The Thanksgiving meal is like a “Greatest Hits” album of your favorite family recipes. Whether it’s your aunt’s signature marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, or your cousin’s signature sweet-and-sour pot roast, eating these delectable, love-cooked dishes, is what makes the holiday dinner so special. This is not the day to count the calories in that slice of pumpkin pie, or carefully measure a scoop of mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving can be your reward for all the discipline you’ve shown throughout the year.
With that being said, there are a few dishes (some obvious and some surprising) that should be eaten in moderation, or skipped altogether. In order to determine which foods made the cut we asked doctors, whose expertise ranges from bariatric surgery to weight loss, what they wouldn’t eat at Thanksgiving dinner and why. Though answers varied, there was a general consensus that calories shouldn’t be wasted before the meal actually begins. That means saying no to appetizers, bread baskets, and dips. Nutritionists and doctors both agree that it’s best to never go to the Thanksgiving meal hungry.
When we say “appetizers,” we’re not referring to bowls of mixed nuts or veggies and dip. We’re talking about those tantalizing mini-hot dogs, bacon-wrapped dates, and mini quiches that can be difficult to resist as anticipation for the holiday meal builds; there’s a good reason to resist, however.. “Passed appetizers of any kind are often high-calorie, and it’s difficult to track of how many you’ve eaten,” says Dr. Will Harper, former Director of the Personalized Health and Prevention program at the University of Chicago. “Just two mini quiches and two bacon-wrapped dates can easily add up to more than 400 calories, which is 25 percent of the daily caloric intake for most people who are trying to lose weight,” he points out.
The bread basket that sits so majestically atop Thanksgiving tables is a dangerous temptress. Not only is bread high in carbohydrates, notes Dr. Harper, but, “it’s also a gateway to too many enticing dips and toppings (i.e. butter, cheese, cream cheese, etc.)”
Talk about a shocker. Brussels sprouts sit atop many of nutritionist’s wish-lists, but the cruciferous vegetable isn’t great for everybody. Dr. Andrea Klemes, Chief Medical Officer of MDVIP, a Florida-based physicians’ network, warns that, “if you’re watching your potassium intake because of a kidney issue, you should avoid Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts are surprisingly high in potassium, and this can exacerbate advanced stages of chronic kidney disease.
Canned Green Bean Casserole
The famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) green bean casserole recipe was invented by the Campbell’s Soup Company test kitchen in 1955, and remains a staple of many Thanksgiving dinners. Dr. Rachel Abrams, author of upcoming book, Bodywise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing, recommends skipping this holiday season, despite its possible nostalgic pull, because it’s typically made from, “canned green beans (already loaded with salt and bereft of vitamins from the canning process), canned mushroom soup (with sugar, salt, and MSG), and those nasty canned, fried onions on top (full of trans fats).”
“As a physician who works in the field of diabetes and diabetes prevention,” says Dr. Dana Kent, Medical Director of Health Promotion and Education at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, California, “I stay away from some of the dishes of my youth, like creamed onions and green beans with creamed mushroom sauce.” In order to reduce the saturated fat and calorie content of what’s already an enormously high-calorie meal, Dr. Kent recommends substituting a light dish of fresh green beans sauté-steamed in a bit of olive oil with garlic and fresh lemon.
Properly cooking a turkey so that it’s juicy and moist eliminates the need for gravy. Gravy, “is pure saturated fat,” notes Dr. Adrienne Youdim owner of the Center for Weight Loss and Nutrition in Beverly Hills, who instead recommends pairing turkey with fresh herbs and vegetables like fresh cucumber and mint salad and tomato wedges.
Margarine is a dairy-free butter substitute that’s often found sitting alongside the holiday bread basket. Dr. Partha Nandi, practicing physician and Chief Health Editor at WXYZ-TV (ABC) Detroit, warns that, “margarines contain chemical preservatives, high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids and excessive salt,” and that these components, “can cause hypertension, increased cholesterol levels and put you at risk for a heart attack.”
Skip the pecan pie this year because of its high sugar content and empty calories,” recommends Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director of Be Well Medical Group According to Livestrong.com, an average slice of pecan pie contains 541 calories, 33 grams of sugar, and almost no fiber. A slice of apple or pumpkin pie is a better option because these desserts don’t require corn syrup, contain more fiber, and are less caloric.
Powdered Mashed Potatoes
Instant, boxed mashed potatoes are precooked, mashed, and dehydrated, and are, quite frankly, not an adequate substitute for the real thing. “Powdered mashed potatoes contain lots of preservatives and salt with no evidence of real potatoes. If you are going to eat a starch, eat the real thing,” says Dr. Christine Ren-Fielding, Division Chief of Bariatric Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. When potatoes aren’t loaded with butter, salt, and cheese they are very nutritious, being rich in fiber, vitamin C and potassium.
Traditional Thanksgiving stuffing recipes call for a mixture of dried bread, onions, celery, giblets, and seasoning to be stuffed into the cavity of the turkey before it’s baked in the oven. The white bread often used in stuffing absorbs a lot of the fat from the bird, adding calories to an already nutritionally barren side dish. Dr. Amber Orman, MD, an assistant member of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, suggests making a quinoa stuffing instead, which is “full of protein and nutritionally far superior to traditional stuffing.”
Yams Topped With Marshmallows
Yams (which are really sweet potatoes) topped with marshmallows is a dessert masquerading as side-dish. Dr. Youdim avoids yams with marshmallows, in order to, “save (her) sweet carbs for pumpkin pie.” But if you’re like me, and yams are your ultimate favorite Thanksgiving food, just simply scrape off the marshmallows.