Thanksgiving is not a day to diet, but with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can avoid ending up as stuffed as the turkey. Nutrition Diva explains.
Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family, be grateful for all we have, and stuff ourselves silly. I’m not that concerned about the long term consequences of this. As I’ve said before, a single day of excess isn’t going to make you gain weight any more than a one-day juice fast is going to make you lose weight.
Nonetheless, it’s no fun to push yourself away from the table and realize – too late! – that you’ve eaten to the point of discomfort.
Here are 5 strategies that can help you enjoy this year’s feast without regrets:
Thanksgiving Tip #1: Keep the Appetizers Light
The traditional Thanksgiving menu features a lot of heavy, rich dishes – lots of starches, creamy casseroles, and everything is dripping with butter and gravy. It’s not a light meal. Unfortunately, the pre-dinner snacks tend to be just as heavy and rich as the main event! All too often people sit down to dinner already half-full from the snacks they’ve been nibbling all afternoon while dinner is prepared.
Rather than filling up on calorie-dense appetizers like cheese and crackers, clam dip, nuts, and bacon-wrapped pineapple chunks, keep the pre-dinner snacks light: crisp radishes and snow peas with a yogurt based dip, kale chips, and steamed edamame, for example. Clearing away all the snacks about an hour before dinner will also help ensure that people sit down to the table with an appetite.
Thanksgiving Tip #2: Use Smaller Plates
Research shows that when we use smaller plates, we serve ourselves smaller portions, consume fewer calories, but feel just as satisfied as we do after eating more calories off of larger plates. Now consider that the average size of dinner plates has gone from 9 to 13 inches over the last 30 years and our rising rates of obesity don’t seem that surprising.
Do yourself and your guests a favor by setting the table with smaller plates. Grandma’s china is probably a lot smaller than your modern dinnerware. Alternatively, the salad or sandwich plates from your oversized set might be perfect. The same holds true for things like wine glasses and forks: They larger they are, the more we consume. Downsizing your serving ware will not only help you eat a bit less without even noticing, it’ll also make your table less crowded.
Thanksgiving Tip #3: Serve the Vegetables First
If you start by filling your plate with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and candied yams, you’re likely to be out of room by the time you get to the string beans, Brussels sprouts, and carrots. Reverse the trend by helping yourself to turkey and all the vegetables first, leaving less room on the plate for the starchy fillers.
If you’re in charge of all or part of the menu this year, try to ensure that there are at least as many vegetables as starches – and resist the temptation to smother them all in cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and/or fried onions. Some crisp and colorful vegetables, lightly steamed and topped with a bright squeeze of lemon juice or fresh herbs, provide a welcome contrast to all the other dense and heavy dishes.
Some of my favorite vegetables sides for Thanksgiving include steamed carrots lightly glazed in ginger and a bit of butter, tender-crisp green beans tossed with cilantro and garlic, and a very lightly-dressed coleslaw or pickled vegetables.
Thanksgiving Tip #4: Choose Your Starch
One of the things that makes Thanksgiving dinner so devastating is all the redundant starches. During the rest of the year, a dinner menu might feature a protein, a starch, and a vegetable. Or, at my house, we often skip the starch altogether and have a second (or third) vegetable instead.
But the traditional Thanksgiving menu includes a bird stuffed with bread, at least one or two types of potatoes, rolls – and often several other starches as well. And research shows that we eat more when we have a greater variety than we do when our choices are more limited.
If you are cooking this year, consider reigning in the madness a bit. Stuffing and potatoes might be non-negotiable, but would anyone really miss the rolls? Is it really necessary to serve mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and scalloped potatoes? Even if you have no control over the menu, you can also choose to eat only one of the many starch dishes this year instead of all of them.
Thanksgiving Tip #5: You Don’t Have to Sample Everything
When we go to a restaurant, we don’t feel that we have to order every single thing on the menu just because the chef has prepared them. We choose our favorite item, and feel no sense of loss or deprivation. But somehow when faced with a Thanksgiving buffet of 20 different dishes, we feel duty-bound to sample every single one.
By all means, marvel over the beautiful array of colors and aromas and compliment the chef(s) on the amazing spread. Then, just as you would when handed a menu full of delicious options, choose what you’d like to enjoy that evening…and enjoy the heck out of it. Likewise, when it comes to dessert, it is not necessary to have a “small” piece of all 5 desserts any more than you’d order every item on a dessert menu.
There’s a sort of madness that sets in at Thanksgiving, as if this will be the last pumpkin pie we will ever see. But Thanksgiving actually comes every year – and the menu doesn’t change all that much! Barring catastrophe, your life is likely to include many more pumpkin pies, all of which will taste very similar to the dozens of pumpkin pies you’ve had before. When I remind myself of that, it seems to put things back into perspective, allowing me to make my decision based on how much room I actually have left in my stomach and which dessert looks particularly appealing or unusual.
Avocado and almond milk replace evaporated milk in this healthy take on a holiday classic. But this nutritional upgrade can be your little secret…no one will be the wiser.
Pumpkins are super high in beta-carotene and recent research shows that adding avocado to carotene-rich veggies not only boosts absorption of the nutrient but also aids in their conversion to vitamin A.
As an experiment, I replaced the evaporated milk in the standard pumpkin pie recipe with a blend of almond milk and ripe avocado and served it to guests without tipping them off. Not only were they none the wiser, but the superior flavor and light, mousse-like texture of the filling prompted several requests for the recipe.
