How can I manage my diabetes during Thanksgiving?

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

Thanksgiving can be an enjoyable celebration for everyone. If you have diabetes it is important that you remember to count carbs, monitor your blood sugar, enjoy all foods in moderation, take your medicines (if prescribed) on time and stay physically fit. Also, remember that alcohol does affect your blood sugar and adjust your food intake accordingly.

Healthy Tips for Thanksgiving:

  • Just because you are busy all day preparing for the big holiday meal does not mean that you skip other meals. Enjoy a good breakfast and eat throughout the day to keep your energy level up and avoid overeating
  • Pace yourself through the holiday gatherings and focus on quality time spent with family/friends rather than on the food alone
  • Use the "Choose My Plate" icon as a visual cue as to types of foods and portions everyday including the holidays. For instance, fill half your plate with colorful fall fruits and vegetables, 1/4 of your plate turkey/lean protein and 1/4 of your plate with carbohydrates (bread, potato, etc.)
  • Be creative and tweak traditional recipes to make them healthier
  • Plan an activity that is physically active such as a family walk after the holiday meal
  • Remember that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. The key is enjoy a variety, balance and practice portion control
You can manage your diabetes during Thanksgiving by planning ahead and managing portion sizes. Plan ahead by buying (or bringing) sugar-free deserts. Use small portion size to control your carbohydrate intake. Dedicate one third or less of your plate for carbs, with the other two-thirds for turkey and vegetables. Also try to limit your alcohol intake.
Thanksgiving can be a time of great anxiety for people with diabetes because it is so focused on food. Don't let questions about what to eat, how much to eat, and meal timing dampen your holiday. Plan in advance, so you can fully enjoy the day and keep your diabetes management on track.

Think about the timing of your meal. Many families eat large meals at odd times on holidays. For example, Thanksgiving dinner may be served in the middle of the afternoon. Plan in advance for how you will handle making changes if your meal does not line up with your regular meal plan and schedule.

If you take insulin injections or a pill that lowers blood glucose, you may need to have a snack at your normal meal time to prevent a low blood glucose reaction. Check with your health care team about this.

Be physically active! The best way to compensate for eating a little more than usual is to be active. Start a new tradition that involves moving around away from the food. Ideas include taking a walk with the whole family or playing Frisbee, soccer, or touch football with your children, grandchildren, or the neighborhood kids.

Have foods to nibble on while you are cooking or waiting to eat. Make sure the foods you choose won't sabotage blood glucose levels before the meal.

Make selective food choices. Many traditional Thanksgiving foods are high in carbohydrates: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and other desserts. Don't feel like you have to sample everything on the table.

Have a reasonable portion of your favorites and pass on the rest. If you really want to try everything, make your portions smaller. Overall, try to keep your total carbohydrate intake like a regular day.

Eat your vegetables. Vegetables are important for everyone! Unfortunately, the vegetable selection on holiday menus is usually limited. Veggies come in all colors and are very nutritious. Offer to bring a green salad or a side of steamed veggies that have been seasoned. Non-starchy veggies are low in carbs and calories. They will help fill you up and keep you from overeating other high-calorie and high-fat foods on the table.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.