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How to Have a Delicious Holiday with Diabetes

by  V. Sheree Williams on November 30, 2012
How to Have a Delicious Holiday with Diabetes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, especially if you are a foodie like the rest of us.  For many, the holidays are a time to relax a little on the diet and going a little crazy on the eggnog, desserts, candy and holiday meals. But what if you also have diabetes?  Should that change how you enjoy the holidays with family and friends?

Cuisine Noir’s head test kitchen chef, Berlin Lillard, has had to answer this question for more than 20 years since being diagnosed with diabetes type 2 at the age of 19 while attending college at Alabama State. “It was Thanksgiving dinner in the cafeteria every day plus I use to just kill juice,” says Lillard who acknowledges that diabetes exists on both sides of his family but no one in his immediate family has the disease.  “I used to have this uncontrollable thirst and was on a one way street to death. Even though I was playing football, I was still clinically obese. Although I was educated, I was dumb and thought that ‘suga” was an old person’s disease.”

It took passing out at work one day before he was finally diagnosed.  Like most, he was resistant at first to the necessary dietary changes that he needed to make but says, “After I had a coming to Jesus with the physicians and started seeing the changes in my diet, then I was able to grasp and enjoy the little changes that I needed to sustain happiness, especially during the holiday season.”

Enjoying the Holidays with Diabetes

Having diabetes is by far NOT a death sentence. We all want to live healthier and longer and so with some dietary changes that will become old habits in no time, you will not only be ready each year when the holidays come back around, but you’ll have a better appreciation for your body and what you put in it all year long.

According to Lillad, here are some guidelines to follow that will protect your health while still delighting your taste buds.

1. Alcohol – First check with your physician especially for wine and mixed drinks which are known to have a lot of sugar.  If you get the green light to indulge a little, be sure to always consume with food AND in moderation.

2.  Drinks – You have to have something to drink but try to stay away from fruit juices, mixes, and syrups.  Instead flavor your water with fruit or consume a diet soft drink (but even diet soft drinks come under fire for the artificial sweeteners).

4. Organic foods -   A lot of times when you go organic, it is already diabetic friendly so be sure to check out your aisle in the grocery store and read the labels.

5.  Watch your saturated fats – Fried foods should be off the menu and if it is the crispiness that you desire, look for a great oven-fried recipe that can achieve the same great taste with a little Panko.

6.  Breads – Look at going gluten-free.  All breads are out, including wheat so also consult with your doctor if this is something you want to still have in moderation.

7.  Pasta – Same as bread. Pasta can send you into a diabetic comma if overly consumed.  We all love a great pasta meal and there are so many healthy alternatives on the market today. A simple consult with your doctor could keep this on your menu.

8.  Grapefruits – There are 4 different medicines that counteract with this fruit. Be sure to check this out with your doctor to get a green light on the fruits that are safe to have while taking your insulin.

9.  Look for side dishes that are light in butter and for salads, ask for your dressing on the side.

10.  Gravy and sauces on the side.  If you’re a guest, most likely someone is doing the cooking. If meats and sides are prepared in sauces and gravies already, don’t add any more when preparing your plate.

11.  Meats – When preparing your meals, trim the fat off.  This is saturated fat which can increase you cholesterol level and triglycerides which can eventually impact your diabetes status. If you didn’t prepare the meal, try to look for lean meat.

12.  For cakes and pies, if the main ingredients are sugar and butter, skip them all together or watch your portion. For cakes, skip the sides with all the sugary decorations and go for a small middle pieces which will have less frosting. Also, get a wedge vs. a slice.  Cheesecakes should definitely be consumed with caution or not at all.

13. Enjoy nuts, fruit, sorbets (not sherbets), and tarts that are not glazed. If it shines, that means sugar is on it.

14. For cookies, bake with a sugar alternative such as Splenda or Stevia. If you are going to start baking with health in mind, use wheat flour or unbleached flour and low fat milk.  This also goes for the goodies you want to put in the batter.  Don’t use healthy ingredients and then put M & M’s or lots of chocolate chips in the batter.  That changes everything.

15. For your candy and fudges, most brands have a sugar-free alternative that can be enjoyed at least from Halloween, through the holidays and Valentine’s Day. If sugar-free is not your thing, moderation, moderation, moderation.

Lillard, who also owns 4ork N the Road Catering, says, “A lot of times it’s a yellow light to our casket. But if you pause for the cause for a minute and realize if I can get through this, I can get through anything, you’ll see it as a wake-up call.”

For more information about diabetes, visit

Getting ready for the holidays and have a few questions about how to prepare diabetic-friendly foods?  Ask your questions below to Chef Lillard all month long and look for his new column in Cuisine Noir starting in 2013.  He is just getting starting with helping our readers enjoy great food all year long. 


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