Question of the Week
November 22, 2004


This week is Thanksgiving once again. For many this means a big feast filled with comfort foods. The burning question in your mind may not be: "How can I make Thanksgiving dinner more healthful?" Then again, you may be wondering just that.

"How can I make Thanksgiving dinner more healthful? With a main dish of lean poultry and a traditional dessert made from squash, you wouldn't think this would be so difficult. But estimates of the calories in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner range from anywhere to 2,000 to 4,500, depending on what you put on the plate. Given that people of average size who get moderate activity should average between 1,600-2,400 calories per day, by any standards this is a hefty meal."

Counting calories may not be what you are looking forward to this holiday season; it also may not be entirely necessary. Just a few things to keep in mind:

"The secret to having your cake and eating it too is moderation. Make sure you create a plan ahead of time. We all know we will eat a little bit (or in some cases a lot) more than we typically do Thursday; so, mathematically we have to allow for this meal. If you want to maintain your weight and still eat that meal, you have to exercise ten minutes more each day this week to justify the additional calories you will be consuming. ... Another good behavior is to eat normally before the 'big meal.' If you starve all day in an attempt to save up all the calories for the one meal, you will most likely be so hungry by the time you sit down that you will overeat. ... Remember, controlling your weight through the holidays is all about moderation, not deprivation. Once you begin to feel like you are depriving yourself, you will begin to binge. It's okay to taste all of the delicious food you look forward to this time of year: That should be enough to satisfy any craving."

Exercise ten extra minutes a day, don't starve yourself beforehand, and it's okay to taste a little bit of everything. That doesn't sound like too much to ask for a healthier day filled with less guilt. Also, try not to think of Thanksgiving as an isolated day. Try to balance your food intake over a few days.

"Connie Mobley, Ph.D., an associate professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, says even the strictest dieters can indulge in the holiday feast -- if they just balance their calories like a bank book. 'You can actually budget for your Thanksgiving dinner -- eat less the day before, so your calorie intake will even out over a two-day period,' Dr. Mobley said."

This doesn't mean you should go into the meal starving and ready to inhale two days worth of calories in one sitting.

"Don't skip meals. This will just make you hungrier, you'll eventually eat more and your metabolism will slow down. Drink lots of water to help satisfy hunger and keep you energized. Limit alcohol consumption to avoid empty calories and a loss of inhibition. Get extra exercise, enough sleep (7-8 hours is optimal) and eat plenty of nutritious fruits and veggies.",1607,7-147-22854_24290_25460-101574--,00.html

Drink lots of water, and eat healthy snacks. It's not just about the quantity, but the quality of the food is also important.

"Still, there's lots of potential for making Thanksgiving dinner lighter and much more healthful. Turkey is one of the leanest meats around. Both sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie are great sources of beta carotene. White potatoes, even if they're mashed and served with gravy, aren't a bad source of potassium...."

Even with all those healthy foods on the table, 3,000 to 4,000 calories of anything is not recommended for most people in one meal.

"Are you ready to start a new Thanksgiving tradition? ...
[T]his healthier option has a total of 826 calories, 11 grams of fat and 989 milligrams of sodium per serving...."

With some basic changes to how each dish is prepared, you can keep each of the traditional foods, but only keep a fraction of the calories and fat. For those seeking alternatives to the traditional turkey; or for those wanting to try new things:

"...You don't have to include a stuffed turkey with your Thanksgiving fare. Instead, try a meatless meal that celebrates the season's harvest -- fresh fruits and vegetables and hearty whole grains. This menu has a total of 926 calories, 23 grams of fat and 515 milligrams of sodium per serving."

Links to healthy (both traditional and vegetarian) Thanksgiving recipes can be found at the above link. To find out how these recipes compare to those they are intended to replace, you can view their "Nutritional breakdown per serving" at:

Questions of the Week:
If you have no control over the menu, what can you do to have a healthier, yet enjoyable, holiday? What choices can you make that day? What choices can you make throughout the week? If you have some influence over what is included on the menu -- and/or how things are cooked -- what are some simple changes that you would want to try in order to provide healthier options? How could you present new ideas and suggestions in a way that your family and/or friends would be more willing to try some different foods -- or some foods prepared a little differently? What changes would you not want to make? What would you say to friends or family members who were uninterested in making any changes either to the food offered, or how they chose to approach the meal? Why?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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