How to Make Your Thanksgiving Meal
Less Fattening
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November 10, 2010, last updated November 2, 2014
By Louise Carr, Contributing Columnist

It’s Thanksgiving, time to gather round the table, enjoy a
delicious feast and give thanks. But how often do we eat until
we can’t move, drink too much wine and end up with holiday
regrets? Thanksgiving can be a fantastic holiday for all the family
but it’s not exactly light on the hips. We traditionally sit down to
a table groaning with food --high-carb stuffings and creamy
gravies, turkey glistening with oil, mountains of mashed
potatoes with butter, festive sides and snacks plus pie, pie and
more pie. Did you know the average Thanksgiving meal contains
over 2,000 calories? You won’t give thanks for that extra pound
you’re likely to put at this one meal alone.

Although research shows that the average person puts on about
a pound throughout the holiday season, what’s wrong with that,
right? Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for indulgence and you
want to enjoy the holiday. While one pound gained is less than
the often wrongly reported five to 10 pounds, the study also
warns that you don’t get rid of this extra weight and the pounds
accumulating over the years add up to big problems in later life.

Think about that. That Thanksgiving meal you ate 10 years ago
is still hanging around your waist and thighs.

A 2000 study from the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases looked at 195 volunteers who
gained an average of one pound over the holidays.

Fewer than 10 percent of the volunteers gained over five
pounds but those who were overweight were more likely to gain
and none of the volunteers had lost the extra weight one
year later

Is it all or nothing for your Thanksgiving meal? Can you eat a
healthier dinner without going completely cold turkey? How can
you make your Thanksgiving meal less fattening without taking
away the taste?

Totally Turkey

Let’s start with the star attraction – it turns out the traditional
bird is actually a very healthy choice. A 3-ounce serving of white
turkey meat without skin contains just 3g of fat, less than 1g of
saturated fat and 25g of protein – plus hardly any carbs. Turkey
is a good source of selenium, zinc and Vitamin B6. A serving of
turkey also provides a good amount of arginine, an amino acid
that’s useful for making new protein and nitric oxide – nitric
oxide is heart-friendly and is reported to open and relax arteries.
A cup of turkey has 2.59g of arginine.

But don’t congratulate yourself just yet. All the prizes go to the
plain, unadorned turkey – not the turkey swimming in grease
and smothered with butter. To make your turkey serving less
fattening, skip the skin. It may be a hardship but this is where a
lot of the calories and fat rest. A serving of turkey with skin
comes in at 342 calories, around 100 calories more than non-
skin meat. White meat is less fattening than dark meat --- a 120g
portion of white, skinless turkey meat contains 16 percent fewer
calories than the same portion of skinless dark meat.
Adding thyme, rosemary and sage plus onions to slowly
caramelize in the pan will add flavor without ramping up the
calories. Keep an eye on your portion size too --- a serving of
meat is approximately the size of a deck of cards, or the palm of
your hand.  

Don't Fry Your Turkey

Frying is an increasingly popular way of cooking turkey for the
Thanksgiving feast. Fried turkey offers a crispy skin and super-
moist meat. Fried turkey weighs in at 382 calories a serving.
That’s not much more than the average butter-roasted turkey,
but it can be a whole lot more dangerous due to the risky
combination of hot oil next to a flame. In 2002, Allstate
Insurance reported 15 homes set on fire at Thanksgiving due to
problems with turkey fryers. Roast your bird and use olive oil,
not butter, to cut down on calories and the risk of an inferno.

Streamline The Stuffing

The tastiest accompaniments to the turkey are often the most
fattening, and what’s worse it doesn’t seem like we’re eating
much at all.

Bread-based stuffings provide calories from butter and calories
from carbohydrates and are densely packed to fit into the
turkey. But you don’t need to stuff the stuffing.

Use fat-free chicken broth instead of butter to make your
stuffing and increase the proportion of vegetables to bread
crumbs – use chopped onion, celery and carrot to lower the
calories. Use a lower-fat sausage such as turkey sausage rather
than pork or omit the meat altogether. Add cranberries for
tastes, and herbs like thyme and sage.

Cheers For Cranberries

Cranberries give a little lift to the traditionally heavy
Thanksgiving feast. On their own, cranberries pack a powerful
antioxidant punch and help protect the body against damage
from free radicals and toxins.

