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Diabetes At Thanksgiving: Plan, Prepare and Practice


While we all look forward to the holiday feast, people living with diabetes have to exercise caution. In this week’s Vital Signs, Sharon Cox, a dietitian with Parkland Hospital System, talks about ways to keep blood sugar levels stable.

From Sharon Cox’s interview…

Food limitations from diabetes: “A person living with diabetes can eat the same foods as we (without diabetes) could. What is key for them is their serving size. So the carbohydrate foods, starches like rice, bread, potatoes, beans, fruit, juices and milk are all carbs, and all of those foods turn into glucose, so sugar in our bodies. We need a certain amount for energy but not too much to cause those symptoms of increased thirst, urination, and also lead to some of the complications of diabetes.

Holiday sweets and alcohol? “Persons living with diabetes can plan to have a sweet or dessert. At that main meal, if you could leave off a dinner roll or not have as much mashed potatoes or other carbs, then your carbohydrate that is the sweet would be a small portion of your plate, but you could have it. And about the alcohol, that is something you need to check with your doctor. Make your blood sugars are well-controlled enough to have maybe one drink. One drink for a female would be five ounces of wine or one small can of beer. And two drinks for a male. But you still have to always eat first, otherwise the alcohol will cause some major problems.

What not to do to counter overindulgence: “You would not want to skip a meal. Persons with diabetes or any chronic disease usually have medications they’re taking, which means it needs to be taken with food. And when we miss a meal, we are extra hungry at the next meal. So, go ahead and have three planned meals. Don’t skip breakfast or lunch and save enough for the main meal.

Substitutions for holiday treats: When you’re baking your cakes, you can use applesauce instead of so much fat. Baby jars of prunes to reduce the fat in your brownies. You can use half sugar, half of the sweeteners like Splenda to bake with. With your sweet potatoes or your pumpkin, maybe cook in a little orange juice. That will sweeten it and you won’t have to add as much sugar. And then they’re all the great flavors that we can use from vanilla to lemon, spices. All of those make you food taste good but, you know, reducing the amount of sugar you use.  

Is it so bad to overindulge on one meal? “It depends especially on the carbs. If your plate is loaded with starchy foods, sweets, instead of half a plate of vegetables, then you could end up with upset stomach, heartburn. Those are minor things. But you could also end up in the emergency room if blood sugar levels go to high.

One more tip: Plan, prepare and practice. If you can practice that meal a few times, maybe, then you should be fine at it. Maybe use your non-dominant hand, if you’re right handed, use your left to eat your food, you will eat a lot slower.

For more information:

Navigating the Thanksgiving Feast 

Healthy Diabetic Diet Thanksgiving Recipes 

See How Easily You Can Have a Diabetes Friendly Thanksgiving

Diabetes management: How lifestyle, daily routine affect blood sugar 

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.