So, just in time for Thanksgiving, here’s my recipe for Pumpkin Avocado Pie. The fact that it contains nutrient-boosting avocado (or that it has 25% fewer calories and 40% less sugar than the standard recipe) can be your little secret.
Pumpkin Avocado Pie
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1/2 ripe avocado
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 inch piece of ginger root (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
- 2 eggs
- 1 15-ounce can pumpkin
- 1 9-inch pie shell (unbaked)
- Preheat oven to 4250F.
- Combine sugar, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Place almond milk, avocado, vanilla, and ginger into blender and blend on high speed until smooth.
- Add eggs to blender and blend on low speed until combined.
- Add avocado mixture and canned pumpkin to sugar mixture and stir until combined.
- Pour mixture into prepared pie shell and bake at 425 for 15 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 40 minutes. Pie will be slightly jiggly but set.
- Cool on a rack and serve with whipped cream if desired.
Now, for a fun Thanksgiving-themed quiz to test your cornucopia of turkey day trivia. Does turkey really make you sleepy? What’s the healthiest kind of pie? Check your holiday nutrition savvy.
Does Turkey Really Make You Drowsy?
True or false? Turkey makes you drowsy because it’s high in tryptophan.
False. Turkey does contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid—one of the building blocks that make up proteins. It’s a pretty common amino acid, found in everything from pumpkin seeds to parmesan cheese.
It’s also true that tryptophan can be converted into serotonin and other neurotransmitters that have a relaxing effect on the brain. But that only happens if there are no other amino acids present. Turkey, of course, contains lots of other amino acids in addition to tryptophan.
So, if you feel sluggish after Thanksgiving dinner, don’t blame the turkey. It’s probably just that you’ve had a big meal, maybe some wine. A nice walk is just the thing to aid digestion and wake you up a bit.
Is Pumpkin Pie a Healthy Dessert?
True or false? Pumpkin pie is good for you.
As desserts go, pumpkin pie has several things going for it (see above!). I mean, this is a dessert made out of vegetables…and you know how I feel about vegetables. Pumpkin is high in beta carotene and fiber and there’s enough pumpkin in a piece of pie to count as about half a serving of vegetables.
Secondly, while many pies have both a top and a bottom crust, pumpkin pie usually only has a bottom crust. The crust accounts for a big proportion of the calories in pie—so having just one limits the damage.
The crust accounts for a big proportion of the calories in pie–so having just one limits the damage.
Compared with a piece of apple pie, a piece of pumpkin pie has 100 fewer calories and lots more antioxidants and other essential nutrients. That said, it does have a significant amount of sugar so best to keep it to one piece.
Should You Use Baking Soda as an Antacid?
But moderation isn’t usually on the menu for Thanksgiving. Most of us end up just as stuffed as the turkey, which brings me to our next question. True or false? Using baking soda as an antacid can blow a hole in your stomach.
This one is true. Baking soda in water is an old-fashioned home remedy for indigestion. Alka-seltzer is simply baking soda and aspirin compressed into a fizzy tablet. But if you’re uncomfortable as a result of eating too much, it’s probably best not to reach for one of these remedies. There have been cases where people have suffered from stomach ruptures after taking baking soda on a very full stomach.
Obviously, it’s best to stop before you get to that point but if you do find yourself with an over-filled stomach, your best bet is to walk it off.
OK, this next one isn’t really Thanksgiving lore, per se, but I’ve included it because it involves cranberries.
Does Cranberry Juice Help Urinary Tract Infections?
True or false? Cranberry juice is an effective remedy for urinary tract infections.
This one’s partially true. Cranberry juice does reduce the ability of bacteria to stick the lining of the urinary tract, making it harder for bacteria to become established there and cause an infection. If bacteria already have a good hold, cranberry juice probably won’t help much. But for people who are prone to UTIs, a daily dose of cranberry juice or a powdered cranberry supplement can help prevent repeated infections. Drinking more water helps, too.
How Many Calories are in Thanksgiving Dinner?
True or false? The average person eats close to 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving.
That’s true. The average Thanksgiving dinner runs about 3,000 calories but when you add in all the other meals and snacks throughout the day, the average person ends up eating about 4500 calories. That’s about two day’s worth of calories.
But, if the scale reads several pounds higher on Friday morning than it did on Thursday morning, take it with a grain of salt. The excess calories are the equivalent of less than a pound of stored fat. Most of that weight gain is temporary. Getting back to your normal eating and exercise patterns will probably bring your weight back to normal in relatively short order.
How Much Weight Do People Gain During the Holidays?
True or false? The average person gains seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
False. Actually, the average weight increase over the holidays is just one pound. If you’re coming out of the holidays overweight, chances are you probably went into the holidays overweight. Which brings me to one of my favorite little pieces of wisdom.
A big holiday dinner isn’t going to make you fat any more than a day or two eating cabbage soup is going to make you thin. When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, or even just trying to eat a healthy diet, I suggest that you not focus too much on your best days or your worst days. In the long run, what really matters is how you eat most days.
So, enjoy your holiday. And I’ll see you back here soon, with more quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.
Why tryptophan makes you sleepy (but turkey doesn’t)
Examining the Evidence on Cranberry Juice
Perils of Baking Soda for Indigestion
Average holiday weight gain less than thought
Some Non-nutritional Thanksgiving myths
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