Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the fall colors, the warm oven, the amazing smells coming from the kitchen, and the chance to give thanks for abundance.
Thanksgiving is a time for celebrating, and it’s also a time for overeating. The average American eats 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat during this one meal, according to the Calorie Control Council. But if you’re watching your waistline, you can enjoy a delicious, traditional meal on Thanksgiving while still managing to avoid the worst caloric offenders.
Here are the five Thanksgiving foods you should never eat, and healthier options to substitute:
1. Dark meat turkey with skin
Dark meat tend to be tastier and more moist on a turkey because of the higher fat content. But that also means it’s more calorically dense than white meat. White meat has only 115 calories per three-ounce serving, versus 150 calories for dark meat. And with all of that delicious skin, you could be piling on up to 44 grams of fat per serving. If you must have some dark meat, take comfort in knowing that dark meat contains predominantly the heart healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, plus contains more iron, zinc and selenium than white meat.
Substitute: White meat with no skin
Yams and sweet potatoes eaten alone aren’t bad for you – they’re packed with vitamins and fiber. But when we prepare them in the traditional “candied” fashion, they end up loaded with white sugar, brown sugar, butter and/or marshmallows. You can cut the fat and calories by substituting the butter with half-and-half, or better yet, enjoy the natural flavor of the starchy food without any of the “candied” additions.
Substitute: Lightly seasoned, baked sweet potatoes
Americans have convinced themselves their turkey is too dry without gravy – a terrible price to pay considering that gravy is salt and fat and has no nutritional value. If you must put gravy on your Thanksgiving table, choose canned gravy. Canned gravy tends to be lighter and healthier than homemade gravy, and contains as little as 25 calories per quarter-cup serving. By contrast, classic homemade gravy from turkey-pan drippings might contain a whopping 200-plus calories per serving. Remember, though, even canned gravy is all salt, sugar and preservatives.
Substitute: Salt and pepper
4. Dinner rolls
With so many delicious foods to eat on Turkey Day, why load up on dinner rolls? Not only does white bread contain little nutritional value, but it also typically goes with butter. And if you’re thinking about an even unhealthier option like fluffy, buttery crescent rolls, you’re adding more fat and calories.
5. Cranberry sauce
Cranberries are loaded with important vitamins and fiber, but cranberry sauce – especially out of a can – can more than double your sugar intake. Pop question: Which is more calorically dense: a quarter cup of canned cranberry sauce, or a quarter cup of canned gravy? Surprise! The cranberry sauce has a staggering 110 calories, vs. only about 25 calories for the gravy.
Substitute: Homemade cranberry sauce that’s light on sugar
This Thanksgiving, do your body a favor and choose lighter Thanksgiving fare. Eating white meat with no skin, baked sweet potatoes, canned gravy, and homemade cranberry sauce, while avoiding the bread, will cut your calorie intake by the hundreds.