The holidays are full of blood sugar-raising temptations. So, if you have diabetes, or are simply trying to be mindful of your blood sugar levels, it’s a good idea to incorporate foods with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. While these foods still contain carbs and can still raise blood sugar, their fat and fiber content tend to lower the GI of the food, reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes and helping to maintain healthy blood glucose levels after a meal.
Here are four simple tips and tricks to get more low-GI foods into your holidays:
1. Use Whole Grains
Whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, oat bran, and 100% stone-ground whole wheat bread are good example of carbohydrates that are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. While many holiday favorites tend to be carb-heavy, you can bump up the nutritional value of these dishes by using whole grain ingredients.
For example, try using a whole wheat bread or brown rice in your traditional stuffing recipe. Baking holiday breads? You might consider adding in some oat bran to increase the fiber per serving.
When possible, skip or limit the crescent dinner rolls made with refined, high-GI flour.
2. Focus on Low-GI Fruits & Veggies
Turkey and stuffing are usually the stars of a holiday meal, but that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and non-starchy veggies are considered low-GI foods and can make a wonderful addition to a holiday meal.
Collard greens or other leafy greens can make an appearance steamed, sautéed, or in salads. Even some starchy root vegetables—like sweet potatoes—may be higher in carbohydrates but have a low glycemic impact on blood sugars. Try mashed sweet potatoes with butter and a bit of salt and forgo the sugar-laden sweet potato casserole that is much higher on the glycemic index.
3. Watch the Sugar
Many holiday favorites are loaded with extra sugar, making them particularly troublesome if you’re trying to watch your blood sugar. Things like cranberry sauce, sweet potato casseroles, pumpkin pie, cider and alcoholic beverages all rank high on the glycemic index.
You don’t have to restrict yourself from your favorite holiday treats, entirely —after all, who doesn’t want a piece of traditional pumpkin pie? But it is important to be mindful of how many high-GI foods you are consuming all in one meal. Limiting excess sugary foods in place of low-GI foods full of healthy fats, protein and fiber can really help to keep you full and feeling satisfied during the holidays. So you can have your pie and eat it too!
4. Fill Up on Protein
Meats and fats don’t have a glycemic index because they do not contain any carbohydrates. This makes that roasted turkey an even better contender as the main focus of your holiday dinner. Leftover turkey also lends itself to a great pot of low-GI turkey chili with extra beans and veggies.
Also, consider adding other forms of protein, like beans, nuts and legumes, to your side dishes. Try adding a handful of roasted almonds, walnuts, or pecans to salads or stuffing.
Staying healthy during the holiday season can be tricky, but is not impossible. By focusing on foods low on the glycemic index, you can continue to incorporate nutritious, minimally-processed foods and enjoy your favorite holiday meals with your loved ones.