Thanksgiving can be a time to enjoy seasonal favorites — and ask for second and third helpings. If you’re trying to figure out how to lose belly fat or weight right now, you may be concerned about this food-centric holiday. Let’s stop there for a second. Though health and nutrition goals are good, one dietician shares the importance of framing.
“Aiming to eat healthier during Thanksgiving is not about weight loss but rather embracing a food philosophy that prioritizes feeling good both during and after a meal,” said Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for the National Coalition on Healthcare. “Through healthier alternatives, individuals can still relish the full flavors of seasonal foods without compromising their comfort and well-being.”
Ready to gobble up your favorite dishes and have a nutritious meal, too? Dieticians shared what to put on your Thanksgiving menu.
The answer to this is highly personal. However, Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietician with Balance One Supplements, shared some common reasons.
- Health consciousness. Thanksgiving dishes can be calorie-dense, and some may prefer to steer clear. People can taste a classic side with more health benefits by making some ingredients swaps, such as Greek yogurt for cream in potatoes.
- Dietary restrictions. Not everyone eats turkey or can eat gluten. “Food swaps can accommodate dietary restrictions or preferences, such as vegetarian or gluten-free diets,” Best said. Allergies and intolerances may also factor into a person’s mindset.
- Blood sugar control. Individuals with diabetes or prediabetes or who are concerned about blood sugar might want to swap high-glycemic foods for lower-glycemic ones.
Yes, you can have a healthier (but very happy) Thanksgiving.
“Crafting a nutritious Thanksgiving meal is entirely achievable,” Best said. “While the traditional Thanksgiving spread often features calorie-dense and indulgent dishes, there exist effective methods to introduce a sense of balance and healthfulness to the feast. “
Remember, Thanksgiving side dishes also typically involve vegetables and whole grains. Even the bird has nutritional value, like protein.
“By incorporating these elements into your meal, you can fashion a well-rounded and nutritionally sound plate,” Best said.
Here’s how she and Costa suggest crafting a nutritious Thanksgiving plate.
White meat of turkey for dark
The white meat of the turkey offers more nutritional value than the “dark side.”
“Choosing the white breast meat of turkey over dark meat can be a beneficial swap as it contains less saturated fat and slightly higher protein than dark meat,” Costa said. “Turkey breast meat is also packed with essential nutrients such as B-complex vitamins niacin, B6, and B12, zinc, selenium, and choline.”
Mashed potatoes with Greek yogurt instead of cream
Mashed potatoes aren’t a whole grain, but what’s Thanksgiving without them? If your answer is “nothing,” Best suggests using Greek yogurt.
“Greek yogurt is high in protein, which aids in muscle maintenance and repair,” Best said. “It also provides probiotics for gut health and is a versatile ingredient that maintains the creamy texture of traditional mashed potatoes.”
Sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes
If you can stand to “pass” on the mashed potatoes, Best said sweet potatoes can help you get your fill of starches.
“Sweet potatoes are naturally lower in calories than regular potatoes and have a lower glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause sharp spikes in blood sugar,” Best said. “Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals like beta-carotene, which supports immune function and eye health. Their natural sweetness can reduce the need for added sugars or excessive toppings.”
Roasted Brussels sprouts and corn in olive oil instead of butter
Yes, vegetables are nutritious. However, the ingredients we cook them in, like butter, can add unnecessary fat and calories.
“Butter is high in saturated fat and calories, whereas olive oil provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats,” Best said. “Olive oil helps reduce the overall saturated fat content, promoting cardiovascular health.”
The best part? Your tastebuds will be as happy as your heart about this swap.
“Olive oil enhances the flavor of roasted vegetables,” Best said.
Whole grain stuffing instead of traditional
Another popular side, stuffing, is often made with white bread. Best said
“White bread can be high in refined carbohydrates that can lead to to rapid spikes in blood sugar and limited nutritional value,” Best said. “Using whole grains like quinoa or brown rice provides more fiber and essential nutrients. This promotes better digestion, helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, and provides sustained energy.”
Perhaps you won’t fall asleep by halftime of the noon football game (or midway through your favorite Thanksgiving TV episode).
Flourless black bean brownies instead of all-purpose flower desserts
Nutritious eating can be a fun challenge, inspiring you to get creative in the kitchen. Thanksgiving dessert menus are no exceptions.
“Swapping all-purpose flour with black beans in your brownie recipe can create a dessert that is not only gluten-free but also much richer in fiber and protein,” Costa says. “This substitution keeps the brownies moist and satisfying, promoting a sense of fullness while reducing the glycemic index to prevent abrupt blood sugar spikes and dips.”
Bonus: “Despite this healthy swap, the brownies maintain a rich, chocolatey flavor that is sure to please,” Costa says.
Thanksgiving comes once per year.
If you’re uncomfortable or have been instructed by a healthcare provider to watch your diet, that’s one thing.
“If your concerns revolve around calorie counting and feelings of guilt associated with indulging in festive foods, bear in mind that these reasons shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying traditional holiday favorites,” Costa said.
A healthcare provider, registered dietician, and therapist can help you sort through your relationship with food.
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