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Diabetes-friendly Thanksgiving Ideas

Enjoying food-centered holidays can be challenging for people with diabetes. They might find themselves torn between wanting to enjoy traditional carbohydrate-heavy recipes and trying to eat healthy to keep their blood sugar at a safe level. Stress from this internal tug-of-war can push blood sugar levels even higher. The good news is, there is a solution.  

People with diabetes can eat all the food their families typically enjoy at the holidays, just in moderation. Even in small portions, the carbs in mashed potatoes, gravy and pie can add up quickly, so it’s important to keep individual limits in mind when filling up a plate. The American Diabetes Association recommends three to four servings of carbs at each meal, or up to 60 grams, but that differs for each person, based on their gender, weight, age and activity level.

Here are some tips to help make Thanksgiving more diabetes-friendly:

Practice Mindfulness. Holidays are a time to focus on family, friends and feelings of togetherness. Keep the focus there by trying these things:

  • Do a mental check to assess hunger level. There is a difference between being hungry and just eating to be social.
  • Chew slowly and enjoy every bite. Savor factors beyond the food by focusing on the conversations and laughter of people around the table. Try to match pace with the slowest eater at the meal.
  • Take a break before going for seconds. Remember, it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register fullness.
  • Don’t ignore blood sugar levels. Check them one to two hours after beginning to eat.

Monitor Carb Servings. A plate filled with sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, casserole and a dinner roll can easily weigh in at triple the recommended carb servings at a meal, especially with a glass of wine and dessert added. Try thinking like this:

  • Identify carb-heavy foods. Look out for ingredients like starchy vegetables, added sugar or flour/grain-based dishes such as stuffing or a double-crust pie.
  • Try to limit carb-rich foods to one-quarter of the plate.
  • Portion size is key. Keep these handy visual reminders in mind for one serving of carbs: Two tablespoons of cranberry sauce are the size of a golf ball. A quarter-cup of stuffing is the size of one large egg. A half-cup of mashed potatoes or green bean casserole is the size of a computer mouse.

Consider Recipe Swaps. Fill up on protein-rich foods that will have less of an effect on blood sugar than carb-rich dishes. Easy swaps include:

  • Mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. 
  • Reduced-sugar apple and cranberry chutney instead of cranberry sauce. 
  • Mini desserts in shot glasses, such as a no-bake pumpkin cheesecake with graham crackers and chopped pecans. This helps prevent large pie servings and going back for seconds.

Stay Active. Physical activity is a great way to lower blood sugar naturally. Take a walk or play a game of pick-up football with family and friends to help regulate blood sugar levels after a meal. 

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more tips on lowering your risks of diabetes, visit

A Healthier Michigan
Author: A Healthier Michigan

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