Dr. Kevin Most: Thanksgiving calories

Dr. Kevin Most

Well it is Thanksgiving week, the week we all look forward to. Family, Friends, Fun and feast, who wouldn’t like it? It is also my chance as many of you have stated “to ruin Thanksgiving meals”. Personally, I see it as just educating on the health related topic of the meal. By no means do I want to ruin the meal, in fact it is my favorite holiday and favorite meal. Traditions are set, family is together, the focus is on being thankful for all and not on gifts. So please do not take this as me being the Scrooge of Thanksgiving. Think of this as just a piece of information.

I thought we would take a few minutes to discuss how we can have a Thanksgiving feast but make it a bit healthier. I am not saying one meal impacts your health in a terribly negative way but what if you could still enjoy the day but do it in a healthy way without impacting the fun or feast.

We are entering the week of Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season where we often see individuals put on 10 or more pounds. It is dark in the morning and dark at night, it is too cold to get outside and our body starts to store fat as we enter winter. I always tell people do not try to lose weight over the next few months, holding steady and maintaining weight is a victory

By the way we have President Lincoln to thank for this holiday as he made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1864. A little awareness and information will help, and perhaps a couple of ways to make the meal a little healthier might be tried this year.

First some basics, the average adult needs 1800 – 2400 calories in a day, depending on gender and activity level. This allows us to maintain our weight and stay healthy. Unfortunately we see our activity decrease in the winter, we exercise less and, in many cases, sleep more thus needing fewer calories. In the winter we also eat heavier meals, or what we may call comfort food, and Thanksgiving is the kick off for that trend.

There has been an increased focus on many dietary issues, carbohydrates, sugar, fat and calories. Many individuals track calories and most restaurants and fast food facilities share the caloric intake on their menus. Wouldn’t it be better to know the carb load and fat grams. This information allows us to make an informed decision on what we consume and also allows individuals to track their daily intake. This intake is often set on goals and if captured properly also tracks how healthy our intake is. Many of the apps breakdown the input into categories so we know if we are missing fruits and veggies or have gone over in fat intake. Smart eaters are looking at menu’s differently these days and restaurants are actually starting to look at portion control as a selling point.

Many restaurants now share a lighter portion, often just changing the volume but in many cases making the sauce or preparation healthier. If you have eaten at Maggiano’s in the past few years you saw them change a strategy. They used to be known for huge portions of food, more than anyone could possibly eat, so their waiters spent a lot of time “boxing up” the leftovers. They figured it out, give smaller portions but also give the individual a portion “to go”. I am sure they did the math and it comes out the same from food cost but has increased their service time as well as the perception of value to the consumer.

Well, I hate to share this with you but let’s discuss the traditional Thanksgiving meal that we all love and look forward to. Any guesses on how many calories Thanksgiving dinner will bring each of us? Would you believe it ranges from 3500 to 6000 calories depending on if you go back for seconds, alcohol intake and appetizers. Worse yet the meal will also deliver up to 250 grams of fat, that is 3 times the amount of fat that we should be taking in each day. Remember we said that we need around 2000 calories for the entire day

Well not to be a bummer but let’s discuss a few things about the feast.

Watch out for the appetizers- although it is not considered part of the meal, appetizers are often loaded with fat grams and thus can easily add 1000 calories.

Add appetizer list
Spinach dip- 2 tablespoons 115 calories
Pigs in a blanket- 70 each
Meatballs- 90 calories per meatball
Stuffed mushrooms- 50-75 calories
Vegetables – Dip will get you 30 calories
Mini quiche -120 calories each

Healthy options for appetizers
Veggie tray, but use a low calorie, low fat dip.
Hummus, Buffalo Cauliflower Bites

So have one of each of these and you are already at 500 calories, and that is saying a single serving and drinking water. Add a 150 for the beer or 130 for the glass of wine and you are at 650 before you even sit down !!!

