Thanksgiving Meal Tips for People With Food Allergies or Diabetes

It's OK to indulge a bit if you have diabetes, but advance preparation is key.

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It's one thing to toss aside thoughts of calories and weight gain on Thanksgiving. But indulging isn't so easy for people with food allergies and diabetes. Here is some Thanksgiving meal advice for people with special eating concerns—and for those preparing their dinner:

People with food allergies should plan their strategy before Thanksgiving arrives. "If you're being invited to someone's house for dinner, tell the person that you have an allergy," advises Clifford Bassett, chair of the public education committee at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. The same goes for people who intend to dine in a restaurant on Thanksgiving. Call the restaurant a few days prior to your visit to inform a manager or the chef of your requirements. Besides ensuring that your meal itself doesn't contain allergens, it gives you the opportunity to ask that the chef not use the same utensils to prepare your meals as he does to work with food containing ingredients you're sensitive to, Bassett says. Parents traveling for Thanksgiving with children who have food allergies may want to take along safe snacks. You'll avoid questionable foods at the airport and ensure that your child doesn't graze on potentially dangerous treats or appetizers at a family member's house.

If you're cooking a meal for a large group on Thanksgiving, it might be a good idea to ask your guests about any food allergies, a health problem that is becoming increasingly common. A study published online by the journal Pediatrics this month found that, since 1993, the number of kids with food allergies has increased 18 percent and that the number of children who get treatment in hospital emergency departments for food allergies has tripled.

For those with diabetes, it's OK to indulge a bit on Thanksgiving, says Nora Saul, manager for nutrition services for the adult division of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. But you should not skip a meal before dinner in an effort to keep calories down or control blood sugar. Instead, "still have regular meals but try to choose things that have good sources of fiber so you'll be more filled up by the time you get to dinner," Saul says.

Also, think ahead to what favorite foods you are likely to encounter during Thanksgiving dinner—your aunt's dinner rolls, for example—and try to limit consumption of foods that you're not so excited about. That way, your overall carbohydrate count for that day "may be a little higher than normal but [still] remains reasonable," Saul says. And try to fit in a little exercise; physical activity helps to lower blood sugar levels.

For cooks preparing Thanksgiving dinner for people with diabetes, there are simple steps that can help make the meal a healthier one for everyone, not just for diabetics. Saul advises using lower-fat ingredients, choosing lean cuts of meats, using sugar substitutes when preparing food, and offering low-fat desserts and other alternatives to sweet desserts, such as fruits.

Saul advises people with diabetes not to feel guilty for enjoying a good Thanksgiving meal. You can get back to your traditional meal plan on Black Friday.

[Slide show: Check out 10 healthful snacks that are good for you (and not too fattening). And read 10 tips for going green and saving money this Thanksgiving.]