A study by the National Institutes of Health in 2000 shattered the urban myth that most people gain 5-10 pounds during the holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day). The good news is that holiday weight gain is actually more like one pound, but the bad news is that the weight generally isn’t lost during the rest of the year.
Gain a pound a year just from holiday overindulgence, and you’ll be on the fast track to larger pants -especially since most people don’t stop gaining at the holiday’s end. But Thanksgiving doesn’t have to kick off a season of weight gain. This year, make it a healthy holiday with a few recipes featuring traditional foods with a nutritious spin.
Many traditional Thanksgiving foods are, in their basic form, quite healthy. Take cranberries: you know them as little crushed globes suspended in jelly. But cranberries really deserve more respect, since like other berries, cranberries are brimming with polyphenol antioxidants and Vitamin C. In fact, cranberries rate 6th on the United States Department of Agriculture’s list of 20 high-antioxidant foods.
Help cranberries take on a more prominent role during your Thanksgiving celebration by adding a couple cups of fresh cranberries to two chopped apples or pears and a half cup of brown sugar, then bake for an antioxidant-packed winter compote.
Smashing Sweet Potatoes
What’s Thanksgiving without the potatoes? Mashed potatoes can be filled with fat from butter and cream, and sweet potatoes can be a guilty indulgence too, crusted over with nuts, brown sugar, or marshmallows. In a side by side comparison, sweet potatoes pack more nutrition than a regular white potato because they are loaded with beta carotene and Vitamin C, and have a lower glycemic index (and diets that are filled with high-glycemic-index foods are linked to increased risk of developing diabetes).
Offer to bring the sweet potatoes if you’re going potluck, and search out a recipe that goes easy on the high-calorie additions and lets the true flavor and health of the sweet potato shine through. A little fat-free sour cream, skim milk, and salt and pepper is all you need to make your sweet potatoes shine.
In recent years, you’ve heard the buzz about nuts being a healthy choice because they are loaded with monounsaturated fat, which can help lower LDL (bad) and total cholesterol, as well as raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Walnuts, in particular, are a good choice because they also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to play an important role in the prevention of heart disease. However, as you might imagine, nuts lose their healthy edge when they’re mixed into pies and complemented with butter and sugar.
This year, rather than adding nuts to buttery desserts, why not feature a heart-healthy bowl of toasted nuts on the hors d’oeuvres tray?
The Bottom Line
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be synonymous with weight gain. It’s easy to use traditional ingredients to create healthy dishes for Thanksgiving that are long on health, but not short on tradition.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.