Top 7 Healthy Thanksgiving Foods
As you get ready to give thanks for all your blessings this year (and I’m hoping you have a very long list!), you’re probably already moaning and groaning about the calorie laden foodfest to come. But believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be all about rich appetizers and gooey desserts. For every over the top scoop of buttery, creamy potato-y side dishes, there are already healthy items on your Thanksgiving table. So instead of trying to figure out how to remove all taste and texture from your dish in the attempt to make it healthier, try to figure out ways to highlight the best parts of what’s already on the menu.
Instead of seeking out the least healthy options (or as my editor puts it, articles that teach you “How to make a green bean casserole healthy and take all the actual taste out of it”) try instead to concentrate on the food that tastes great and is good for you. In other words, get rid of the guilt and enjoy your feast.
Coach Sarah Walls, personal trainer and owner of SAPT Strength & Performance Training, Inc., who is also the strength and conditioning coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics said “Thanksgiving has great potential to be a fantastically healthy and satisfying meal! It’s the quantity that needs to be moderated, not necessarily the foods.” She offered some of her top picks including:
- Turkey is Tops
While frying makes it super tender, Walls advises keeping it in the oven – turkey is perfectly healthy, delicious and packed with protein.
- Sweet Enough Potatoes
All by themselves, sweet spuds are delicious and nutritious and as Walls reminds us, they’re a slowly digested carb source full of fiber. Just take the casserole down a notch or two “just cut the butter a bit, use just enough brown sugar and consider dropping the marshmallows.” Meanwhile, scroll down for more on why you should add more sweet potatoes to your Thanksgiving and every day diet.
- Cleaner Cranberry Sauce
Walls advises bypassing the gelatin in the can and look for something made fresh (or make it yourself) this way you can control the ingredients and still get the great antioxidant benefits.
- Not so Glam Green Beans
Probably not the shining star of the table, but Walls reminds us that it’s another vegetable that can be delicious while still managing the amount of butter and salt added. If you want to jazz things up, consider adding slivered almonds and garlic sautéed in a tiny bit of olive oil for a dose of healthy fats, calcium and magnesium.
- Pure Pumpkin pie
When made from scratch, Walls says “The pumpkin pie filling itself is reasonably healthy (and very easy).” She also says that “you can substitute traditional crusts with something like crushed pecans to bump up the nutritional value; but pumpkin pie is another great food we’re already eating on Thanksgiving.”
- Brussels Sprouts, Baby
Walls says Brussels Sprouts are “a powerful cruciferous vegetable that, when roasted and seasoned with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper is an incredible Thanksgiving Day addition.” I was once at a Moroccan restaurant that grilled the sprouts and added sliced grapes and vinegar for a sweet/sour/healthy side. Or consider shredding before cooking and then stir frying.
- Smarter Stuffing
Walls reminds us that stuffing is a staple! But instead of making it mostly bread or rice, amp up the added vegetables like onions, celery, etc. In this case, Walls says “the nutrient density can be bumped up quite a bit.”
Meanwhile, let’s revisit (and banish) your sweet potato and pumpkin related guilt. Marina Rösser, Nutrition Specialist at Freeletics, says sweet potatoes are richer in both nutrients and protein than regular white potatoes. Looking for new ways to serve? She advises baking or stuffing with quinoa, mushrooms, olive oil, honey.
Rösser also lists some of the health benefits of pumpkin:
- Rich in vitamin C, pumpkin will lower any chances of you catching the dreaded cold this fall.
- 90% water, high in fiber and low in calories, pumpkin keeps you fuller for longer and stops unwanted cravings between meals.
- It’s one of the best sources of beta-carotene, an important antioxidant said to protect against asthma and heart disease.
- Troubles sleeping? Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that helps put an end to restless nights.
- Pumpkin-seed-oil is high in omega-6 and vitamin E. Therefore it can lower blood cholesterol and helps against heart diseases.
Ready to try out some healthier recipes? Scroll through your favorite food brands websites for inspiration. For instance, Simple Mills has an entire section just for better-for-you holiday recipes.