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!
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.