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How to make it through Thanksgiving with diabetes

24 Nov

Oh it’s so tempting: the turkey, the gravy, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the carrots with brown sugar, and then of course,…. THE DREADED PUMPKIN PIE!

thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes

Careful on that gravy, sir!


The traditional Thanksgiving feast is basically a carb-fest, which is why we fall asleep on the couch and miss the last quarter of the Detroit game every year (it isn’t the tryptophan in the turkey that makes you sleepy, it’s all of the carbohydrates you eat). For a non-diabetic, it’s a fun day of gluttony. But for a diabetic, it can be downright dangerous.

Not to harsh your Thanksgiving buzz, but…

The turkey part of the Thanksgiving feast is just fine for those with diabetes, within reason, as long as you take it easy on the gravy. It’s everything else that will send your blood sugar into parts hitherto unknown. But if you learn what’s bad for your blood sugar and what’s not, you’ll make it through Thanksgiving and the holidays in general without a trip to the ER.

Make a Plan. Whether you’re doing the cooking or Aunt Bessie is doing the honors, know what’s on the menu and make a plan for what you’ll eat and what you definitely won’t. Anyone who’s spent a few holidays with family has a good idea of who’s bringing what to the feast, as we’re all creatures of habit. “Diabetes or not, excessive amounts of anything unhealthy should be avoided,” says Aaron Kowalski​ of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, an organization that supports Type 1 diabetes research. “The challenge for people with diabetes is that they need to match the insulin they give themselves to the food they eat. People with diabetes need to plan ahead with their insulin when eating high carbohydrate foods.”

Eat in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be troublesome for diabetics. Having small portions of gravy, mashed potatoes, and candied sweet potatoes shouldn’t be a problem. They key is to follow the My Plate recommendation from the USDA: Make half of your plate vegetables, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter carbohydrates. Opt for fresh vegetables without toppings whenever possible.

Learn to love vegetables – the right ones. You can have a free-for-all with carrots, green beans, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. But corn and anything in the squash family – squash, winter squash, butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin is actually a carbohydrate and needs to be accounted for in your carb allowance. Starchy vegetables like these fill the same space on your plate as mashed potatoes and desserts, and while they don’t have to be completely avoided, they should only be eaten only in small amounts. Learn to count your carbohydrates with the American Diabetes Association.

Check your blood sugar more than once on Thanksgiving. Those with diabetes should normally check their blood sugar once or twice a day. On Thanksgiving Day, diabetics should check their blood sugar two hours after eating, and every hour after that. “This will give a picture of how you’re responding to the meal”, says Paula Jacobs​, a certified diabetes educator with Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Texas. “About two hours is required for the food to be digested and enter the blood stream, so this time frame gives a good picture of how the meal is being processed by the body,”

Eat dessert if you want to, just don’t overdo it. Until recently, the medical advice for diabetics was to avoid carbohydrate-heavy desserts at all costs. Now the recommendation is to be reasonable with portion size and account for those carbohydrates in your meal plan for the day. “If you had turkey and non-starchy vegetables like green beans or carrots, then there are no carbohydrates accounted for and you’d be able to have dessert,” says Amy Kimberlain​, a registered dietitian with Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. “What you wouldn’t want to do is have the stuffing, the corn casserole, the dinner roll and dessert, because you will have well exceeded your carbohydrates allotment.”

If you’re diabetic, it’s okay to enjoy yourself at Thanksgiving, but don’t overindulge. Eat in moderation and keep track of your carbohydrates, and you can enjoy the day like the rest of the family.

How to get your diet back on track after the holidays

7 Jan
Do you feel like you’ve blown up as big as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon? Us, too.  That period between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day is full of temptation to overeat, especially when it’s unusually cold outdoors. The get-all-the-food-I-can-now primitive part of your brain is in overdrive, attempting to amass as many calories as possible to get you through winter.
overeating holidays diet

Have you ballooned to the size of Kung-Fu Panda?

Unfortunately, our evolutionary instincts haven’t kept pace with the 24/7 availability of food, so our rational mind needs to step in at times to exert some control. And of course, that’s where the plan falls apart for those of us who lack a certain willpower. Christmas cookies just beg to be devoured, as do the specialty meats, stuffing, cheeses, breads, sauces, cakes, eggnog, you name it. Sometimes it seems that your hands and body are acting independently of your mind, and there’s a good reason for that. The sugars and fats in those foods are packed with calories. At one time in our evolutionary history, foods that were calorie dense were very hard to come by, and when our ancestors were able to get their hands on them, they devoured as much as possible in case food became in short supply. That primitive part of the brain is still very active in our decision making.

