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Thanksgiving is a time to gather around the table safely with family and friends, giving thanks and eating lots of delicious food. What you may not realize is that eating healthy during this holiday is possible! Eating healthier is one way you can boost your mood, have more energy, and prevent or delay conditions like type 2 diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 3 US adults has prediabetes and 84% of them don’t know they have it. It could be you, a sibling, or an uncle who has prediabetes. Prediabetes often leads to type 2 diabetes and raises your risk for heart disease and stroke. Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, so consider taking some time to reflect on your health and eating habits so that you can continue being thankful with your loved ones for many more years to come.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways to eat healthier and still enjoy your Thanksgiving favorites! Here are some helpful tips to try:

1. Make healthy food or ingredient swaps:

  • Swap fried turkey for grilled or roasted turkey.
  • When baking, choose a healthier flour like 100% whole wheat instead of all-purpose, bleached flour.
  • Make a green bean casserole but hold the casserole. Consider lightly seasoning and cooking your greens instead of baking them into a dish with cheese, butter, and milk.
  • Add more fresh vegetables to your plate. ’Tis the season for pumpkins and squash! Think about filling your plate with mostly vegetables but remember not to dress them up with too much sauce or butter. Consider seasoning with herbs and spices instead.
  • Have fresh fruit for dessert.

2. Choose less processed foods and ingredients. Try including more whole foods (fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes) instead of processed foods. For example, swap the sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping for sweet potatoes roasted with fall spices like cinnamon and cloves.

3. More protein, lower carbohydrates. Your body digests protein slower than carbohydrates, making you feel fuller for longer and having less impact on your blood sugar levels. Try loading up on turkey for more protein, and when you are going to eat carbohydrates, you can make low-carb swaps like mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes or a walnut-based stuffing instead of a bread-based stuffing.

4. Eat smaller portions. Instead of skipping your favorite foods, try eating smaller portions. You can prepare food in batches of individual portions or pack up leftover food soon after you’re done eating so you’re not tempted to go back for more. Using a smaller plate can also help you manage portion sizes. Look at CDC’s Diabetes Meal Planning for more tips on planning your portions.

5. Start a healthy recipe challenge with your family members. Find recipes that are low in sugar, carbohydrates, fat, and/or processed ingredients and see who can make the tastiest one! You can learn new cooking techniques and get recipes from books, articles, and videos.

Thanksgiving isn’t the only time you can give these ideas a try! Incorporating these healthy options as small swaps throughout the year can help you create a healthy lifestyle without having to completely give up eating the things you love. ECHN has lifestyle coaches from CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle change program that can help you learn ways to eat healthier, be more active, and make that healthy lifestyle a reality.

This program takes place both virtually and in person and is proven to reduce participants’ risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 50%. Through the class, participants work with a trained Lifestyle Coach and a team of fellow participants who can encourage and challenge each other along the way. Learn more here.

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