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Food/Nutrition Columnist Author: Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDM, Food & Nutrition Columnist - Last Updated: Nov 11, 2017 - 10:01:21 AM

Thanksgiving Dinner – Please Just Let Me Enjoy It!

By Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDM, Food & Nutrition Columnist -
Nov 11, 2017 - 9:56:39 AM

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( - Thanksgiving is just around the corner and everywhere you turn there is advice to cut calories, lower fat, eat less sodium and turn every one of grandma’s recipes into a better-for-you dish. Yes, most of us eat too much on Thanksgiving. Yes, many favorite dishes, though they taste delicious, are not the healthiest. But, it is just one day and all this well-meaning advice takes the joy out of the meal and makes us feel guilty when we add more butter to the stuffing. I’d prefer to use the once-in-a-blue-moon approach.

Once-in-a-blue-moon, which astrologically occurs approximately twice a year, means that an occasional splurge is simply fun, not the end of healthy eating forever, not the downfall to your dieting plan, and not likely to create long-term health consequences. Using this as our guiding principle for eating Thanksgiving dinner, how can we approach this holiday with more fun and less guilt?

Number one, make the recipes that you know your family loves and enjoys. You probably only make them once or twice a year – once-in-a-blue-moon. Second, plan to share those calories – tell all your guests you are sending them home with leftovers. Third, approach the food you love with just a little caution about portion size. You can eat anything you want, just keep the amount reasonable. Trust me, you will still be stuffed and wanting to take a nap on the couch after dinner.

Many of the foods we eat at Thanksgiving are health promoting. If dinner starts with shrimp cocktail, great. Shrimp is low in fat, and an excellent source of protein, selenium and vitamin B12. A typical shrimp cocktail with 4 shrimp and sauce has only 78 calories.

Turkey, the star of the show, is a lean protein source. Eating the white meat is wiser than chowing down on an entire drumstick. Aim to keep your portion to about 4 ounces, about the size of a medium-sized smartphone.

Sweet potatoes are a superfood. A medium sweet potato has all the vitamin A you need for a day plus vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and fiber. If your family favorite is topped with marshmallows or is candied aim for a half cup serving.

Brussels sprouts and broccoli are part of the cruciferous vegetable family which contain anti-cancer compounds and support DNA repair. Experts estimate that these foods can offer protection for up to 4 days after they are eaten. Splurge and enjoy a cupful. Keep the green bean casserole to a half cup portion.

Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without cranberries. These powerful red berries prevent bacteria from adhering to membranes in the urinary tract, mouth and stomach where they could promote infection. Cooking does not alter their anti-adhesion properties. Aim for a quarter cup serving.

Ending dinner with pumpkin pie is a very healthy choice. Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and the eye-healthy phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin. Pumpkin is also one of the best sources of beta-crytoxanthin, a carotenoid linked with a lowered risk for lung and prostate cancer.
Aim for a slice that is approximately one-eighth of a 9-inch pie.

OK, let’s see what your plate looks like eating what you love in reasonable portion sizes – shrimp cocktail, 4 ounces of turkey, 1 medium sweet potato or a half-cup of candied, 1 cup of broccoli or Brussels sprouts, half-cup of green bean casserole, one-quarter cup of cranberries, and a slice of pumpkin pie. And, of course, enjoy a half-cup of stuffing. Your plate with be overflowing and your tummy will be full.

It is sad that we need an excuse like Thanksgiving to enjoy food. Eating should be one of the most pleasurable activities in life but few of us truly enjoy it on a regular basis. We are too worried about too many calories, eating the wrong fat, not getting enough protein, and avoiding sugar to sit back and savor flavor. My suggestion for this year – enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

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


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