The best part of the Thanksgiving holiday is being together with family and friends.
The trickiest part is enjoying every bite of fabulous food wherever you are — without tipping the scales to unhealthiness.
Think about it: When families gather for food and togetherness, the stuffing is steaming, the yams are enticing — and the big beautiful bird sits in the center of the table, glistening in gravy and surrounded by trimmings. Then come the holiday desserts — cheesecake, cookies, pie and more. Talk about a mountain of calories. Every year we encounter the same challenges, and virtually every we overindulge.
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Before digging in, arm yourself with these nutritional facts from the Calorie Control Council:
- One cup of steaming stuffing can have up to 363 calories and 18 grams of fat.
- Add a few pieces of yams to your plate, and your dinner increases its calorie count by 340.
- Three slices of ham have 345 calories with 21 grams of fat.
- Four slices of turkey without the skin has 190 calories (score!), but if it’s topped with gravy or cranberry sauce, the count can soar up to 400 calories.
- One cup of cranberry walnut salad has 348 calories.
- One cup of carrot raisin salad has almost 420 calories, with a whopping 30 grams of fat.
- Pearl onions have almost 320 calories per serving.
And consider dessert:
- A slice of cheesecake packs 412 calories and 25 grams of fat.
- A slice of apple or pumpkin pie ranges from 323 to 356 calories.
- Wash it all down with one cup of classic eggnog — and add another 439 calories and 19 grams of fat.
Thanksgiving dinner can push the unsuspecting American way over the healthy eating horizon, given that the the average person needs from 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day. Men need a maximum of 100 fat grams each day, while women need a maximum of 78 fat grams per day.
Yet the average American will consume more than 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving day alone, says the Calorie Control Council. Those calories come with fat, carbohydrates and sodium — and all the health problems those bring. Big meals increase the chances of heart attack and blood clots, and can lead to drowsiness, a dangerous thing when driving home late at night.
Older family members should model healthy eating habits for children. When making lunch or dinner plates for young children, make sure not to pile on the food (many people, even kids, eat until their plate is clean). Also, family members with some medical conditions should be extra cautious.
There are many options for healthier and still-delicious alternatives.
Sara Siskind, a certified nutritional health counselor and the founder of Hands on Healthy, which offers cooking classes for families in New York, has several alternatives for traditional high-calorie foods. Instead of the cranberry and walnut salad, make an apple and kale salad. Combine baby kale, apples and walnuts and drizzle with a mix of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and salt.
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After dinner, skip the cheesecake and eat a handful of pistachios covered in dark chocolate. Each serving contains just 119 calories and 8 grams of fat. Not only does this slash your calorie count and satisfy your sweet tooth, but pistachios and dark chocolate are full of antioxidants and protein, which reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Another healthy, delicious alternative is cauliflower mash, according to Vanessa Chamberlin, a certified holistic health practitioner and lifestyle coach. Instead of 238 calories in traditional mashed potatoes, cauliflower mash has about 100 fewer calories.
Chamberlin suggests adding more plant-based dishes to your Thanksgiving spread. She also encourages smart, healthy habits after eating such as taking a walk or having a catch in the yard.