When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of family, friends and of course food. Thanksgiving is a day notoriously known for overeating; in fact you can almost say it’s expected you’ll stuff yourself like the turkey you’re eating. But for those living with diabetes, this holiday can be very stressful. Much of the traditional food on the table is laden with calories and carbohydrates not to mention saturated fat and sodium.  A typical Thanksgiving meal can house anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 calories, and a whopping 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrates. That’s more calories and carbohydrates than some people need for a whole day. Let’s face it, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner isn’t exactly diabetes-friendly. But with a little planning you can enjoy delicious holiday meal guilt free without throwing your blood sugars for a loop. Here’s a few suggestions:

1.    Help yourself to some turkey. Turkey itself is actually a very healthy bird. It’s a good source of protein, high in niacin, phosphorous, selenium, vitamin B6 and zinc.  A three ounce serving of turkey breast meat is just 87 calories, and has less than 3 grams of carbs.

2.    Don’t stuff yourself on stuffing. Stuffing can pack on calories, fat and carbs. It’s dense, usually made with white bread, and saturated in butter. If you have control over how it’s made, try substituting fat-free chicken broth for most of the butter. Add extra chopped vegetables (celery, carrots, onion, green pepper) to the recipe. The vegetables will displace some of the dense bread and also supply more vitamins/minerals and phytonutrients.    

3.    Eat your vegetables. Vegetables are important for everyone, they’re low in calorie, high in fiber, an excellent source vitamins and minerals, and non-starchy varieties are low in carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the vegetable traditionally prepared for Thanksgiving are loaded with cream soup or butter and topped off with cheese. Try offering a variety of colorful steamed vegetables instead. One cup of steamed green beans has only 36 calories and less than 8 grams of carbs. Whereas it’s green bean casserole counterpart has 165 calories and 12 grams of carbs.

4.    Eat smaller portions. Because high carbohydrate foods are plentiful at most Thanksgiving feasts, watch your portion sizes. If you can’t decide on one or two carbohydrate foods to eat, take very small portions or “samples” of several dishes

5.    Camouflage the cauliflower: Mashed cauliflower makes a perfect stand-in for mashed potatoes. Though potatoes are not a demon food, mashed potatoes can run you into some trouble. One cup of mashed potatoes can pack on about 237 calories, 5 grams of saturated fat, and 35 grams of carbs per 1 cup serving.  

6.    Don’t drink your carbs (or calories). Soda, juice, sweet tea and sweet drink mixers will throw your turkey day carb allowance under the bus. Stick to seltzer with lime, one glass of wine or champagne, or good old water.

7.    Don’t “save up” for your Thanksgiving meal. In other words, don’t show up famished ready to eat the kitchen table. You’re only asking for trouble. Eat breakfast as usual.  This will keep your blood sugars in check and keep you from being over hungry at meal time. If you there is going to be more that 5 hours between meals, eating a 15-30 gram carb snack may be warranted.

8.    Don’t approach Thanksgiving without a plan. Think about where you want to “spend” your carbs and make a pact with yourself to stick with it.  Before aimlessly filling up your plate take a survey of all foods at the table.  This way you’re in control and the food isn’t.  It may sound hokey, but it’s guaranteed to make it easier to enjoy your favorites.

Last but not least: Be physically active! The best way to compensate for eating a little more than usual is to be active. Start a new tradition that involves moving around away from the food. Take a brisk walk, go for a bike ride or play some football rather than watch it.  

Lisa Eisele, RD, CSO, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She also holds a Board Certification as a Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. Lisa and her partner Stacy Paine, RD, LD own Oconee Nutrition Consultants, LLC located at Cowles Clinic.  (706) 473-5801

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