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November 4, 2023

Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas with a Low Glycemic Index to Support Healthy Blood Sugar

by Karen Buynak, MS, RDN, LDN

The holiday season is a great time to gather with loved ones and make memories, but it can be a stressful time for patients who are struggling to manage their diabetes and carbohydrate intake. Let’s explore the glycemic index and recipes that are still delicious for the holidays, but more beneficial for your body!

What is the glycemic index?

The glycemic index is a scale ranging from 0 to -100, with pure glucose at a value of 100. The glycemic index measures how quickly and how high someone’s blood sugar levels will rise after eating or drinking a particular item.

Foods higher in both natural and added sugars are likely to have a higher glycemic index, but all carbohydrates (yes- even your fruits and vegetables) have an assigned glycemic index. Generally, the lower the glycemic index of a food or ingredient is, the more stable your blood sugar will be.

It is crucial for people who are monitoring blood sugars to be careful about the glycemic index of the foods they eat, as the wrong ingredient can cause a quick spike in blood sugar and lead to potential side effects of hyperglycemia. Eating foods and preparing meals with low-glycemic ingredients is a must for anyone who is looking to manage blood sugar levels and avoid blood sugar spikes.

Who could benefit from eating foods with a low glycemic index?

  • People who have been diagnosed with Type I, Type II, or Gestational Diabetes
  • People who have been diagnosed with PCOS
  • People who have impaired fasting glucose or Prediabetes
  • People who are sensitive to rapid changes in blood sugar
  • Anyone else!

Recipe Ideas

Swap some of the ingredients in your traditional turkey day recipes and follow these tips to ensure a more stable blood sugar and insulin level throughout the holiday celebration!

Appetizers or First Course

Harvest salad with squash, pumpkin seeds, and leafy greens

  • Tip: add fruits like cranberries, pomegranates, and apples for natural sweetness.
  • Tip: use reduced sugar salad dressing, or a yogurt-based creamy dressing with a low sugar content.

Cream of turkey and wild rice soup

  • Tip: use oat flour or whole wheat flour to thicken soup instead of all-purpose flour.

Curried sweet potato and chickpea soup

  • Tip: add lentils for extra fiber and protein.
  • Tip: use lite coconut milk or almond milk instead of cow’s milk.
  • Tip: sweeten with agave nectar, honey or 100% maple syrup instead of sugar.

Side Dishes

Roasted glazed carrots

  • Tip: use agave nectar instead of brown sugar or honey.

Sweet potato casserole

  • Tip: use brown sugar Splenda instead of regular brown sugar.
  • Tip: skip the marshmallows! Add pecans for texture and heart healthy fats.

Macaroni and cheese

  • Tip: use whole wheat or protein pasta instead of white pasta.
  • Tip: plant-based milks like almond milk and soy milk have less carbohydrates than cow’s milk.
  • Tip: if you want to use cow’s milk, skim milk has the lowest fat content.

Roasted brussels sprouts

  • Tip: skip the breading.
  • Tip: avocado oil and olive oil have great heart healthy fats.

Mushroom and quinoa stuffed acorn squash

  • Tip: don’t like quinoa? Try wild rice instead!
  • Tip: add low-fat mozzarella or parmesan cheese for creaminess in the stuffing mixture! Cheese has a low glycemic index.

Instead of mashed potatoes, try Cauliflower Mash.

Instead of traditional stuffing, try homemade stuffing using sprouted grain and whole grain breads.

  • Tip: add riced cauliflower to improve texture and moisture.


Sugar-free pumpkin pudding pie

  • Tip: use sugar-free Jell-O pudding mix, vanilla or cheesecake flavored, and add pumpkin spice seasoning
  • Tip: add lite Cool Whip for a fluffier pie filling, or as a topping!

Apple cinnamon bran muffins

  • Tip: top with oats and pumpkin seeds for added fiber and protein
  • Tip: pour batter into a loaf pan to make an apple cinnamon bran cake/loaf for smaller crowds

Peanut butter protein cookies

  • Tip: use different flavored protein powders to make multiple types of cookies: pumpkin spice protein powder, chocolate protein powder, Cinnabon protein powder
  • Tip: use PB2 or PBFit if you don’t have protein powder

Oatmeal raisin cookies

  • Tip: replace white sugar with brown sugar Splenda, honey, or maple syrup
  • Tip: add chopped apples as a topping for a fun fall flavor

Mayo Clinic, American Diabetes Association, and Diabetes Food Hub have some great resources for finding recipes.

Check out this table with comparisons of commonly used sweeteners and their glycemic index values:


  • Glucose – 100
  • Cane sugar – 60
  • Clover honey, raw – 59-61
  • Molasses – 55
  • Maple syrup – 54
  • Coconut sugar – 54
  • High-fructose corn syrup – 50-56
  • Brown sugar – 45-71
  • Dates – 31-60
  • Agave – 11-19

Sugar Alcohols

  • Maltitol – 35
  • Xylitol – 13
  • Sorbitol – 9
  • Isomalt – 9
  • Lactitol – 6

To get assistance with meal planning and achieving your health and nutrition goals, it is best to work with a registered dietitian who can give you individualized advice on what works best for you and your lifestyle. Avance Care has a handful of dietitians with diverse backgrounds and interests who are ready to help you achieve your goals. Our dietitians are available in person and virtually.

Call 919.237.1337 option 4 or visit to learn more about our services and schedule an appointment.

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