Thanksgiving is a delicious holiday that should be enjoyed, even if you have diabetes.
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a photo of a woman getting passed a dish of food at thanksgiving dinner
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Thanksgiving is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Focusing on food and traditions during this holiday can be stressful, especially if you have diabetes. However, it's important to celebrate with your loved ones and feel good before and after celebrating. And you absolutely can! Here are seven tips to help you enjoy Thanksgiving if you have diabetes.

1. Stick to the Diabetes Plate Method

One of the easiest visual ways to fill your plate is according to the American Diabetes Association's Plate Method. The Diabetes Plate Method helps manage your portions stress-free without measuring and counting your food. According to this method, you should:

  • Fill half your plate with low-carbohydrate vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or spinach.
  • Fill one-quarter with high-protein foods like fish or poultry.
  • Fill the last quarter with starches like whole grains or fruits.

2. Be Conscious of the Timing of the Feast

The big feast begins at various times during Thanksgiving, depending on how the host likes to celebrate. Some folks start their big meal at 3 or 4 pm. If your Thanksgiving feast doesn't align with your regularly scheduled meals, plan in advance for how you will handle making changes. If you take insulin injections or pills that lower your blood sugar, speak with your health care provider to best plan how to address the changes in meal times.

3. Be Physically Active

Keeping your body moving is still important throughout the Thanksgiving holiday and the long weekend. Start a new holiday tradition that involves physical activity. For example, check for a local "turkey trot," which is a race or long walk that usually takes place Thursday morning. You can also get family and neighbors involved in activities like a friendly game of baseball, football or just taking a pleasant walk around the block.

4. Lighten Up Your Favorite Dishes

There are simple ways you can lighten up your favorite dishes. Even just reducing the carbs in your meals can be helpful. For example, use half the amount of topping for your apple crisp or cut the sugar by half or more when making fruit pies. You can also make simple swaps in the dishes you're cooking or even bringing to the feast, such as using reduced or nonfat sour cream instead of full fat for casseroles. If you need more ideas on how to lighten up your favorite dishes, consult with a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

5. Plan Your Snacks

On the day of the Thanksgiving feast, you may need to wait a while before being served dinner. If possible, check with your host in advance to see if there will be any food to nibble on before the actual dinner begins. Ask what types of foods will be served so you can avoid sabotaging your blood glucose levels before the meal. You can even offer to bring crudités or skewered chicken as an appetizer.

6. Eat Smaller Portions

Most likely, there will be plenty of carb options at your Thanksgiving feast. Your best bet is to watch portion sizes. If you cannot decide on one or two carbohydrate foods to eat, take a tiny portion or "samples" of several. To keep your blood glucose within its normal range, try to keep your total carbohydrate intake for the meal (including dessert) as it would be on a regular day. If there is a dish that you still want to try, but feel it would be too much for your blood sugar to handle, then ask the host if you can take some small portions home so you can enjoy it the next day as leftovers.

7. Keep Alcohol in Check

Alcohol can be enjoyed in small amounts on occasion. However, drinking alcohol can cause a drop in blood glucose levels, which can be dangerous if you take insulin and/or glucose-lowering medication. This happens because the liver prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over producing and maintaining your blood sugar stable, per the American Diabetes Association.

The recommended guidelines for people with diabetes are the same as all adults: For females, no more than one drink per day and for males, no more than two drinks per day. One drink equals a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits like vodka, whiskey or rum. If you have diabetes and choose to drink, then use these tips to do so smartly:

  • Do not drink on an empty stomach or when your blood glucose is low.
  • Consume alcohol with food, especially if you're on insulin or other diabetes medications that can lower blood glucose by making more insulin.
  • Do not skip a meal if you are going to drink.
  • Watch for craft beers, wines or spirits, which can have twice to three times the alcohol content of light beer.
  • Choose calorie-free drink mixers like club soda, tonic water or diet soda.