Skip to main content
Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Sign In
Breadcrumb Links
Skip Navigation LinksHarris Health About Us News Planning Ahead Helps People with Diabetes Enjoy the Holidays

Planning Ahead Helps People with Diabetes Enjoy the Holidays

An array of savory dishes and desserts await many this holiday season, from pumpkin pies topped with whipped cream, green bean and mushroom casseroles, pork tamales, cranberries and cornbread dressing to fruit salads and oven-roasted turkey. 

Harris Health System experts warn that while most will indulge in these tasty dishes and some will gain weight, people with diabetes need to be especially wary of certain foods and the amount they eat.

Dr. Ashok Balasubramanyam, chief, Endocrinology, Harris Health’s Ben Taub Hospital, and Hope Galvan, director, Diabetes Service Line and Patient Education, Harris Health, say the strategy for people with diabetes is simple—portion control, planning sensible meals and getting regular exercise.

“The rules for taking care of diabetes on a daily basis are straightforward,” says Balasubramanyam, also a professor, Baylor College of Medicine. “Eat right, exercise, take your medicines and check your blood sugar. But following this every day, all the time, is hard. Everyone knows the rules, but the practice is difficult because you have to do it year-round for every meal, including holidays.” 

Symptoms of diabetes:
• Blurry vision
• Excess thirst
• Fatigue
• Frequent urination
• Hunger
• Weight loss

Complications from diabetes:
• Heart disease
• Stroke
• High blood pressure
• Blindness
• Kidney disease
• Amputation of limbs
“There’s nothing that you need to avoid eating,” Galvan says. “A small serving of pecan pie is fine, but don’t overdo it. If you’re going to have pecan pie, then you can’t have cranberries and cornbread dressing and gravy and mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.”

Because temptation is at every table, people with diabetes can’t afford to indulge on a whim.

“You can’t skip a meal to ‘save up’ to eat a big lunch or dinner if you’ve got diabetes,” Galvan adds. “You’ve got to know what’s on the menu and try to spread your eating throughout the day. Don’t try to eat it all in one sitting.”

Normal fasting blood sugar ranges are between 70 and 99. However, even people who don’t have diabetes may feel the effects of temporary high sugar levels. While tryptophan in turkey is usually blamed for post-holiday meal sleepiness, the real culprits are overeating and increases in sugar levels. A good way to avoid this is to take a walk or plan a physical activity after meals.

Balasubramanyam warns people with diabetes against altering prescribed medicine doses to compensate for food indiscretions. Because of the danger of potential side effects, any change in dosage should be carefully monitored by a physician.

Balasubramanyam is also lead investigator in a National Institutions of Health (NIH) research project on diabetes called Glycemic Reduction Approaches in Diabetes: A Comparative Effectiveness (GRADE) that compares the effects of the drug combinations on glucose levels, adverse effects, diabetes complications, cost and quality of life for patients. The study is one of the longest and most comprehensive diabetes trials undertaken by NIH in 42 sites across the U.S.—Houston is one.

“If you have had diabetes for less than 10 years and are on no medications or only metformin, you may be eligible for the GRADE study,” he says. “There are many benefits to participating in the study including free medications and testing, and close follow-up for your diabetes.”

For more information or to participate in the GRADE study, call 713-798-3625 or visit