Thanksgiving Nutrition

In this article I’ll review how to get more nutrition at the table while enjoying traditional foods on Thanksgiving.

The menu starts with mashed potatoes. My kids love them. In fact, they could fill their plate completely with the white stuff and be satisfied. Perhaps it’s because this dish typically screams butter and salt and if homemade, usually whole milk. The “bad” is that this recipe is high in sodium and can be high in saturated fat (the four-legged fat that’s bad for your arteries), and is a high carbohydrate load. However, the “good” for mashed potatoes is that they are a good source of vitamin C, B-6 and potassium. If you want to attempt to limit “the bad” on your plate, I recommend putting on your creative chef’s hat and start substituting ingredients. For example, this month’s issue of Cooking Light magazine offers a buttermilk mashed potatoes recipe that uses non-fat butter milk and only 3 Tbsp of unsalted butter. This reduces calories and unwanted saturated fat.  Incidentally 2/3 cup is considered a serving.

Next is the classic herb stuffing. Ah! Another carbohydrate load that’s high in saturated fat and sodium. Using your creative chef’s hat again, you want to make sure to use whole grain bread instead of white bread and use low or unsalted chicken broth. I prefer 2 tbsp of Earth Balance in place of butter. Earth Balance is vegan “butter” made from 78% vegetable oil, non-hydrogenated. This makes “the good” for homemade stuffing, high in manganese, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Also whole grain bread provides more fiber than white bread.

Cranberry Ocean Spray Whole Berry canned sauce is the best! But what’s really in it? This is the easiest way to offer some color at the dinner table, and very popular. Once again, we strike it rich in the carbohydrate category since cranberry sauce is about 90% carbohydrate in the form of sugar! However, both the whole berry and jellied cranberry sauce offer similar antioxidant benefits.  Cranberries are a super food that should be enjoyed all year round in dried form, 100% juice, or fresh in cooking. From the can, “the good” is some fiber, vitamin C and rich with antioxidants. These plant compounds protect you from free radical damage that occurs with exposure to environmental toxins.

Gravy. Of course making your own using the giblets such as the turkey neck and heart, and the slow-roasted turkey pan juice, is best. The canned kind of gravy is typically extremely high in sodium. The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 1500mg on a daily basis. So this is one of those foods/condiments, worth making the extra effort to make from scratch.

The Turkey! The main dish offers a good source of protein. Protein rich foods rev up our metabolism so with all the carbohydrate dishes on the table, be sure to get your serving of protein. Turkey is also a good source of Vitamin B-6, phosphorus, niacin, selenium and zinc.

Green bean casserole: If we stopped at green beans, there would remain some redeeming value to the vegetable dish. Once you add the casserole part, it goes down in value with the score going up for more sodium, saturated fat(butter) and overall calories. So why not put the creative chef hat on and select an alternative recipe such as green beans with dried cranberries and hazelnuts? Or skip the green beans and serve roasted brussels sprouts. There are many suitable “green” vegetable recipes to serve that will improve the nutritional value.

Lastly, if cooking is out of your hands, make a recommendation to eat as early in the day as possible such as 1:00pm. Then there is plenty of time to go for a family Turkey Trot post meal in order to avoid the food coma that ensues after a large meal is consumed. Your goal is to attempt to use up or burn off as many calories as you take in. This will result in a healthy start for the rest of the holidays yet to come!


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