Now let’s go over the meal

Turkey with gravy- 8 oz. with skin on- 440 calories 18 grams of fat
Stuffing- 1 cup 400 calories 18 grams of fat, and 500 mg of Sodium
Green bean casserole- 1 cup 350 calories 17 grams of fat
Mashed potatoes with gravy- 1 cup 443 calories 25 grams of fat
Sweet potatoes with marshmallows 1 big scoop 610 calories 9 grams of fat
Cranberry sauce 1/2 cup 200 calories but no fat !!
Biscuit with butter 200 calories 15 grams of fat

Pecan pie- 500 calories
Apple Pie- Think this is healthier, think again 425 calories and that is without the ice cream, tack on 150 more
Pumpkin Pie 300 calories, and a little whipped cream adds another 50, but still tradition wins here.

The meal total alone is close to 3000 calories, but we have 650 calories in appetizers, 450 calories in dessert and 300 calories in drinks. So with basic appetizers and a few drinks and you are approaching 4500 calories just for the Thanksgiving meal alone!! In that one setting we take in more calories than we need for 2 days.

So what can we do to make sure we still enjoy the Thanksgiving meal and we don’t upset any relatives by avoiding the portion of the meal they brought. The main thing one can do is portion control. Your plate does not need to be overflowing, cutting back on serving sizes allows you to still enjoy each portion while limiting calories. Portion control may be difficult but consider using smaller plates, cut the pie in smaller slices. What is probably more important than calories is the amount of sodium and fat in the meal, so at least put down the salt shaker and enjoy the taste of the food.

How about some specifics

Appetizers are a tough one, there is often a traditional appetizer that a family member makes that can’t be missed (Sister Denise’s Olive balls, handed down from my mom for example) The big message here is moderation and try the veggies without the cream based dips. Appetizers have a lot of calories that you would rather save for the main meal. There are many healthy appetizers, just try to stay away from cream based dips. Recent changes have allowed for fried foods to be much healthier. Hot Air fryers will allow individuals to have fried appetizers while cutting the fat content by up to 75%. If there is a fried appetizer ask about the preparation. If it is a hot air fryer, try it, it may convince you to buy one and stop frying in oil.

Turkey with gravy- the best way to help here is to make sure you don’t have the turkey skin is loaded with fat so eliminate the skin portion. Consider a smaller portion of turkey, like the size of a deck of cards, eat white meat in place of dark meat. Make your gravy with low sodium broth as the flavor can come from herbs, or from turkey drippings with the fat skimmed off.

Stuffing- probably the biggest change to make here is to decrease the amount of butter, or consider rice in place of the traditional bread, adding more vegetables will minimize the carbs noted in the bread. At least use low sodium broth. This can lower the calorie intake to under 100 calories and make the sodium content one half

Green bean casserole- the problem here is the canned soup, and canned green beans, both loaded in fat, sodium and calories. Often called the heart attack waiting to happen. The fried onions don’t help either. Try using fresh green beans, and fresh onions with panko breading topping, the sauce can be made in many ways with less calories and fat than the canned soup.

Sweet potatoes- This is one of a couple that are felt to be hands off!! Sweet potatoes are very healthy, loaded with vitamins A and C, Calcium and iron couple that with a low calorie count, until we add butter and brown sugar But a simple change of using half and half in place of butter, cuts the calories in half and the fat content by a third.

Dessert is a do not change !!! Whether it is pumpkin pie or apple pie, you have to stay with tradition here, however think portion size here and does the whipped cream add much? Consider cutting the piece in half, this makes for a great breakfast on Friday.

Just these simple changes will cut your calories way back and allow you to still enjoy a great meal that is better for your health.

I don’t want to be a bummer before Thanksgiving, but going into the holiday with some information and strategies will help your health. So if you are preparing, think about healthy prep and recipes, if you are consuming consider portion control. I like to think of it in this way, why have one huge meal on Thanksgiving, why not stretch it out to 3-4 good meals over the weekend. If you are the host have plenty of zip lock bags available so leftovers can be distributed to guests at the end of the day, this also lowers your temptation to have another big meal over the next few days as we hate to waste food. We all look forward to the left over Thanksgiving meals on Friday and Saturday so left overs are appreciated. Balance your caloric intake the few days following and try to get out for some exercise.

The goal going into December should be looking at a stable weight pattern, a new focus on blood pressure as we prepare for the New Year.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving surrounded by families and friends, make sure you share with them that you are thankful for their friendship, it is a key part to keeping us all healthy.

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