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Healthy Thanksgiving Meal Alternatives

Healthy Thanksgiving Meal Alternatives

Annie Tucker Morgan | DivineCaroline

November 22, 2010

Every November, families and friends all over the United States lick their chops in anticipation of Thanksgiving, when they’ll gather ’round big tables to gorge themselves on turkey drenched in gravy, butter-saturated mashed potatoes, and corn syrup–filled pecan pie.

Gleeful gluttony has become as much a part of Thanksgiving as the food that’s served or the thanks we give; indeed, the holiday’s spirit of camaraderie stems partly from Americans’ unspoken agreement to throw culinary caution to the wind and not breathe a word about the thousands of calories we’re consuming or the arteries we’re clogging—but maybe that’s because we can’t breathe at all after eating so much.

Though a food-induced stupor gives people a great excuse to lie around watching football on TV, not everyone is into sports. For those of us who want to keep our pants buttoned and maybe even take an after-dinner stroll to digest some of our Thanksgiving meal, a cornucopia of flavorful, nutritious alternatives to gut-bomb foods is just a bottle of heart-friendly oil and some creative seasonings away.

And eating healthfully on Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean avoiding the classics; in fact, in their purest form, many of the holiday’s staples are full of nutrients. Let’s explore a list of standouts—and where they go wrong.


Give Thanks: Not only is turkey high in protein, but skinless white turkey meat is lower in fat than any other meat.

No Thanks: Turkey with its skin on is not your friend. The skin’s high fat content, coupled with its usual coating of salt, raises people’s levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol and strains their arteries.

Saving Grace: Turkey skin does serve one helpful purpose—a thin membrane that separates it from the meat helps the meat retain moisture while shielding it from fat. In other words, you don’t have to deprive yourself of traditional, oven-roasted Thanksgiving turkey—just make sure to remove the skin before you gobble-gobble. For an especially juicy, aromatic bird, rub the skin with olive oil and fresh herbs before cooking.

Sweet Potatoes

Give Thanks: Sweet potatoes provide a one-two antioxidant punch of vitamin C and beta-carotene, as well as a whopping dose of potassium. Leave the skin on, and you’ll add fiber to the mix.

No Thanks: In their Thanksgiving casserole form, sweet potatoes are so slathered with butter and mini-marshmallows that they’re almost undetectable, aside from their telltale orange color.

Sweet Swap: To cut sugar and fat and restore yams to their full glory, brush them with canola oil, which has the lowest saturated-fat content (only 7 percent) of any commonly used oil in the U.S., then bake them with their skins on. Top them off with a small dollop of butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon for a festive touch.

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