I want to start by saying that on Christmas Day, the last thing you want to be thinking about is any sort of diet, and rightly so. Christmas comes once a year and it such a special day that it really is ok to relax and thoroughly enjoy yourself. I know that I will not be spending one minute worrying about what I am, or am not eating come Christmas Day. However, there are many of you who are genuinely worried about how Christmas may affect your weight loss, blood glucose etc. and these are reasonable concerns. For these reasons (and many others) I have put together my 5 top tips for getting through Christmas without undoing all your hard work. At risk of sounding like a broken record, I am going to say something I say over and over; if you can’t achieve all your goals in one day, then you can’t undo all your goals in one day. So relax and enjoy this very special day with your family.
Before I get into my 5 tips, I want to start by saying that Christmas is fundamentally LCHF friendly with loads of good fats and proteins and *gasp* even carbs to choose from. Traditionally, Christmas provides an abundance of unprocessed food so it’s more about not eating too much rather than avoiding what you can’t have. So let’s get into it. My top 5 tips for getting through Christmas:
- Fill up on the good stuff
Fill up on the high protein LCHF friendly foods. Go for meat, seafood, eggs and poultry first. Don’t be shy about selecting the fattier cuts of meat either (which I’m sure all of you won’t be). Worth consideration is that a number of studies have found that food order can positively affect blood glucose response[1, 2]. According to these studies, eating your protein first, then veggies and finally other carbohydrates, produces the lowest blood glucose response. If you’re diabetic or insulin resistant, you could easily incorporate this strategy into your Christmas meal.
With your veg, try to choose low carb where possible, but don’t be too worried about it. One of my greatest joys regarding Christmas lunch is the potato salad. My in-laws are German and their potato salad is pretty spectacular and only rivalled by my “little” brothers. It’s a potato-a-thon at Christmas with resistant starch for days!! (If you’re wondering how, as a low carber, I can include potato, have a read of my article here on why the low carb world has generally got it wrong on this amazing veggie). More delicious foods to think about include nuts and cheese, which are both good sources of protein and fat. Brazil, macadamias and pecans are three of the lowest in carbohydrate. Cheese will depend on type and brand but it’s usually a pretty safe option.
Fruit, whilst somewhat controversial in low carb circles, is another good option and even though it can be high in sugar, it’s also full of fibre, vitamins and minerals. This makes fruit a better option than a nutrient deficient piece of cake.
- Go for smaller portions of the sweet things
Speaking of cake, I would never suggest at Christmas that you should completely by-pass dessert, only that you go for less. Choose a smaller portion, which if you’ve followed tip 1, you’re likely to do anyway. If you are going to indulge, think about adding a good fat source to it (I hear double dollop cream tastes good 😉 ). The reason for this is that fat slows the absorption of glucose into the blood by delaying gastric emptying (meaning slowing the emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine). This results in a lower blood glucose response and potentially a lower insulin response (the research is somewhat less clear on the insulin) [3, 4]. Fibre also has the same glucose lowering effect as fat  so if there’s a dessert with a higher fibre content, this would be a better choice.
Also, don’t be tricked into thinking the alternative sweeteners are a safe bet. They’re often not and are proving to be problematic for a variety of reasons. The safest bet is to simply reduce the portion size and add some more fat 🙂
- Cook most of the food yourself
Cooking allows for the greatest control over what you eat as you control how much of every ingredient goes into your food. Cooking also enables you to make ingredient substitutes and make the food more LCHF friendly. Some suggestions for this include reducing the sugar content in the desserts, using full fat dairy products (instead of low fat which many recipes call for), choosing low carb fruits and nuts in the desserts, making your own custard instead of buying the commercially produced stuff (not only does homemade taste so much better but you can reduce the sugar content), using good fats and oils instead of seed or veggie oils and making seed crackers for a cheese platter instead of using a normal grain-based biscuit.
- Go for low sugar and low carb alcoholic beverages
Enjoying a glass of wine or your favourite spirit at Christmas is pretty much a given, for the majority of the population. We all know that alcohol is empty calories (i.e. lacking in nutrients) and can create blood sugar chaos when combined with the wrong mixer so as always it’s about making a better choice. My go-to for alcohol is vodka, lime and soda. However, I have since found out that many spirits combine nicely with soda water or water and a slice of lime. The great thing about soda water/water is that you’re hydrating with every drink. Plus if you’re drinking the right spirit, there isn’t any sugar either. This means you’re far less likely to suffer a debilitating hang over the next day (so long as you’re drinking sensibly of course). Drinking alcohol with soda water or water is not the green light to binge drink but it absolutely makes the odd alcoholic beverage much more healthy.
When it comes to beer and wine, look at the label and choose one that is lowest in carbs and sugar. A decent low-carb beer will have less than 3g of carbs per 375mL. Wine is a bit tricker due to lack of labelling laws around it but generally speaking a low carb white wine is a Chardonnay and for the red, a Pinot Noir (carb content will vary from brand to brand).
- Relax and enjoy yourself
Remember that it’s Christmas. You need to be able to relax and enjoy this very special time with family and friends. Flexibility and an ability to relax around food are very normal attributes to overall healthy eating habits. And finally, unless you have a medical condition where you have to be strictly controlling your blood glucose levels, for most people, completely relaxing your food choices on Christmas day will have absolutely no long term adverse affect. Cheers to that.
From our families to yours, Rachel and I would love to wish you the Merriest of Christmases and that you would be blessed during this most precious of times.
- Shukla, P.P., et al., Food Order Has a Significant Impact on Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels. Diabetes Care, 2015. 38(7): p. e98-e99.
- Jakubowicz, D., et al., Incretin, insulinotropic and glucose-lowering effects of whey protein pre-load in type 2 diabetes: a randomised clinical trial. Diabetologia, 2014. 57(9): p. 1807–1811.
- Gentilcore, D., et al., Effects of Fat on Gastric Emptying of and the Glycemic, Insulin, and Incretin Responses to a Carbohydrate Meal in Type 2 Diabetes Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2005. 91(6).
- Frost, G.S., et al., The effects of fiber enrichment of pasta and fat content on gastric emptying, GLP-1, glucose, and insulin responses to a meal. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003. 57: p. 293-298.
- Tosh, S.M., Review of human studies investigating the post-prandial blood-glucose lowering ability of oat and barley food products. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012. 67.