Getting rid of the winter weight

When we’re carrying 5, 10, or 15 additional pounds of “winter weight”, the fastest way to drop it and get your diet back on track is to swing as far as possible in the opposite direction. Load your plate with fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grains, and take a pass on foods which contain refined sugar and unhealthy fats. For protein, instead of meat, substitute low fat, PLAIN yogurt or a handful of walnuts or almonds.

Be careful on your choice of yogurt. Read the label, as many manufacturers have added so many fillers, corn syrups, and other sugars to their “yogurt” offerings, that there’s little in the way of actual yogurt in the product. Also beware of the “natural” label, as there are no government standards regulating what exactly “natural” means, food-wise. The safest bet is always to buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit to sweeten it up.

As far as nuts are concerned, there are those who shy away because of the fear of calories. But you’re wiser to think in terms of healthy/unhealthy calories instead of obsessing over the number. Walnuts and almonds are jam-packed with nutrition, including fiber and Omega-3’s. A handful of unsalted, unsweetened nuts at 200 calories is better than a diet cookie at 150.

The bottom line is, it’s difficult to eat too much salad. That is, as long as you don’t load it with fat-heavy dressings. This is another pet peeve of ours, as food manufacturers continue to push the limits in this area  – what is perceived as a healthful food is in some cases as loaded with fat calories as a triple burger from a drive-through (seriously).You’re always best off drizzling a little Extra Virgin olive oil and organic vinegar on your salad – healthful fat and no fillers.

And speaking of triple burgers at drive-throughs, avoid fast food like the plague. Giving in to that gotta-eat-now urge will unwind a few days’ worth of healthful meals. It just isn’t worth it.

Here then are a few menu ideas to lose weight in the new year without starving yourself. Pounds will drop even faster with regular, moderate exercise like walking.

All meals: Drink a full glass of water sweetened with fresh squeezed lemon before eating. The water fills you up and flushes your cells. The lemon stimulates your liver to dispose of toxic elements. This will also prevent you from overeating, as thirst/hunger can sometimes feel identical.

You’ll also notice that grains in the form of bread are missing. Bread was once called “the staff of life”, but white bread in a bag was not what was meant. Breads baked from grains which lack fiber are absolutely terrible for your body and blood sugar levels. If you include bread, choose fresh-baked from a bakery and choose whole grains or sourdough only. But even here, eat just 1 thin slice until you hit your body weight target, as the bread packs a considerable carb load, and it takes time to burn off those calories and blood sugar.


Water, Unsweetened coffee or tea

Whole oats cooked on stove or microwave (sweeten with 1 tsp brown sugar, if necessary)

1/4 cup of walnuts

1 cup of fresh fruit

This is one of the most satisfying breakfasts. The fiber in the oats and fruit fills you up and the protein in the nuts keeps you satisfied until lunch.


Water, Unsweetened coffee or tea

Egg white omelet with vegetable stuffing (no cheese, sorry)

Fresh fruit

We normally aren’t against including egg yolks in your omelette, but if you’re trying to drop weight, bypassing the yolks will reduce the fat and calorie load.


Mixed green salad with broccoli, asparagus, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and/or fresh green beans (as much as you like and in any combination you like)

Extra Virgin olive oil with organic red wine vinegar (no store-bought dressing)

1/4 cup almonds

As we said earlier, you can’t eat too much fresh salad, where your health is concerned. No one ever got heart disease from spinach.

Stick with meals like those above, and your extra weight should be off by Valentine’s Day. Happy eating!

Holiday Meal Planning for Diabetics

14 Nov

family-cooking-thanksgiving-dinnerTurkey. Cranberry sauce. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Green beans. Corn. Carrots. Biscuits. Pumpkin Pie. Pecan Pie. Apple Pie.

There are a thousand ways to prepare these basic components of the holiday feast. But it’s in the preparation, with the addition of fats and sugars, where the unhealthy calories intrude, and the invariable blood sugar spikes for diabetics.

For chefs, the key to keeping your weight and blood sugar under control at the holiday feast is to prepare these foods with a minimum of added fat and sugar (nix the deep fried turkey!).  The American Diabetes Association recommends that you always roast a turkey, as it cooks in its own juices, which keeps the calories down. When you deep fry it, or glaze it, the calories shoot through the roof. Make the mashed potatoes with low-fat milk and olive oil instead of butter. Steam vegetables and serve with an olive oil and herb drizzle, instead of baking them in a casserole with creamy sauces. Bake the stuffing in a casserole instead of inside the turkey – this cuts way down on the fat. Serve fresh cranberries, one of the healthiest fruits on the planet – when sold as cranberry sauce, they become something else entirely.

