beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

To find a doctor, call 800-667-5356 or click below:

Find a Doctor

Request an Appointment

left banner
right banner
Smaller Larger

The Key to a Healthy Diet During the Holidays

By Tracy Hampton
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent

Eating right during the holidays can be tough for anyone, but people with diabetes face particular challenges because diet can have an immediate effect on their health.

"While you can be a little more liberal and can certainly enjoy the festivities, it's important to make conscious choices," says Dr. Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, a physician in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Unfortunately, holiday meals tend to include a lot of carbohydrates."

Dr. Maratos-Flier says that turkey is a wonderful choice at Thanksgiving because it's high in protein, low in fat, and contains no carbohydrates that might affect blood sugar levels. It's also a good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and B vitamins. When it comes to side dishes, she recommends having small portions and focusing on green vegetables and salads, which tend to be low in carbohydrates. It's also wise to have a reasonable portion of your favorite dishes and pass on the rest. If you really want to try everything, be sure to make your portions smaller. Overall, try to keep your total carbohydrate intake consistent with a regular day.

If you're in charge of the baking, there are many recipes on numerous websites, such as, that are tailored specifically toward individuals with diabetes who need to eat low glycemic-index foods. For example, stuffing can be made with apples, nuts, and dried cranberries while minimizing bread crumbs. And, you can substitute sucralose for some of the sugar in many pie recipes, or you can try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings.

There are also many recipes that simply make traditional holiday foods a bit healthier, such as using fat-free or light sour cream instead of regular in casseroles, or steaming the green beans instead of sautéing them in butter.

The American Diabetes Association offers recipes as well as the following tips to help guide you through holiday events:

  • Eat slowly
  • Don't skip meals to 'save' calories and carbohydrates before a party
  • Drink in moderation
  • Be active
  • Stay upbeat and get back on track if you overindulge

With a little effort, there's no reason why a person with diabetes can't have a tasty and happy holiday season.

A Diabetes-Friendly Holiday Recipe:
Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Elisabeth Moore, a registered dietician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, provides this Thanksgiving side dish recipe that is diabetes-friendly.

Cooked sweet potatoes


Serves 6
4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh rosemary
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 tsp pepper


Preheat oven to 450º F. Wash and peel potatoes, cut into small cubes. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Arrange mixture on a baking sheet, and bake for about 45 minutes, until potatoes become tender.

Nutrition Facts: Total calories per serving: 200; Total fat: 13 g; Saturated fat: 1.5 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 50 mg; Total Carbohydrate: 20 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 3 g

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in partnership with the Joslin Diabetes Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2012

Contact Information

Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Shapiro Building
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Joslin Diabetes Center

Joslin Diabetes Center
A Clinical Partner of BIDMC
One Joslin Place
Boston, MA 02215