Navigating the Thanksgiving Feast while Managing Diabetes

Navigating the Thanksgiving Feast while Managing Diabetes

Happy Thanksgiving from all the staff, friends and family at New West Physicians!

This National Diabetes Month has been impactful for so many individuals, health care professionals, organizations, and communities across the country that bring attention to diabetes and its effect on millions of Americans. Thanksgiving can be challenging for people with diabetes who are trying to manage blood glucose levels and weight. We all know that food tends to be front and center on Thanksgiving Day with the majority of people eating well over 2,000 calories during their Thanksgiving meal. The delicious appetizers, rich side dishes, cocktails, drinks, and decadent desserts are all loaded with huge amounts of calories and carbohydrates.

But, you do not have to let food stress you out this year if you have diabetes or are trying to manage your weight. With careful planning, you can make healthy choices that fit into your diabetes meal plan and enjoy this wonderful celebration with friends and family.

Let’s create a healthy plate and portion control method that will ease your anxiety about all the food choices during the meal. One of the biggest issues that we experience on Thanksgiving Day is overloading our plates with everything on the table. We also tend to go back for second and even third helpings. Remember that Thanksgiving is all about choices. Think about which dishes you absolutely can’t live without and which ones you don’t mind skipping. Then adjust portions to keep your carb and calorie count similar to your dinnertime meal. Try to follow the method according to the American Diabetes Association called Create Your Plate (http://bit.ly/2gBjPye) which details a simple and effective way to manage blood glucose levels by filling your plate with specific amounts of food portions.

The American Diabetes Association has offered a very effective process and philosophical approach that not only works for holiday meals, but each and every time you eat. Here are the essentials to consider for your Thanksgiving Day meal:

Navigating the Feast

Turkey is usually the central part of the Thanksgiving feast.

  • It is a high-protein food and has no carbohydrates. A portion is about 3-4 ounces, which is about the size of your palm.
  • Remove the skin on your turkey before eating it and choose white breast meat, which is the leanest part of the bird.
  • Roast your turkey instead of deep-frying it. Roasting is a cooking method that requires little to any added fat. Just make sure you add some seasonings. 


The main ingredient in most stuffing recipes is bread, so it is high in carbohydrates and will need to be counted in your meal plan.

  • ½ cup of stuffing usually has about 15-30 grams of carbohydrate. Because it can vary, be sure to check the nutrition facts for your recipe.
  • Add extra non-starchy veggies like onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms to your stuffing and use whole grain or 100% whole wheat bread.

Potatoes are another staple food on Thanksgiving Day. From buttery mashed potatoes to sweet potato casserole – these dishes can really pack in the carbohydrates, saturated fat, and calories.

  • Keep portions small, especially if there is a lot of added cheese, butter, or cream. One-half cup of mashed potatoes usually has about 15 grams of carbohydrate.
  • At the table, there’s no need to add a lot of extra sour cream or butter to your potatoes. Simply season them with a bit of freshly ground pepper or some trans-free margarine. Instead of sour cream, try non-fat Greek yogurt which is a much healthier alternative.
  • Sweet potatoes are especially flavorful on their own – there’s no need for alot of extra sugar or butter!
  • If you’re in charge of the potatoes this year, choose a “made-over” potato recipe that uses healthier ingredients like sweet potato fries, potato casserole, or roasted potatoes.

 Green Bean Casserole is also a very popular Thanksgiving side dish. You might be thinking this is a great option since green beans are a non-starchy vegetable. However, as with all casseroles, it can be packed with unhealthy fats and calories from ingredients like creamy soup, butter, and fried onions. Here are some tips when it comes to vegetable side dishes:

  • Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Choose vegetable side dishes that include roasted or cooked vegetables without creamy sauces.
  • Offer to bring a delicious green salad for the occasion and serve the dressing on the side.
  • Season veggie side dishes with fresh herbs or onions and garlic. You can also put out some trans-free margarine for your guests to use if they want extra flavor.
  • Some other non-starchy vegetable side dishes that go great with a Thanksgiving meal are cooked carrots, steamed green beans, sautéed spinach, roasted brussel sprouts, steamed broccoli or cauliflower.

Cranberry sauce usually has a lot of added sugar and is dense in carbohydrates.

  • Just two tablespoons has almost 15 grams of carbohydrate.
  • If you absolutely cannot live without it, make sure you use just a tablespoon or two on top of your turkey. A little bit will go a long way!

And then you have that dessert temptation! It’s a special occasion; so it’s perfectly fine if you want to enjoy a small portion of your favorite holiday dessert.

  • Wondering how to make it fit with you’re your plan without disrupting your blood glucose levels? The trick is not to add extra carbohydrates from sweets to your meal. Instead, simply substitute a portion of dessert for another carb-containing food in your meal.
  • Remember that most sweets contain a large amount of carbohydrates in a small serving, so portion size is very important.

Thanksgiving is about togetherness, thankfulness, and family. Diabetes needs to be kept in consideration, but shouldn’t be allowed to ruin the holiday. It does not have to be that way. With some smart thinking and careful planning, you can enjoy Thanksgiving just as much as everyone else.

Posted in Health Information and Tips