Cranberries have the greatest antioxidant properties of all fruit,
according to studies presented at the 2002 national meeting of
the American Chemical Society. Raw cranberries have around 55
calories per 100g so make sure you don’t forget these berries
when you’re dishing out the turkey, but make your own sauce
from the whole berries rather than face a sugar- and calorie-hit
from a store-bought jar.

Go Easy On the Gravy

Homemade cranberry sauce is much lower in calories than gravy.
A cup of store-bought gravy contains about 25 calories without
adding the juices from the meat – remember it’s basically the fat
dripping from the turkey. But there’s not denying turkey often
tastes better with gravy. If you cook your turkey with enough
flavor – herbs and spices, roasted with shallots and garlic – you
may not need any but if the meal is a little dry without make a
less fattening version. Substitute butter for trans-fat-free
margarine, use low-sodium vegetable broth and add fat-free
milk. Or have a little of the regular version but make it go a long

Move Over Mashed Potatoes

Here’s a tasty, healthier alternative to white potatoes mashed
with butter -- sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes have 76 calories
per 100g, compared to regular potatoes at 87 calories per 100g,
and are a great source of beta carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin A,
fiber and potassium. Bake sweet potatoes as an alternative to
mashed white potatoes with fattening butter and milk.

Alternatively, mash cauliflower or mashed artichokes are a great
side dish for Thanksgiving.

Put The Veggies On A Diet

Vegetables can be virtuous but not if they’re cooked in butter
and drizzled with unhealthy oils, or are carrying an extra helping
of cheese. Green bean casserole is a good example – regular
green beans are jazzed up with cream of mushroom soup and
fried onion. Swap fatty veggies for a simple, streamlined version
that’s steamed or baked, or serve salads with a light dressing.
Brussels sprouts have a bad reputation as soggy and bland but
they contain 27 percent more vitamin C than oranges, gram for
gram, and taste good roasted with a little oil or grated into a

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole both contain
fattening ingredients that you can alter for a healthier meal.
Switch the cream of mushroom soup for fat-free mushroom
soup or real mushrooms and fat-free sour cream, plus baked
onions or onions shallow-fried in a little olive oil. One serving of
macaroni and cheese has a minimum of 156 calories. Substitute
low-fat cheese for regular, whole grain macaroni and skim milk,
plus some almonds to add oil and flavor without increasing the
level of unhealthy fats.

Powerful Pumpkin

Or you could cut out the macaroni and cheese altogether and
enjoy a side of roasted pumpkin. A serving of roasted pumpkin
is very low in fat at 0.17g a cup, 49 calories, and high in
potassium - 564mg per cup - Vitamin A, Vitamin C and beta
carotene. When pumpkin is put into pie, however, the vegetable
becomes much less healthy – 323 calories a slice and nearly 13
grams of fat, to be precise. Try a less fattening version of
pumpkin pie made with skim milk instead of cream, less sugar
and served with low-fat yoghurt rather than whipped cream or
ice cream. Don’t skip the pecans – 20 pecan halves contain 20g
of unsaturated fat but it’s heart-healthy fat similar to olive oil.


The addition of nuts like pecans to your pies and desserts can
increase the flavor when you’re using low-fat milks and creams.
Nuts are low in cholesterol and form part of a healthy diet. When
you’ve taken the time to prepare a less fattening main meal, try
not to blow it on the dessert. This Thanksgiving, make your meal
less fattening by creating desserts with fruit and less sugar or
adding non-fat evaporated milk instead of cream.

Bring the Bread?

Sometimes tough choices need to be made to gain the healthiest
Thanksgiving meal possible. There’s a lot of choice at the table
but prioritize in order to cut the total amount of calories you

Consider skipping the bread in order to fill up on tastier parts of
the Thanksgiving feast. If you must have some bread with the
meal, choose whole wheat bread and ditch the butter. Substitute
butter for a light spread if you need it. Don’t skip meals before
Thanksgiving to give yourself a green light to eat what you like –
you’ll turn up to the table ravenously hungry and will likely eat
more, faster, to compensate. Eat a full breakfast and snack if you’
re having the Thanksgiving meal late. Cut your intake of alcohol
and drink plenty of water throughout the meal. And don’t forget
to really taste and savor what you’re eating – take time to slowly
appreciate every bite, give thanks and congratulate yourself on a
healthy Thanksgiving.

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