shown (8) that it’s a useful add-on therapy in treating diabetes and cinnamon consumption is associated with a statistically significant decrease (9) in levels of fasting blood glucose.
Luckily, cinnamon is an extremely versatile ingredient that goes great with almost anything. Add it to your morning coffee or your afternoon tea. You can incorporate it into a ton of recipes, like sweet potato dishes, oatmeal, and smoothies.
5. Fill up on nutrient-rich foods first
Finally, when you sit down to the dinner table, fill your plate up with dishes containing veggies, healthy fats like coconut or avocaodos, and healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and squash, first. These foods will provide fiber (which can also influence blood sugar control (10) in a positive way, leave you satiated, and help you avoid simple carbs and empty-calories foods, like dinner rolls.
Everyone deserves to enjoy the holidays and indulge on occasion, but you also deserve to feel your best and not experience the crankiness, fatigue, and brain fog caused by blood sugar roller coaster. By making a few tweaks like the ones above, you can have the best of both worlds.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- “Prevalence of Prediabetes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Feb. 2018, www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics-report/prevalence.html.
- “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 Feb. 2017, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke.
- Hutchison, Amy T., et al. “Time‐Restricted Feeding Improves Glucose Tolerance in Men at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Trial.” Obesity, 2019, doi:10.1002/oby.22449.
- Ijichi T, Hasegawa Y, Morishima T, Kurihara T, Hamaoka T, Goto K. Effect of sprint training: training once daily versus twice every second day. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15:143–150.
- Reynolds, Andrew N., et al. “Advice to Walk after Meals Is More Effective for Lowering Postprandial Glycaemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus than Advice That Does Not Specify Timing: a Randomised Crossover Study.” Diabetologia, vol. 59, no. 12, 2016, pp. 2572–2578., doi:10.1007/s00125-016-4085-2.
- Lofvenborg JE, Andersson T, Carlsson PO, Dorkhan M, Groop L, Martinell M, et al. . Sweetened beverage intake and risk of latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) and type 2 diabetes. Eur J Endocrinol. (2016) 175:605–14. 10.1530/EJE-16-0376
- White, A. M., & Johnston, C. S. (2007, November 1). Vinegar Ingestion at Bedtime Moderates Waking Glucose Concentrations in Adults With Well-Controlled Type 2 Diabetes. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/11/2814.full.
- Medagama A. B. (2015). The glycaemic outcomes of Cinnamon, a review of the experimental evidence and clinical trials. Nutrition journal, 14, 108. doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0098-9
- Allen R.W., Schwartzman E., Baker W.L., Coleman C.I., Phung O.J. Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann. Fam. Med. 2013;11:452–459. doi: 10.1370/afm.1517.
- Riccardi G., Rivellese A.A., Mokdad A.H., Ford E.S., Bowman B.A., Nelson D.E., Engelgau M.M., Vinicor F., Marks J.S. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Carbohydrate on Glucose and Lipoprotein Metabolism in Diabetic Patients. Diabetes Care. 1991;14:1115–1125. doi: 10.2337/diacare.14.12.1115.
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