Heart Health

A Healthy Thanksgiving Can Be "Yum" Without the "Groan"

Thanksgiving offers warm feelings with family, football, food, and ... fat? This big meal is usually the start of a few extra pounds that many Americans gain during the holidays (and fight the following year to lose).

Here are some tips on how to pull off a healthy Thanksgiving using seasonal foods that are good for your heart. We'll also offer some specific recipes to help you brainstorm meal options for the big day.

Tips for the Cook or Host

  • Rub your turkey with olive oil and spices. White turkey meat is good for you and generally low in fat -- if you don't baste it with butter.
  • Emphasize sweet potatoes rather than mashed potatoes, which always seems to attract too much fatty gravy. Use only small amounts of butter, and hold off on brown sugar and marshmallows on the already sweet spuds. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamins B6 and C, fiber, and potassium (which can help reduce blood pressure). But if it doesn't feel like Thanksgiving without traditional mashed potatoes, make them with little or no butter and try a fat-free gravy. You might be surprised, it's likely that no one will notice the difference.
  • Apples are a great seasonal food and a source of fiber that's good for weight control and heart health. Avoid the sugar and marshmallows and bake them with some cinnamon and raisins.
  • Skip the potato chips! Put out veggies with low-calorie dips for guests to nibble on while they await the full feast.
  • Start the meal with a seasonal salad of spinach, apples, dried cranberries, pecans (or pine nuts), and balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
  • Make that sure each guest has a glass of water. This will help them feel full without relying on sugary beverages.
  • Green beans are a Thanksgiving tradition in many households, so check out the healthy recipe below. As an alternative, consider serving roasted Brussels sprouts with just a dash of maple syrup or roasted carrots splashed with lemon juice.

Tips for Guests

According to one food expert, people load up their plates largely with the first three things they see. This leads to consuming a meal heavy with unhealthy options. To fight this tendency, think about how you'll fill your plate before you hit the buffet.

Here are some tips:

  • Start with salad.
  • Avoid casseroles packed with sauces, creams, and butter.
  • Skip the rolls. (You can eat those any time of year.)
  • Fill half of your dinner plate with vegetables.
  • Fill a quarter of your plate with starches, including sweet potatoes, corn pudding, or rice pilaf.
  • Fill the final fourth of your plate with white turkey slices. Remove the skin and avoid the fattier dark meat.

Relax between the main course and dessert. Use that time to sip some water and let your body catch up. This will signal how full you are to your brain. When it's time for the sweet stuff, eat it in moderation. Chew slowly and savor the flavor of the delicious meal; more doesn't make it taste better.

Some Healthy Recipes

It's difficult to give up items that are long-held traditions on your holiday table, so we've found some recipes for three dishes that will satisfy your taste buds while still delivering a healthy Thanksgiving:

  • Cranberry sauce. Ditch the canned stuff, which is high in sugar, and make this easy, slow-cooked version instead.
  • Green beans. This roasted-Parmesan recipe ain't your grandma's green-bean casserole.
  • Crustless pumpkin pie. It's easy to forgo the heavy crust. And if you're serious about reducing extra fat, skip the heavy dollop of whipped cream on top. Sweeten your pie with a brown-sugar topping. If that doesn't work for you, try vanilla yogurt instead of fat-laden cream.

Enjoy your family and food this Thanksgiving -- just be mindful about what you eat. Your heart will thank you! With a little extra attention, these tips will make this year's holiday the first of many healthy Thanksgivings for you and yours.

Posted in Heart Health

Randy Gerber writes on health topics for print and online blogs in an effort to help people enhance their quality of life and improve the patient experience. Randy has worked on and written about national, local, and personal health care issues for 25 years. Also, he's married to an OB/GYN, which leads to lively dinner conversations.

More articles from this writer

Outdoor Safety Tips for Hitting the Trails

The Pros and Cons of Cortisone Shots

ACL Tears in Young Women: Common Causes and Prevention Tactics


*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.