Giving Thanks: A Diabetic’s Healthy Holiday Plan with Recipes

Eating during the holidays with diabetes can be challenging. How do you find good-for-you, diabetes-friendly recipes that you and your family will want to eat? What foods should you avoid if you are diabetic? How should you manage your diabetes and your blood sugar level? How do you stay stress-free during this hectic time of year? Don’t worry. Your holiday plan starts right here, right now.

This National Diabetes Awareness Month (November) is the perfect time to start practicing your healthy holiday eating strategies, especially if you’re diabetic. You don’t want the holiday spirit to take over your body (and your blood sugar level) for that five-to-six week stretch between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

To help you stay festive, focused and fit without being a holiday scrooge over every nibble, bite and sip, here’s a helpful dos and don’ts guide for diabetics to stay health-wise this holiday season.

Here’s what you need to know and do:

  • It’s important to manage your diabetes every day even on special days like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
    • Diabetic Diet: How to Manage Your Diabetes on Thanksgiving Day
      One thing is always certain around the holidays: Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, most of us will be tempted to consume foods we should avoid on a diabetic diet. For those trying to manage their diabetes, the holidays are no time to take a vacation from a diet that works to keep the blood glucose level balanced and not spiked.

      Diabetics can enjoy all the typical menu items of a Thanksgiving dinner if they plan accordingly and understand the importance of balance. Keep these helpful tips in mind as you give thanks:

      1. Think ahead. Are you hosting dinner? If so, you’re at an advantage! Consider healthy ways to prepare your main and side dishes. How can you keep the great taste of a meal but reduce the fat, sugar and carbs? Salad and vegetables are no-brainers, but make sure the ingredients you toss in it are nutritious. Most of your guests won’t share your diabetic diet, but don’t be afraid to tweak your recipes here and there.  And, hey, everyone should be eating more whole grains and fruits, so be sure to serve them. Now, if you’ll be a guest at dinner, go forth with a strategy.
      2. Strategize. Eat before you go to dinner. That way, you’re not famished and ready to grab the first unhealthy thing you see. You can count on your favorite staples to be on the table – macaroni and cheese, stuffing, mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, all high-carb foods that will affect your sugar level. Be prepared to know what you will eat before you grab a plate. Roasted turkey breast is a great, low-fat protein, but skip the gravy, which is high in fat and carbs. If you must do gravy, drizzle lightly. Set portion-size limitations on yourself – a tablespoon of candied yams, two bites of sweet potato pie, a half of a small roll.
      3. Handle the sweets. This is where it may be a good idea to bring your own dessert. There’s bound to be holiday cookies, cupcakes and pies, goodies that may be too rich and sugary for you, even in small portions. Carry such healthy desserts as angel food cake and fruit cups to fulfill your cravings. Unsweetened cranberry sauce is also an option.
      4. Burn off the calories. After a few hours of heavy eating, plan to go for a walk to burn off the extra calories. In fact, fit in as much physical activity as possible during the holiday season. Make it fun – go skating or skiing. Exercise helps stabilize your blood sugar level.
      5. Ask for help. If diabetes is new to you, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about how to have a healthy, but fulfilled Thanksgiving dinner. There’s probably a diabetic food grocery list for the holidays that can be put together for you as a guide. It’s vital that you know how to balance carbs and sugar so that you stay healthy and, at the same time, avoid feeling deprived when it’s time to dig in!
    • Holiday Time: What Foods Should I Avoid If I Am Diabetic?
      Before you were diagnosed with diabetes, you looked forward to your mom’s annual holiday dessert – the divine, triple-layered, red-velvet cake with the cream cheese frosting that melted in your mouth. Scrumptious!

      Now that you have diabetes, red velvet cake is nowhere near the top of the list of foods for a diabetic to eat. Instead, you must stay mindful of the foods you put in your body, because what you eat is a big part of your self-management, diabetic diet plan. It’s also important to make better choices by sticking to foods that are both good for you and your blood glucose level. In other words, if you know a certain food will spike your blood sugar, it’s best to stay away from it or at least learn how to eat in moderation.

      What kind of foods should you eat with type 2 diabetes?

