The Sweetest of Seasons Doesn’t Have to Be Full of Sugar

November marks the official start of the holiday season. It’s a wonderful time of year marked by nostalgic holidays and lots of decadent recipes. In spending time with family and friends, we often come together over meals and festive drinks. All of these treats are highly anticipated all year long, but are often not the healthiest choices in terms of our wellbeing. It can be difficult to know when to indulge and when to hold back without feeling deprived and resentful.


Diabetic-friendly foods are especially hard to come by, and it might seem cruel to focus on diabetes prevention during a time of year when sugars and sweet treats abound, but in my opinion, it’s actually the perfect time to focus on this issue. As a nurse when I talk about diabetes prevention, people’s eyes glaze over. After all, what fun is Thanksgiving without the pecan pie, the sweet potato casserole and the cranberry sauce that’s still shaped like the can it came out of. No one wants to think about avoiding sugar when sugar is the headliner in so many of their favorite indulgences.


Obviously, diabetes prevention is an ongoing lifestyle, and not something that only needs to be thought about once a year. But if you can manage to make healthy decisions during this time of year, you can easily handle it all year long. Avoiding or indulging in a few holiday treats is not going to make or break you, but I think this season, with its prevalence of confections is a great opportunity to reflect on healthy prevention that you can easily maintain in all seasons.


One great tip I like to use is to save your sugar allowance for the sugar you really desire. If your grandmother’s homemade apple pie is the dessert you dream about all year long or if you can’t imagine not sipping that hot buttered rum that your aunt makes, by all means, indulge. But I highly doubt that you have your heart set on the mixed green salad with raspberry vinaigrette that your mom decided to whip up at the last minute. Check out the ingredients on that bottle of dressing. You might be surprised to see that the sugar content is higher than in some desserts, especially when you factor in how saturated in dressing you prefer your salad. It’s foods like these that I suggest thinking twice about. There could be hidden sugars lurking in some savory dishes that you could easily do without. By being aware of the typical places that sugar can hide, you can avoid overdoing it on unnecessary sugars and save yourself for the treats that really matter to you.


When you know what to look for, it might be possible to make simple alterations or to swap out some of your sides for better options. For example, maybe the sweet potato casserole is made with marshmallow, meaning its packed to the brim with added sugar in addition to the natural sugars already present in sweet potatoes. If that’s the case, maybe there is an option to have a baked sweet potato instead topped with butter and cinnamon. If not, maybe there is a butternut squash dish that is made with vegetables and greens that you can choose as an alternative. By making a smart, less intrusive swaps during the meal, you can feel better about that slice of pie for dessert.


Similarly, many of the drink options at your various gatherings will provide you with a week’s worth of sugar. From sweetened pumpkin coffees to sugar-laden sodas and holiday-themed mixed drinks, there is no shortage of the sweet stuff. Instead of going crazy, focus on your favorite, and just have a glass to feel festive. Then fill in the gaps with non-sweetened options that will be refreshing without all the added calories and sugar.


Bottom line is that if you’re going to enjoy sugar, make sure it’s coming from foods where you expect to find it. Don’t waste your daily allowance by going heavy-handed on the ketchup or barbecue sauce


By engaging in these conscious swaps at the most difficult time of year to be health-conscious, you will be forming habits that you can take with you into every season. When you make small changes like this, you’ll see that it’s not as tedious to live a healthy lifestyle as you may have imagined. You don’t have to deprive yourself in order to keep diabetes at bay. Just indulge thoughtfully and in moderation.


Remember too that sugar is addictive. The less sugar that you consume, the less you’ll crave and vice versa. Once your palette gets used to eating healthy, that sweet dessert might not be as palatable as it once was. You might even notice the subtle sweetness in healthier choices. Have you ever noticed how sweet an almond is? When our palates are overwhelmed with non-stop sugar, it can be hard to notice the sweetness that’s already present in so many natural foods. Why not focus on rediscovering those.


After all, the sweetest part of this season should be spending time with loved ones. That involves no sugar at all, and hopefully will help you stick around for many more gatherings in the future.