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Your Guide to a Diabetic-Friendly Thanksgiving Feast

Greetings, Persephoneers! We’ve talked over Thanksgiving for veg* folks and considerations for our friends who forego gluten. Today, we’re going to chat about going easy on the diabetics in your life with the all-important turkey gorge-fest, Thanksgiving.

Basically, diabetics have to worry about two major issues affecting their insulin production: fat content and glycemic index (most commonly understood by the types of sugars contained in given foods). I’m not here to convince anyone that they are diabetic, nor that they should or shouldn’t do any particular thing if they have been diagnosed with diabetes. (I am speaking in general terms and not distinguishing between Type 1 and Type 2 because, for the purposes of choosing a Thanksgiving menu, the type of diabetes is irrelevant.) I’m just saying that if diabetes is a concern you are facing, whether for yourself or a person you’re feasting with, and you would like to take those concerns into account when you plan your meal, here’s a guide you can use as a rule of thumb.

The thing about worrying about fat content and glycemic index is that almost everything on the traditional Thanksgiving menu (meat, gravy, potatoes, stuffing, pie, cranberry sauce, etc.) hit one or both of those red flags for diabetics.

First, fat content: this is actually easier than you’d think to cut down. Nobody likes the words “portion control,” because they tend to come with a slew of other baggage. But for the diabetic, portion control doesn’t have to be about weight-related topics. It has more to do with the total glycemic dump they’re doing on their system at any given time. So, just being mindful of portions by eating neither too much nor too little and listening to your body telling you when enough is enough can help guide you toward a healthier Thanksgiving. Eat your fill, definitely! Nobody needs to starve, least of all people with sensitive insulin levels.

A few other things can help you curb the fat content of your Thanksgiving feast:

  • eat the white meat of the turkey instead of the dark meat
  • use ice cubes in your pan drippings to freeze out and then separate fat before making your gravy (this leaves rich, flavorful drippings with almost no fat at all)
  • try vegan dessert recipes to cut butter out of baked goods, like pie crusts
  • use fats that are less likely to screw with your blood sugar levels, like those found in olive and canola oils, for sauteing veggies for stuffing or for baking
  • Skip butter in your mashed potatoes and just whip in broth and garlic: flavor-rich, light, and melts on your tongue.

The other issue, of course, is sugar content, roughly translated to the unpleasantly dietish sounding net carbs. This is kind of the one everyone thinks of when they think of cooking for diabetics, and for good cause.

Now, it’s not that diabetics can’t have any carbohydrates. Zeroing out is just as bad as going overboard. The key is balance. To that end, I give you: stevia. This stuff is magic. Double or triple check conversion charts online before subbing it into your favorite pie recipes, though, because it’s not even close to a 1:1 conversion ratio and you might need to tweak some things. (Another option? Use all natural, unsweetened applesauce as a sweetener in baked goods; apples have a very low glycemic index compared to sugars and other sweeteners.)

You can make your own stuffing with any kind of bread, so look for bread (or make!) bread with whole grain or whole wheat flour as the very first ingredient. Or, to make it easy, try Dave’s Killer Bread if you can find it. So good.

Try experimenting with alternate pie crusts, too: crushed nuts with spices and a tiny bit of stevia can be great crust for pumpkin cheesecake (try the low-fat cream cheese with your filling).

Most of all, just be mindful. There’s plenty you can load up on (like turkey, green beans, salad if you’re into salad, vegetarian gravies, etc.) and no reason you can’t have a taste of everything on the table. Hopefully, these tips help you navigate your holiday conundrums in the face of diabetes so you can keep on feasting. Bon appetit!

By Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

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