A Diabetic at the Thanksgiving Table

Many people feel stuffed and uncomfortable after gorging themselves on turkey, stuffing, and desserts on Thanksgiving.

But for diabetics, the situation can be downright dangerous, as eating high-sugar foods can send blood sugar into a chaotic rollercoaster.

The problem lies in simple carbohydrates and sugars -- common ingredients in holiday meals -- that boost blood sugar immediately and can throw glucose levels out of whack.

However, other options such as whole grains can provide carbohydrates that impact the blood sugar more slowly. With a little foresight, meals can be tweaked to integrate diabetic-friendly options, say diet experts.

"People with diabetes need to give thought to what they will eat so that they can keep their blood sugars in a normal range," says Connie Diekman, current president of the American Dietetic Association, noting that most non-diabetics are not accustomed to this level of precise planning.

"People with diabetes can enjoy most of the foods so typical to the holiday season if they know how to balance the right portion of food into their meal plans. Such planning might be difficult for a new diabetic, but with a little experience it really isn't that tricky."

Adjusting the Menu for All Guests

For example, Diekman says, eating basic foods such as turkey, potatoes, vegetables, and salad is easier when options don't appear to be loaded with hidden ingredients. Serving plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables is a healthy option for all guests.

Other diet experts agree that healthy options can be incorporated into holiday meals for all.

"It is important to keep health in mind when planning the menu for the good of all party guests, not just those with diabetes," says Dr. George Blackburn, a professor of nutrition medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"Look for recipes that incorporate ingredient substitutions that lower the calorie, fat and sugar content of the food.. Be sure to offer a variety of choices that cover all groups of the government's MyPyramid food plan. There is no need to make your holidays completely devoid of some high calorie choices; however, it is important to set portion-size limits on those foods to prevent holiday weight gain."

Some specific parts of the meal may be more challenging than others. For example, many people can't imagine Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie or other sweet treats to top off the feast.

But Diekman says that even when it comes to dessert, healthy options abound.

"If hosts can offer fruit cups, fruit crisp or angel food cake most people with diabetes will be able to include small portions in their meal plans," she says. "Fancier desserts like cakes, cookies and cream pies can be more difficult to figure out how they fit."

Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, says that the two areas primed for a diabetic makeover are cranberry sauce and stuffing.

"Stuffing tends to be made with white-flour bread crumbs, often containing high fructose corn syrup and even trans fat," he says, adding that using whole-grain bread crumbs is an easy substitution. Likewise, unsweetened cranberry sauce is readily available and easy to offer to diabetic guests.

A Heaping Helping of Exercise

But most important of all may be what you choose to do after that heavy meal.

"Take time to include physical activity throughout the holiday season," says Harvard's Blackburn. "It will burn the extra holiday calories taken in while alleviating stress and improving mood. Start by simply moving more and considering wearing a pedometer which counts daily steps taken. Make it a holiday goal to get to 10,000 steps a day."

Katz adds that a walk around the block may offer something even better than a bump in your heart rate: "Extra eating is all but inevitable. But take advantage of holiday time for some walking, and any other activity that fits in. Physical activity will help burn up those extra calories, and serves directly to help stabilize blood sugar in the bargain.

"And a walk with friends or family is a great way to catch up."