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How to Cook for a Diabetic at Thanksgiving

Credit: KidStock/Getty

An easy guide to help make your Thanksgiving every bit as tasty while also being diabetic-friendly.

For someone monitoring his or her blood sugar, indulging in a traditional Thanksgiving feast can be distressing. From the carb-laden appetizers to the sweet potato casserole and pumpkin pie, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind when low-sugar options are sparse. Though fear not, for we are here to provide you with an easy guide to help make your Thanksgiving every bit as tasty while also being diabetic-friendly. After all, everyone should be able to enjoy the holiday with as little stress as possible.

Diabetic-Friendly Thanksgiving Appetizers

A diabetic should be snacking on a little something every few hours to keep blood sugar levels in check. It would not be wise to attempt to fast the whole day leading up to the big meal. This could result in your blood sugar dropping too low and leave you feeling lethargic and dizzy. Instead, aim to incorporate snacks with protein, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats every few hours.

Diabetic-Friendly Thanksgiving Main Meals

Believe it or not, this is where things get easy. A ton of easy substitutions can make lightening the carbohydrate and sugar content of Thanksgiving staples a breeze. In fact, we’ll walk you through every inch of the traditional spread to make it fail-proof.

  • The Bird: Turkey is an excellent source of lean protein, which you want plenty of on this holiday. Consuming protein in combination with carbohydrates and sugar will help prevent spikes in blood sugar and keep you feeling satiated. We recommend keeping the seasoning simple and avoiding any maple or brown sugar glazes.
  • Stuffing: A straightforward holiday stuffing calls for great bread; we recommend choosing a bakery loaf of whole-grain for nutty, toasty dimension and fiber. The fiber will help keep high blood sugars at bay despite the heavy carb load. For flavor, choose aromatics such as onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and herbs; skip the dried fruit.
  • Photo: Charles Masters
    Green Bean Casserole: Luckily, this side dish is typically low in sugar and one you want to include on your plate. For a heart-healthy dose of sugar-stabilizing fat, add a handful of chopped nuts on top. As a general rule of thumb, you should fill up half of your plate with fruits and vegetables and leave the remaining space to occupy protein and starch. In addition to green bean casserole, reach for a serving of roasted sheet pan vegetables, carrots, sautéed greens, or cauliflower.
  • Potatoes: Instead of mashed potatoes, opt for roasted potato wedges to get an extra hit of fiber from the skin. Fiber helps regulate the digestion of carbs and can help prevent spikes in blood sugar.
  • Sweet Potato Casserole: Oh, the humble sweet potato. Since when did people start loading you with melted marshmallows and a day's worth of sugar? Sweet potato casserole does not have to taste like dessert to be delicious and festive. In fact, there is something to be said about unembellished sweet potatoes that showcase only their natural sweetness. Skip the sugar-laden junk and top your mashed spuds with roasted pecans, granola, or browned butter and sage.
  • Photo: Brian Woodcock
    Cranberry Sauce: There's nothing that puts the finishing touch on a holiday spread quite like a vibrant dish of cranberry sauce. However, this is another Thanksgiving staple that tends to be overly sweetened to balance out the bitterness of the berries. To help level things out, we recommend adding black grapes to the cranberries to amp up the natural sweetness. You could also add fresh orange juice and a dash of pure maple syrup in place of granulated sugar.

How to Make Pan-Charred Green Beans with Tarragon

Diabetic-Friendly Thanksgiving Desserts

We’ve made it through the main meal unscathed, so now it’s time for the grand finale. Instead of depriving yourself, try these lower-sugar dessert ideas that will satisfy your sweet cravings without spiking your blood sugar.

  • Fruit dipped in almond butter and Greek yogurt: a hearty dose of protein and heart-healthy fats will keep blood sugars at bay.
  • Spiralized apples with Greek yogurt: both festive and healthy, spiralized apples provide natural sweetness and visual allure.
  • Almond Butter Chocolate Truffles: Made with almond butter, dark chocolate, and only 1 tbsp of honey, you can add any toppings you like such as coconut, chopped nuts, or cocoa powder for a low sugar treat that slays.
  • Photo: Jennifer Causey
    Chocolate Stout Brownies: The typical brownie has nearly 20 grams of sugar. Here, we dial the sugar down to only 8 grams for a richer, denser brownie that truly satisfies.
  • Savory Granola: Our nutty, protein-packed granola has two-thirds less sugar than most store-bought varieties. Enjoy it over Greek yogurt or mixed with fresh fruit for a filling, healthy treat.

Whether it’s you or a loved one trying to navigate the diabetic highway on the biggest eating holiday of the year, by using these tips and recipes, you're sure to produce a spread the whole family will love. Don’t forget to incorporate some fun physical activity throughout the day, too. Go on a family walk or throw the Frisbee outside. Every little bit counts.