Let’s Talk Turkey: Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving

As we approach the Thanksgiving meal, Dana-Farber nutritionists offer some easy tips for enjoying the holiday without packing on pounds.

The average Thanksgiving dinner contains at least 3,000 calories. When you add in snacks, appetizers, and drinks throughout the day, you may end up consuming approximately 4,500 calories (two to three times what you may normally eat). Although this is only one meal, excess calories from a holiday season are unhealthy in the long run, as obesity is a risk factor for cancer.

turkey_9070_blogMany traditional Thanksgiving foods start out as whole, nutritious foods, but we often transform them into rich dishes laden with added fats and sugar. You can provide nostalgic flavors and memories while preparing favorite dishes that are lower in fat and calories.

Turkey – Turkey offers many nutritional benefits. Enjoy roasted turkey breast without the skin and save 11 grams of saturated fat per 3-ounce serving. White trimmed breast will save additional 30 calories per ounce.

cranberries_3271_blogCranberries – Make your own cranberry sauce with fresh berries to get the most out of their high antioxidant and nutrient content. Heat the cranberries over low heat with water and sugar while adding additional spices, pecans, orange, or ginger. Try wild rice with cranberries instead of stuffing, or serve a cranberry spinach salad.

Gravy – Refrigerate the gravy to harden the fat. Once hardened, skim the fat off.

Bread stuffing ­– Use less bread and more vegetables. Add fruits such as cranberries or apples. Moisten or flavor with applesauce or low-fat, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Try this nutritious recipe.

Green beans – Cook fresh green beans with chunks of potatoes instead of cream soup (a Thanksgiving favorite). Or serve green beans with almonds or hazelnuts.

Mashed potatoes – Avoid adding cream cheese, sour cream, or bacon. Use skim milk, chicken broth, garlic or garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter.

Mashed sweet potato casserole – Sweet potatoes are naturally sweet, so you can leave out marshmallows and dust the top with pecans. Add only a touch of brown sugar with cinnamon and spices.

Dessert – Make a crustless pie. In cakes or cupcakes, substitute two egg whites for each whole egg. In cheesecakes and cream pies, replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk. Top your desserts with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, or powdered sugar.

Leftovers – If you have leftover turkey, try this nutritious casserole.

Last but not least, if you have cancer, or a loved one is facing the disease, Thanksgiving and other holidays may trigger mixed emotions. Here are some tips to help you cope.


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