If you’re a guest at the feast, choose wisely and eat modestly. At dinner time, take the skin off your turkey, and choose white meat instead of dark. The ADA says that “White turkey meat (without skin) is low in fat and high in protein. It is a good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. It is also one of the only parts of the Thanksgiving meal with no carbohydrate.”  Say “no” or “just a pinch” to butter and gravy, and take a big portion of fresh vegetables and a small portion of white potatoes. If you have a glass of wine, drink it with dinner, instead of before. Alcohol metabolizes much more slowly in the presence of food.

There’s really very little difference in sound diet advice for diabetics or non-diabetics. The modern American diet, the primary culprit in the diabetes epidemic, is so far off the rails, that it would do us all some good to reign it in a little this holiday. For anyone, a healthy diet is one with generous portions of fruits and vegetables, and is low in fat, sugar, and salt.

Start Thanksgiving and Christmas Day with a healthy breakfast: high fiber cereal, fresh fruit, whole wheat toast with olive oil, or a scrambled egg with smoked salmon on toast. Instead of snacking on cookies, keep a bag of baby carrots or your favorite vegetables handy and reach for those instead. High fiber foods give us a full feeling much faster than those that are low in fiber.

After the meal, go for a walk with family members – it’s a great way to catch up, enjoy some fresh air, and burn off calories and excess blood sugar at the same time. It will also keep you from falling into a turkey coma (which really isn’t from the turkey, it’s from the carbohydrates).

But whether you’re diabetic or not, we darn well know that we’ll probably eat if not too much, then more than we should. To deal with the extra calorie load, exercise more strenuously for a few days before the feast and for a few days after.

Ask your family members to support you and to help you celebrate another year of good health.

Diabetes at Thanksgiving and Christmas: eating guidelines and healthy recipes

13 Nov

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

thanksgiving diabetes diet recipes

If you’re diabetic, this could be disastrous

Thanksgiving and Christmas must be torture for diabetics – nearly everything on the table is on your forbidden foods list.

I know that the “it’s only once a year” excuse will float through your head, but if you eat with abandon your blood sugar is going to spike so high it will dock with the space station.

So what’s a diabetic to do?


If you’re diabetic, there’s no reason to be miserable at Thanksgiving. You certainly can eat well, but in moderation and with some alteration of how you might have eaten before your diagnosis.

Try these meal tips:

  • Start the day with a good breakfast so you won’t be famished come meal time. If you’re “starving”, you’re likely to overindulge
  • Nibble on raw vegetables before dinner instead of other less healthy snacks
  • Skip the mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy (sorry)
  • Choose white turkey meat instead of dark
  • Instead of serving casserole vegetables loaded with sauce, just lightly steam green beans, peas, and/or carrots
  • If you want cranberries with your turkey, do just that – add cranberries, not cranberry sauce, which is loaded with sugar
  • If you’d like a glass of wine, drink it with dinner only, and only 1 glass. If you’re having white wine, dilute it with seltzer water to make a wine spritzer
  • The pies: If you must, have a small taste, but skip the whipped cream
  • Leave the leftovers

If you notice a pattern here, it’s the avoidance of starchy carbohydrates and sugars, with a focus instead on lean proteins and raw or lightly cooked vegetables. These are the foods our bodies function best on, diabetic or not.

Medicine to control your blood sugar is not the method by which you should counteract a poor diet. If you practice smart food choices, your blood sugar levels should be very manageable and you’ll avoid the disastrous effects of diabetes like cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, blindness, and foot amputation.

Remember, the real joy of Thanksgiving and Christmas isn’t the food. It’s for enjoying family and friends… and a little football.

Here are some great ways to cook your holiday favorites in a healthy way, courtesy of Diabetic Gourmet Magazine

Roast Turkey with herbal rub

Apple Glazed Pork Roast

Fresh Cranberry and wild rice stuffing

Baked Grated Carrots with Sherry

Green Beans with Mushrooms

Gingered Orange Carrots

Ham with slow roasted asparagus and lemon thyme sauce

Garlic Cauliflower

Sweet potatoes with orange

Cinnamon Apple Pork Tenderloin

Broiled Marinated Leg Of Lamb

How to carve a turkey

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