Food/Nutrition Columnist
Leave My Thanksgiving Dinner Alone!
Nov 17, 2012 - 3:44:12 PM

( - The holiday season is beginning and with it comes the endless advice admonishing us to eat well, not eat too much, not gain weight, to refocus our eating behavior, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong. I am a firm believer in eating well and making good choices most of the time. But, Americans do little in moderation. Either they eat virtuously and deny themselves foods they truly love or they go all out and indulge without considering the consequences.

It is actually sad that we need an excuse like Thanksgiving to enjoy food. Eating is one of the most pleasurable activities in life but few of us truly enjoy it on a regular basis. We are too worried about calories, the wrong fat, too much sugar, and refined carbs to just sit back and savor flavor. My suggestion – enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner.

You’ll hear that a typical Thanksgiving meal delivers 3,000 calories. Few of us will eat that many. And, even if you did, that is only twice the daily intake for most women. If you alter your eating and exercise pattern for the rest of the Thanksgiving weekend, you won’t do that much damage. You’ll hear that a typical Thanksgiving meal is loaded with fat that could promote a heart attack. That may be true for some meals, but again, if you take a nice long walk after dinner, instead of snoozing on the couch, you can undo some of the damage.
It isn’t hard to alter favorite recipes, just a little, to make them a tad healthier. I’m not suggesting the total make-over into a virtuous dish that no longer resembles Grandma’s favorite recipe, instead just tweak the ingredients a little. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of heavy cream, use instead a half cup cream plus a half cup whole milk. This saves 44 grams of fat. Cut the salt in half. If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon use ½ teaspoon. This saves close to 1,200 milligrams of sodium. Drink a wine spritzer with dinner instead of a glass of wine. This dilutes the alcohol and cuts the calories in half. Alcohol increases your appetite, so go easy, less is best.

Many foods we eat at Thanksgiving are health promoting. Turkey, the star of the show is a lean protein source. Eating the white meat is wiser than chowing down on an entire drumstick. Wings, backs, necks and tails are the fattiest cuts. Skipping those and eating just a little of the crispy skin will lower your fat intake quite a bit. Roasting the turkey is a far better cooking method than deep fat frying.

Sweet potatoes are a superfood. This orange colored, root vegetable offers more vitamin A in a serving than any other fruit or vegetable. A medium sweet potato contains 6,100 to 7850 IUs (the daily adult requirement is 5,000 IUs), one-third of your vitamin C requirement, and is a good source of potassium, magnesium and fiber. Ideally, a baked sweet potato would be the best choice, sprinkled with a little brown sugar and butter. If you are looking forward to the family recipe topped with marshmallows or candied syrup, the calories will go up but the nutrition benefits remain the same. Take one serving and enjoy it.

Brussels sprouts and broccoli are part of the cruciferous vegetable family and the top sources of glucosinolates. In plants, glucosinolates act as natural pesticides. When these plants are eaten, glucosinolates initiate a cascade of antioxidant activity that cycle over and over in the body. They are extremely effective anti-cancer compounds, slowing cancer cell growth and supporting DNA repair. Experts estimate that foods, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, can offer protection for up to 4 days after they are eaten.

Pumpkin pie, a Thanksgiving staple is actually a very healthy choice. If you bake the pie without a crust and skip the whipped cream topping you can save close to 150 calories. A half cup of mashed pumpkin offers almost 30% of your daily vitamin A requirement and provides the eye-healthy phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin. Pumpkin is also one of the best sources of beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid linked with a lowered risk of lung and prostate cancer.

Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without cranberries on the table. These red berries are powerful antioxidants and prevent bacteria from adhering to membranes such as the urinary tract, mouth and stomach where they could promote infection. All forms of cranberries provide health benefits and cooking does not alter the anti-adhesion properties. Toss some dried cranberries into the salad or stuffing, eat cranberry jelly and have cranberry juice with dinner.
Nothing beats a great Thanksgiving meal with good company. This year enjoy and savor your dinner without guilt. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
Look for:
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
Your Complete Food Counter App: ClickHere

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts


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