      Well, it’s critical that you eat healthy carbohydrates such as whole fruits, nutrient-rich grains, low-fat dairy, vegetables, beans, peas and lentils, just to name a few. You want to also incorporate fiber-rich foods like nuts, wheat bran and low-fat proteins such as chicken breast and lean turkey.

      Now, keeping normal-range, blood sugar levels doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sweets from time to time, too. But most often, foods with sugar are also high in calories, saturated fat and carbohydrates, and lack essential vitamins and minerals. Below are some potential “trouble” foods that you’ll need to avoid or talk to your dietician about if you want to fit them into your diabetic food grocery list for the holidays.

      Cakes and Desserts
      Now there are healthy ways to make cakes, pies, cookies and goodies, but the good majority of the ones at holiday parties aren’t made that way. They’re often stirred up with butter, margarine and shortenings, all ingredients you need to limit in your diet. Angel food cake, however, is not too bad.

      Rolls (made with white flour)
      White bread has a high-glycemic index, which raises your blood sugar faster and higher than a roll made of whole wheat. If there are no whole-wheat options, lose the roll.

      Fried Chicken 
      The fact that it’s dipped in boiling oil says it all.  According the Mayo Clinic, no more than 7 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. Keep that in mind as you survey a holiday buffet table.

      We know. What is turkey without gravy? The problem is, the base of gravy is often a high-sodium chicken broth, white flour, butter or some combination of those ingredients that aren’t nutritious. Plus, one tablespoon of gravy could cost you about 60 calories. If you can’t drizzle very lightly, go without.

      Candied Yams
      Yams alone are healthy for you. Add the word “candy,” and you’ve also added a lot of sugar. Forget the syrupy sauce, and opt for a small baked yam with a dash of cinnamon and a low-calorie sweetener instead.

      Depending on the recipe, one cup of stuffing is estimated at 400 calories. And it often contains real butter or margarine, high-fat broth from the turkey, and either cornbread made with shortening, whole milk or cream or stuffing made with bread that is high in calories.

      Sweet Drinks
      If you drank water with your holiday meals, you may be able to afford to eat something else yummy in moderation. Most punches and juices are loaded with sugar. Instead of drinking your calories and carbs, guzzle a glass of H20.

      This is not a complete list by any means. There are plenty of holiday foods that, if eaten excessively, could be bad for your diabetes. The key to healthy eating is moderation and balance. Discuss with your dietician how to strategically eat the foods you want this season and enjoy.

  • Try out new diabetic recipes that are tasty, easy to prepare and low-cost to make for the holidays.
    • Festive Meal Plan: A List of Foods for Diabetics to Eat
      It’s the season to give thanks, count your many blessings and eat some mouth-watering food, too. This delicious holiday meal plan is sure to please your family’s taste buds, as well as keep your diabetes in check. Try the entire diabetes-friendly meal plan or make one or two recipes for diabetic friends and/or family members who are watching what they eat.

      (Just so you know: this holiday menu is so good and good-for-you that you could make it whether you’re trying to follow a diabetic diet or not!)

      Potato Carrot Soup
      Sweet Potato Bread

      Main Dish 
      Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Vegetables
      Green Peppers Stuffed with Black-Eyed Peas and Smoked Turkey

      Side Dishes 
      Wild Rice with Broccoli
      Corn Pudding
      String Bean Salad
      Kale with Smoked Turkey

      Drinks and Dessert 
      Golden Party Punch
      Banana Pudding

    • Video l How to Make Banana Pudding
  • Take good advice from diabetes experts and stay up-to-date on health tips that might help you manage your diabetes and stay well.
    • Health Tip: Balance Stress and Your Blood Sugar Level, Too
      As fun and festive as it can be, holiday planning can be awfully stressful. When you have diabetes, in addition to monitoring your diabetic diet, you want to keep stress to a minimum. According to the American Diabetes Association, mental stress can increase your blood sugar level. This holiday season practice these relaxation techniques:

      • Exercise: Physical activity, particularly stretching, can relax the body and mind.
      • Take deep breaths: At least once a day, breathe in and out, relaxing your muscles for 5 to up to 20 minutes at a time.
      • Think positive thoughts: Think of things that make you feel good. Replace negative thinking with positive affirmations as often as you can.
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