Listen, Thanksgiving gives us much to look forward to (food, family, major retail sales), so we're hard-pressed to tell you not to enjoy yourself. Though, historically, the comfort-food dishes on this day are chock-full of sodium, sugar, heavy cream, and other ingredients that aren't exactly the healthiest choices. The problem is that you surely don't want to have to forego these (delicious) dishes, enviously peering at plates of green bean casserole, pie, and the like.
The good news: You don't have to miss out. With easy substitutions that don't compromise flavor, you can still indulge without all of the excess calories. Maria Bella, owner of Top Balance Nutrition in NYC, shared with us the exact foods we should and shouldn't eat this holiday to avoid Thanksgiving-induced bloat from the meal and the days of leftovers that follow. See what she had to say below!
What to Avoid
Stuffing: On average, stuffing has around 390 calories and 24 grams of fat per cup, but if you increase the vegetable-to-bread ratio, you can still enjoy the dish without the guilt.
Mashed potatoes: We know, we know. As yummy and quintessentially Thanksgiving as this side dish is, it averages about 237 calories and 9 grams of fat per cup (never mind adding butter, cream cheese, etc. to make it creamier). Bella recommends swapping it out for mashed cauliflower.
Dinner rolls or biscuits: Bella explains that these are basically just flour, baking soda, salt, and cream.
What to Enjoy
White-meat turkey without skin: Dark-meat turkey has 206 calories and 10 grams of fat, whereas white meat has 127 calories and 2 grams of fat, both for 3.5 ounces. The benefit of the dark meat, however, is higher iron, zinc, thiamin, and vitamins B6 and B12 content than white meat, so it's your choice whether you want to sacrifice fewer calories or nutrients. The good news is that the protein found in turkey—dark or white—suppresses the hunger hormone.
Corn on the cob without butter: 70 calories each and three grams of filling fiber. A pat of butter adds about 35 calories each. Try using butter-flavored cooking spray instead, if desired.
Brussels sprouts: 50 calories per cup.
Spinach: 40 calories per cup, but it varies based on your preparation method. Added cream, butter, and/or cheese will increase the calorie count.
Wine: With 600 calories per bottle of dry wine (white or red), quantity matters. Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers examined the alcohol consumption habits of almost 20,000 average-weight women for 13 years and found that those who enjoyed moderate amounts of red wine were 30% less likely to be overweight than non-drinkers.
Pumpkin pie: Pumpkin is fairly low in calories and high in fiber. An average slice, however, has 316 calories and 16 grams of fat due to the added sugar, butter, and other ingredients. Stick with one small slice or consider making a healthier version at home (or see substitutions below).
What to Substitute
Swap regular bacon for Canadian bacon.
Try rolled oats instead of dry bread crumbs.
In place of butter in baked goods, Bella recommends this interesting replacement: Combine 3/4 cup prunes with 1/4 cup boiling water and purée to combine. Substitute in equal amounts in dark baked goods such as brownies.
When using oil in baked goods, substitute 1/2 of the oil for unsweetened apple sauce.
When a recipe calls for eggs, use two egg whites or 1/4 cup of egg substitute for every full egg.
Substitute white flour for wheat flour.
In place of cream, use evaporated milk.
What Else Can You Do?
Before the big meal (and before your leftovers), Bella urges you not to skip meals in preparation. "Have a breakfast rich in protein and fiber to keep the hunger away," she says. "Good options include egg whites with black beans and salsa as a Mexican omelet; Greek or Icelandic yogurt with a cup of berries; or a slice of whole-wheat bread topped with thick slices of avocado and smoked salmon sprinkled with lime juice on top."
She also suggests drinking plenty of water throughout the day because "our hypothalamus is not smart enough to differentiate thirst from hunger."
Also, try taking a walk before the meal. Moderate exercise has been shown to suppress hunger and stress, and at the very least, "it keeps you out of the kitchen for a couple of hours."
Believe it or not, your choice of dinnerware will also affect your overall appetite. Says Bella, "According to the research on mindless eating conducted by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., you will eat 18% more mashed potatoes if they are served on a white plate versus one with more contrast. The contrast of the plate allows you to realize how big the serving actually is." She also suggests using nine-inch plates—placing a smaller quantity of food on a smaller plate will make it seem fuller.
It takes about 20 minutes for the fullness signals to register when you start eating. Taking more time with your meal is reported a higher degree of meal satisfaction.
Last but not least, plan your leftovers well. Freeze desserts and heavier dishes and place the healthy dishes towards the front of the fridge so that they're more accessible.
Up next: Pretty Thanksgiving-themed nail designs.