We all love cornbread stuffing, gravy and sweet potato casserole, but are these savory treats worth the calories?
We all love cornbread stuffing, gravy and sweet potato casserole, but are these savory treats worth the calories?

Tips for achieving a healthy Thanksgiving

Modifying recipes and staying active can keep your calories under control on turkey day

Tips for achieving a healthy Thanksgiving

3 Minute Read

Thanksgiving is this week and many Americans are already preparing for their holiday feasts. Deep-fried turkeys, luscious gravy, cornbread stuffing and pumpkin pies are Thanksgiving staples, but how many calories are in these comfort foods and what does it do to our bodies to consume these dishes?

“Thanksgiving is sort of a double-whammy,” said Theodore Shybut, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and orthopedic surgeon at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. “You are probably going to overdo it in terms of calorie consumption and then going and sitting. You are not exerting any sort of metabolic effort to burn off those extra calories, so it is very common to gain weight during the holidays.”

According to Roberta Anding, registered dietitian and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, the average adult woman should consume between 1,500 and 1,800 calories per day and the average adult man should consume between 2,200 and 2,500 calories per day—numbers that usually are far exceeded during Thanksgiving. In fact, Consumer Reports claims that a typical individual will consume 3,000 to 4,500 calories on Turkey Day.

“The average American eats about 2,500 calories on a regular day and that is homogenizing men and women,” Anding said. “So, what we eat on Thanksgiving is really plus or minus 1,500 calories for the average American and that is hard to exercise off.”

Still, Anding says there are ways to enjoy Thanksgiving without extreme calorie intake.

“When it comes to food traditions—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah—these holidays always revolve around food,” she said. “You can either modify or augment your favorite dishes—that way you can have all of your favorite options without overindulging. Also, consider just eating a little bit less of your favorite foods.”

For perspective, Anding shares that 1 tablespoon of gravy clocks in at a whopping 100 calories. By simply skipping the gravy, you can save yourself.

“If you think that you burn about 100 calories a mile, think about all of the miles you will have to walk to burn that off,” Anding said. “It is a whole lot easier to give up that extra tablespoon of gravy, lean up your recipe and pick up the flavor in a slightly different way.”

To add flavor in a healthy way, Anding suggests roasting your vegetables.

“Roasting vegetables can make them sweeter and gives them a different flavor profile,” she said. “I oven-roast Brussels sprouts and, assuming one of my guests isn’t vegetarian, I will add crumbled bacon or pancetta on top to really bring out that flavor and make it look enticing. The goal is to give people something that is better for them, but not diet. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah are not diet holidays.”

In addition to watching your calorie count, Anding says that good nutrition on Thanksgiving also means avoiding food poisoning.

“You tend to be worried about salmonella when you are preparing a turkey,” Anding said. “Jennie-O, the turkey manufacturer, just recalled a whole bunch of ground turkey for salmonella, but any kind of food poisoning is bad news whether it is salmonella, E. coli or whatever else, you’re going to get really sick. If you are not a whiz in the kitchen, you may just want to get a smoked turkey.”

To avoid food poisoning you must ensure your turkey is completely defrosted and fully cooked, which means the bird must reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees, Anding said. She also warns against letting food remain unrefrigerated for an extended period of time.

“In general, food becomes unsafe to eat when it has been sitting out for two hours,” she said. “It is important to refrigerate the leftovers and invite your guests to go help themselves.”

Shybut recommends incorporating physical activity into holiday festivities to stay healthy.

“Everyone has New Year’s resolutions to get healthy, but get ahead of that and get healthy during the holidays,” he said. “Try to plan family activities that include physical activity. That doesn’t mean everyone has to run a marathon or do some crazy cross-fit workout, but depending where you are in the country, it can be a walk, a bike ride or cross-country skiing.”

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