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Seven Thanksgiving tips for folks with diabetes

Written By: Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians | Updated: November 2, 2022
Person passes green beans during Thanksgiving meal

With smart eating habits, people with diabetes don't have to pass on the Thanksgiving holiday.

What would Thanksgiving be without starchy dishes and sugary desserts?

While most people can enjoy an indulgent meal on this holiday, those with diabetes must be more careful, according to Ann Redwine, RD, nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with UT Physicians Family Practice – Bellaire Station.

Ann E. Redwine
Ann Redwine, RD

“For most people, it’s fine to eat this meal once a year. Their blood sugar will probably spike, but it should go back down within a few hours,” Redwine said. “For people with diabetes, it’s different. A Thanksgiving meal with all the usual trimmings can raise their blood sugar to a very high, unhealthy level.”

Depending on their individual needs, people with diabetes should try to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal. The carbohydrate count for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, however, can easily go into the hundreds!

To help with this predicament, Redwine offers some sensible tips to help people with diabetes have a happier Thanksgiving!

Take your medication

“Don’t forget to take your diabetes medication that day,” Redwine said. “It may sound like common sense, but holidays can throw us off our routine, especially if you get busy cooking or traveling.”

Also, do not take extra medication that day. Medication should be taken only as prescribed by the doctor.

Check your blood sugar

“Check your morning blood sugar to see if it’s normal or high,” she said. “Then check it again after you eat, especially if you’ve eaten more starchy or sugary foods than usual. It’s important your blood sugar numbers decrease within a few hours.”

If blood sugar is above 180 two hours after the meal, drink water and walk around to help lower it. If it remains above 240 for more than 24 hours, call the doctor.

Go for a walk

Walking is an easy way to help the body prepare for a potentially heavy meal.

“Take a walk before it’s time to eat. Walking and other exercise helps lower blood sugar,” Redwine said. “Take another long walk after you eat to help your digestion and stabilize your blood sugar.”

Drink water

“A regular 20-ounce soda contains 75 grams of carbohydrates. That’s the same as a large meal. If you drink a soda with your meal, you may take in 150 grams in one sitting. This will definitely cause high blood sugar,” she said. “Drink water instead. It’s more satisfying to eat carbs than to drink them.”

Other beverages that do not increase blood sugar include unsweetened tea or coffee (or tea or coffee with artificial sweetener), diet or zero-sugar soda, sparkling water, and water flavorings.

Skip beverages with sugar, honey, or agave. This includes milk and juice, as they also contain natural sugar.

Choose your sides wisely

“Before you eat, decide which things you want the most and which things can you let go,” Redwine said. “If you love stuffing, let the mashed potatoes go. If you really love both, then get a small serving of each” she said.

For second servings, try reaching for the protein-packed turkey, nutrient-rich vegetables, or other non-starchy foods.

Take a plate home

“It’s nice to have so many different foods, but you don’t have to eat them all at once. If you really like candied yams or pumpkin pie but skipped it during your meal, take a small plate home and save it for the next day,” she said.

Packing up food can help control carbohydrate consumption and prevent overeating.

Count dessert in your meal

“A small piece of pecan pie has 80 grams of carbohydrates. It has more grams than a large meal. If you decide to eat it, just remember to leave some of the other high-carb foods off your plate,” she said.  

A slice of pumpkin pie contains about 46 grams of carbohydrates while sweet potato pie holds about 40. A piece of apple pie can range between 42 to 60 grams. Regardless of the dessert, remember to factor those carbohydrates into the whole meal.

People with diabetes are not the only ones who should follow the dietitian’s advice.

“Walking, drinking water, choosing wisely… These practices can help you maintain your weight and prevent you from developing Type 2 diabetes,” Redwine said. “Some of these are just sound eating habits we should all practice.”

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.