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November 5, 2007

U-M Health Minute: Today’s top health issues and medical research

Thanksgiving dinner can be healthy without the loss of flavor-packed foods

Eating healthy foods on the holiday can still include yummy treats: cranberries, turkey without skin, sweet potatoes, and even dessert

ANN ARBOR, MI – If you want to eat healthfully for Thanksgiving this year, it doesn’t mean that you have to eliminate all the foods you love.


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Indeed, a traditional holiday meal could be on the menu for you, as long as you make some slight modifications to cut back on fat and sodium, and to add more vegetables and whole grains. Doing so could save the typical person a staggering 50 to 60 grams of fat during the Thanksgiving meal, says Kathy Goldberg, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian and culinary arts specialist at the University of Michigan Health System.

“Thanksgiving can be an absolutely wonderful holiday without all the fat and calories, absolutely enjoyable, absolutely delicious and absolutely fun,” says Goldberg, a nutrition expert with MFit, UMHS’s health promotion division.

While the common notion that people gain five to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day is a myth, Goldberg notes, many people do gain a pound or two in that time. A typical Thanksgiving meal can range between 2,000 and 3,000 calories – the amount that the average person shouldn’t exceed in an entire day of eating.

Goldberg offers several tips for a healthy Thanksgiving meal that you can enjoy without packing on extra pounds:

1. Slow down! “Enjoy your friends, enjoy your family, enjoy the flavors and textures of the food. It will really help you feel fuller faster because it takes time for your brain to register the food that’s in your stomach getting into your blood stream,” she says.

2. Don’t skip meals. Eat breakfast and have a light lunch on Thanksgiving. This will help to stop you from stuffing yourself on high-calorie foods when dinner is served. And this advice applies to the whole year, not just to Thanksgiving, Goldberg notes.

3. Drink lots of water throughout Thanksgiving day. This will help to keep you full without adding calories. And if you want beer, wine, soft drinks, or other beverages that can have high calorie counts, have just one or two and then switch to sparkling water with a dash of fruit juice, Goldberg advises.

4. Cranberries. Loaded with both flavor and anti-oxidants, cranberries are a very healthy fruit, Goldberg notes. The best versions are fresh and frozen, rather than canned, she says. Pair cranberries with exotic flavors such as ginger and cardamom, or make a tropical dish that includes pineapple and jalapeno peppers, Goldberg suggests. “They’re really great for you and wonderful all year long. Don’t save them just for the holidays,” she says.

5. Dressing, not stuffing. Do not cook stuffing inside the turkey, Goldberg advises. If you stuff the turkey too soon, it may not get to a hot enough temperature to avoid food-borne illnesses, she says. Also, stuffing draws moisture from the turkey, making the meat drier and less tender. When making dressing, use dried-out whole grain English muffins instead of a bag of stuffing mix to add a healthier ingredient to the mix. Other additions can include vegetables or dried fruits, and chicken broth will add more flavor and fewer calories than butter, Goldberg says.

Health Minute Image6. Start the meal with vegetables. They’re an important part of every meal, and steaming them will keep them in their “most natural state,” Goldberg says. Season them with caramelized onions or shallots, lemon zest, or herbs and spices to cut back on sodium usage, she advises.

7. Don’t skip the potatoes. They’ve gotten a bad rap in recent years, but Goldberg says there’s no reason to stay away from potatoes – especially when they’re prepared healthfully. With sweet potatoes – which are loaded with nutrients and fiber – skip the marshmallow topping in favor of a pecan streusel topping. “Pecans are great for you, and the topping is just heavenly. Nobody will miss the marshmallows, trust me,” Goldberg says. As for mashed potatoes, use skim milk and low-fat sour cream instead of fatty milks and creams, she says.

8. Eat turkey, but avoid the skin, which contains most of the fat in the bird. White meat also has less fat than dark meat.

9. Eat a lower-fat dessert. A small serving of dessert is allowed, and can even add more nutrients to your Thanksgiving meal. Try apple crisp instead of a pie with a high-fat crust, and top it with a little scoop of frozen yogurt, Goldberg suggests. Or have a slice of pumpkin pie, which is low in fat and high in the anti-oxidant beta carotene, she says – just don’t eat all of the crust.

Goldberg’s final advice is this: Focus on your family and friends during the holiday, and all of the other things you can be thankful for. “Remember to count your blessings this holiday season, and the changes you make today will keep you beautiful, inside and out, for the rest of the year,” she says.

For more information, visit these Web sites:

MFit, the University of Michigan Health System’s health promotion division

Healthy recipes from MFit

Keys to a healthy diet

Holidays the Healthy Way

Written by Katie Vloet


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