Thanksgiving can be a time to enjoy seasonal favorites — and ask for second and third helpings. If you’re trying to figure out how to lose belly fat or weight right now, you might be concerned about this food-centric holiday. Let’s stop there for a second. While health and nutrition goals are good, one nutritionist shares the importance of framing.
“The goal is to eat healthier Thanksgiving isn’t about weight loss, but rather about adopting an eating philosophy that prioritizes feeling good both during and after a meal,” said Kelsey Costa, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant with the National Health Coalition. “Through healthier alternatives, people can still enjoy the full flavor of seasonal foods without compromising their comfort and well-being.
Are you ready to eat your favorite meals and eat nutritiously? Nutritionists share what to include on your Thanksgiving menu.
Why do people want to eat healthy on Thanksgiving?
The answer to this is very personal. However, Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements, shared some common reasons.
- Health consciousness. Thanksgiving meals can be high in calories and some may prefer to avoid them. People can try a classic side with more health benefits by swapping out some ingredients, like sour cream Greek yogurt in potatoes.
- Dietary restrictions. Not everyone eats turkey or can eat gluten. “Food exchanges can accommodate dietary restrictions or preferences, such as vegetarian or gluten-free diets,” Best said. Allergies and intolerances can also affect a person’s way of thinking.
- Blood sugar control. People with diabetes or pre-diabetes or who are concerned about their blood sugar may want to switch from high glycemic index foods to lower glycemic index foods.
Thanksgiving Food Swap sponsored by RD
Yes, you can have a healthier (but very happy) Thanksgiving.
““Creating a nutritious Thanksgiving meal is totally achievable,” Best said. “Although the traditional Thanksgiving spread often involves calorie-dense and tasty dishes, there are effective methods of introducing a sense of balance and healthiness to the holiday. “
Remember that Thanksgiving side dishes also typically include vegetables and whole grains. Even the bird has nutritional value, like protein.
“By incorporating these elements into your food, you can shape a well-rounded and nutritious plate,” Best said.
Here’s how she and Costa suggest crafting a nutritious Thanksgiving plate.
White turkey meat for dark
White turkey meat offers more nutritional value than the “dark side.”
“Choosing white meat turkey breast over dark meat can be a healthy substitute because it contains less saturated fat and slightly more protein than dark meat,” Costa said. “Turkey breast meat is also full of essential nutrients such as the B-complex vitamins niacin, B6 and B12, zinc, selenium and choline.”
Mashed potatoes with Greek yogurt instead of cream
Mashed potatoes aren’t whole grains, but what’s Thanksgiving without them? If your answer is “nothing,” Best suggests using Greek yogurt.
“Greek yogurt is high in protein, which helps maintain and repair muscle,” Best said. “It also provides gut-healthy probiotics and is a versatile ingredient that maintains the creamy texture of traditional mashed potatoes.”
Sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes
If you can bear to “pass” on the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes can help you get your fill of starch, to put it mildly.
“Sweet potatoes are naturally lower in calories than regular potatoes and have a lower glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause blood sugar spikes,” Best said. “Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals such as beta-carotene, which supports immune function and eye health. Their natural sweetness can reduce the need for added sugars or excessive toppings.
Roasted Brussels sprouts and corn in olive oil instead of butter
Yes, vegetables are nutritious. However, the ingredients we cook them in, such as butter, can add unnecessary fat and calories.
“Butter is high in saturated fat and calories, while olive oil provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats,” Best said. “Olive oil helps reduce total saturated fat, promoting cardiovascular health.”
The best part? Your taste buds will be as happy as your heart with this swap.
“Olive oil enhances the flavor of roasted vegetables,” Best said.
Whole grain stuffing instead of traditional
Another popular side, stuffing, is often made with white bread. Best said
“White bread can be high in refined carbohydrates, which can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and limited nutritional value,” Best said. “Using whole grains like quinoa or brown rice provides more fiber and essential nutrients. This promotes better digestion, helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and provides sustained energy.
Maybe you won’t fall asleep until halftime of the noon football game (or halfway through your favorite Thanksgiving TV episode).
Flourless black bean brownies instead of universal flower desserts
Eating nutritiously can be a fun challenge that inspires you to get creative in the kitchen. Thanksgiving dessert menus are no exception.
“Swapping all-purpose flour for black beans in your brownie recipe can create a dessert that’s not only gluten-free, but also much higher in fiber and protein,” says Costa. “This replacement keeps the brownies moist and satisfying, promoting satiety while lowering the glycemic index to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes.”
Bonus: “Despite this healthy swap, the brownies retain a rich, chocolatey flavor that’s sure to please,” says Costa.
Or don’t change anything
Thanksgiving comes once a year.
If you feel uncomfortable or have been instructed by a healthcare provider to watch your diet, that’s one thing.
“If your concerns revolve around calorie counting and the guilt associated with eating holiday foods, keep in mind that these reasons should not prevent you from enjoying traditional holiday meals,” Costa said.
A health care provider, registered dietitian, and therapist can help you understand your relationship with food.