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Talking Turkey about Diabetes and the Maillard Reaction

“If only people knew about the Malliard Reaction,” I say to anyone who will listen.  “They would understand why avoiding diabetes is so important.  And if it’s too late, controlling blood sugar is essential.”

What’s the Malliard Reaction?

English: A Thanksgiving turkey that had been s...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oven roasted turkey:  Yum, Yum.


Crusty rolls warm from the oven.  Mmmm…mmm.


Gravy made from turkey roux… Uhhh, huh.


Melt-in-your-mouth flaky pie crust and caramelized pecan pie.  Smack-smack.


What makes these tasty Thanksgiving day dishes taste so good? When the amino acids (from proteins) and carbohydrates close to them are exposed to heat, a complex set of reactions occur:  The Maillard Reaction.



The crusty, crunchy surface of some of my favorite foods, is a product of chemistry.  The Maillard Reaction is what gives a savory flavor to roasted meats and the yummy, toasty flavor to breads and pastries.  It the same thing that turns milk and sugar into a yummy caramel.


Maillard Reaction residue
Maillard Reaction residue

The Maillard Reaction is also what makes the roaster pan next to impossible to scrub clean, and why a little too much heat or time and I might as well throw that cookie sheet away because I’m never going to get that baked on caramelized off.  Curses.


The Maillard Reaction is chemistry.  The reaction takes place when amino acids, sugars, and heat come together. What it does to the roaster and the cookie sheet, can also happen inside the body.

When blood sugar is high, the conditions are right for the Maillard Reaction.  Drat.

Thanksgiving can set our bodies up for trouble; especially for diabetics.

Scientists believe the Maillard Reaction contributes to vascular disease in diabetics.  Too much sugar in the blood heated up by the body, right next to our own amino acids, and the capillaries gum up in much the same way roasting a turkey gums up the roaster.  Tiny vessels in the eye, in the kidneys, and in the fingers and toes fall prey to the Maillard Reaction, starving them of antibodies, red blood cells, and essential nutrients.  (This is my non-medical description.  If you want a more technical explanation, try this link to the Warwick Medical School study.)

It may not be enough to take medication when blood sugar is high because the Maillard Reaction has already taken its toll.  Just like the baked on gunk on the bottom of a roaster, the caramelized sugar and amino acid closing off the capillaries is next to impossible to remove.  It only builds as time goes by and the reaction continues to happen in the blood stream.  Blood sugar can be normalized, but the gunk is there to stay.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving Day meal with all the sweet, savory and toasty flavors. It’s okay.  Just avoid spiking your blood sugar.

Think about the baking pan you tossed because you can’t get it clean, and remember the roaster you lined with aluminum foil to avoid scrubbing.  High blood sugar is doing the same thing to your insides.

Happy Thanksgiving!

English: Half of a homemade pecan pie in a gla...




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  1. Rita Crandell Rita Crandell

    Thanks for the alert. I’ll never look at Thanksgiving dinner (or any other good food) the same again. It will ruin my eating pleasure but (if it’s not too late) it might keep my arteries open a while longer. I know I should be thankful, but when put in such a scientific way, I’m not going to enjoy eating nearly as much.

    • Adela Adela

      My work here is done! I often exclaim to anyone who will listen: “if only people knew what that sugar is doing to their capillaries….”

  2. […] Onions have a more complex, sweeter flavor if you cook them slowly. The onion actually has a variety of sulfur molecules that make up those thiosulfinates you created when you cut the onion. The heat breaks the molecules apart into disulfides and trisulfines, which taste sweet. The longer the onion is exposed to heat, the more diverse and interesting the taste. Heat to high? The enzyme gets deactivated, and the complexity of flavor gets lost. Oh and use butter or oil.  Gotta love what the Maillard reaction does to the taste of everything. If you want to know more about the Maillard reaction, click “Talking Turkey about Diabetes and the Maillard Reaction.” […]

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