There is no shortage of nutritional advice for Thanksgiving. What to eat. What not to eat. The truth is, you don't have to give up everything you love on Thanksgiving. For some people, Thanksgiving is about traditions, recipes passed down through the years. For others, it's a day about feeling gratitude for the abundance in life. And for some, it's just another day.
But Thanksgiving, and the days surrounding it, can throw off your regular routine. Instead of reaching for your everyday food choices, you may travel and find yourself surrounded by different options. Or maybe the holidays bring up emotions or stress that impact your choices.
The truth is that the healthy habits you've created all year long can help you better handle whatever comes your way. No matter where you fall on the turkey-day spectrum, you don't (and shouldn't) have to give up everything you love.
Instead, you can make smart choices about what goes on your plate to build a perfectly portioned Thanksgiving meal that won't send your blood sugar levels skyrocketing or leave you feeling sick after. We're going to teach you just how to do that.
Why Does Your Blood Sugar Balance Matter?
First, it's essential to understand why blood sugar impacts your energy, food cravings, and even your ability to cope with stress. When you eat carbohydrates (sugars or starches), your body releases insulin so your cells can process that energy and turn it into fuel.
But with too many carbs, our cells are flooded with too much glucose at once. Blood sugar spikes and drops quickly, so we get hangry as we jump between highs and lows. Blood sugar gets low, and our body tells us to reach for the quickest energy option—more carbs or sweets. This cycle repeats itself over and over until we're left feeling tired, craving sugar, irritable, or foggy-brained.
This roller coaster of highs and lows is not only unnecessary, but it's also incredibly detrimental to our health over time. Chronic blood sugar fluctuations can lead to insulin resistance which is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Blood sugar dysregulation can also negatively impact your hormones. When blood sugar gets too high, it triggers cortisol release, leading to weight gain and a host of other problems. It also suppresses your immune system, so you're more likely to get sick. Plus, you just end up with this feeling of being absolutely exhausted yet completely wired at the same time.
In reality, if you usually maintain healthy eating habits or follow one of our meal plans, one thanksgiving meal isn't going to completely deter your health goals. But as I mentioned earlier, for many of us, Thanksgiving is about more than one meal. There's traveling (hello stress hormones) and eating away from home, less access to your go-to blood sugar-balancing foods, more sugary options than usual—all of which can throw things off.
These tips aren't just for Thanksgiving. You can (and should) use them all the time, especially anytime you feel off your normal routine.
Four Steps to Building a Blood Sugar Balancing Plate
What makes a plate "blood sugar friendly?" We've got four simple steps for making sure your meal leaves you feeling satisfied without all the crazy ups and downs in your energy levels throughout the day.
1. First, focus on fiber. Fiber is filling and helps to balance your blood sugar levels throughout the day because it takes longer to digest. Fiber also supports your microbiome, which is key to healthy immunity, stress response, and more. Your gut bacteria can even impact glycemic control as the presence of certain bacteria can make you more or less likely to have blood sugar dysregulation.
So what are some high-fiber Thanksgiving foods? Think vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. You can even swap your stuffing made with white bread for a grain-free version made with veggies, wild rice, or quinoa instead. Not sure where to start? We've made a few tweaks to our usual menus to highlight nutrient-dense and delicious holiday options.
2. Next, pile on the veggies. Vegetables are loaded with fiber but low in carbs, making them ideal for blood sugar management. Plus, when cooked the right way, they are amazingly delicious. You can steam them, roast them in the oven with some olive oil and salt, chop them up raw into a salad - whatever works best for you! Try to make sure non-starchy veggies take up at least half your plate.
3. Protein comes next. Just like fiber, protein helps to balance blood sugar levels. It also helps to ward off food cravings, making it an excellent choice for Thanksgiving dinner. Most turn to turkey, but if you are building blood-sugar-friendly foods throughout the holidays, think quality meat sources like grass-fed beef or bison, organic chicken or turkey, eggs, and beans.
4. Finally, good fat rounds out the meal. In fact, it might just be our most important Thanksgiving friend. Healthy fats like avocado oil, ghee, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and grass-fed butter offer unique benefits. Aside from slowing down digestion to minimize blood sugar spikes, they support brain function by nourishing nerve cells so you can think clearly throughout holiday chaos.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Don't get caught up in rules and restrictions. Enjoy every bite with family, friends, or even by yourself. Balance is key. In fact, if you over-restrict yourself—at Thanksgiving or anytime —it often leads to overeating later. Plus, eating under stress can impact your digestion and immune function. Remember to be kind to yourself and take care of your body - not just on Thanksgiving but every day! So be kind to yourself by filling your plate with these blood-sugar balancing foods.
Your body will thank you for it.
Tricia Williams is a talented Chef recognized as a leader in the fields of Nutrition and Holistic Health. Some years ago, Tricia founded Food Matters, a boutique, nutritionally-sound meal delivery service. Closely collaborating with her clients’ coaches, integrative physicians, and nutritionists, Tricia was able to successfully tailor meal plans that met both their taste preferences and their health goals.
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