7 Ways to Keep Diabetes in Check This Thanksgiving

Many people view Thanksgiving as an opportunity to enjoy lots of heavy foods and rich treats. But if you have diabetes, you know that it’s essential to make healthy choices when it comes to planning your holiday feast.

"Thanksgiving kicks off what can easily become a nonstop food indulgence," says Michael S. Fenster, MD, a board-certified interventional cardiologist, chef, and author of Eating Well, Living Better: The Grassroots Gourmet Guide to Good Health and Great Food and The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why The Modern Western Diet Is Killing Us And How To Stop It. He points out that while over-eating certainly isn’t good for anyone, for people with diabetes, it can have especially serious consequences.

The key to successfully navigating the holiday season? A little advance planning. "With a little foresight and time management it is easy for anyone, with diabetes or not, to not only enjoy the holidays but continue on a healthful course," Fenster says.

Tips to Enjoy a Healthy Thanksgiving

Here are a few of his tips to help you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner this year without putting your health at risk:

  1. Host the meal: If you set the menu, you can be in control of exactly what goes on the table. "By limiting or avoiding prepackaged and overly processed choices, you can increase the health benefits and most importantly, the taste and flavor of what you choose to offer. This ultimately increases everyone’s enjoyment," Fenster says.
  2. Plan an eating strategy: If you’re attending a holiday meal or party hosted by someone else, have a healthy snack like fruit or vegetables about 15 to 20 minutes before you arrive. This is the amount of time it takes the brain to register that you’re full and will help you have more control to pick healthy choices. Fenster also suggests drinking water throughout the meal, since this will help keep you satisfied as well as hydrated.
  3. Watch portion size: "The key to successfully navigating the veritable buffet of choices is to choose wisely. Snack first on the fruit and veg offerings. The fiber will help fill you up, thus controlling portion size, and also aiding in regulating the blood glucose levels," Fenster says. For entrees, load up on vegetables and go easy on protein and fat. "This combination also helps to suppress the hunger drive."
  4. Skip sugary treats: "Many prepared desserts are extremely high in refined carbohydrates and sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup. These can play havoc with the blood sugar of anyone, let alone someone who suffers from diabetes," Fenster says. If you can’t resist the sweets table, Fenster says to wait 15 or 20 minutes after your meal to let the brain recognize you are full, so you won’t eat as much. You should also make the splurge is worth the effort: "Perhaps choose a smaller serving of a homemade, from-scratch dessert and pass on the tray of tasteless packaged sugar cookies."
  5. Research diabetes-friendly recipes: You can find a wealth of cookbooks and recipes that provide nutritious and delicious options. Take some time to find some that appeal to you. "By making natural, wholesome, and fresh food choices we move away from a cause of the chronic, low-level inflammation that is associated with conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular [heart and blood vessel] disease and many others," Fenster says. "Such a dietary approach benefits not only people who suffer from diabetes, but everyone. In addition, the flavors, tastes and textures of such a regime increase our enjoyment and help break the vicious cycle of addiction associated with the modern Western diet."
  6. Exercise: Even in the midst of the holiday rush, it’s important to set aside time for your regular exercise. If you’re struggling to fit in big chunks of time, Fenster recommends being creative and squeezing in movement wherever you can. "If you’re busy running errands, parking further away and doing a little extra walking is helpful. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator is another easy addition," he points out. Not only will exercise be good for your diabetes and you health, but it will also help you to manage your stress levels at this extremely busy time of year.
  7. Monitor your blood sugar: While this holiday season may present an opportunity to escape from your daily routine, it’s essential that you don’t take a holiday from proper health maintenance. "During this time, diets can change significantly from the norm, which for diabetics means that blood sugar levels can be subject to a wide variation." This makes it important to maintain diligent glucose monitoring. Always call your doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

Eating Well for Life

"Evidence continues to accumulate that healthful food choices cannot only modulate diseases such as diabetes, but potentially prevent and reverse them," Fenster says. "By making quality choices we can enhance our health and our epicurean enjoyment with absolutely delicious food."

Michael S. Fenster, MD, interventional cardiologist, reviewed this article.


Fenster, Michael S., MD, interventional cardiologist, chef, and author. Email interview, Oct. 14, 2014.