With Thanksgiving Day just days away, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start working out now in anticipation of the national holiday known for overeating.
As Americans traditionally overindulge on the festive fixings and desserts, it’s a safe bet the turkey won’t be the only one feeling stuffed Thursday, Nov. 28.
“I just don’t think they think about strategies to try to decrease their intake simply because it’s a feast, and people don’t really stop and think ahead of time of what their plan is going to be,” said Mary Ambroz, a registered dietitian with Essentia Health. “It’s hard not to overeat on holidays.”
Minnesota is the No. 1 producer of turkeys in the United States, raising 45 million birds annually, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin even once advocated the turkey to represent the fledgling nation instead of the bald eagle.
Americans take in 3,000 to 4,500 calories celebrating Thanksgiving, according to estimates by the Calorie Control Council, an international association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry.
“I don’t think it’s one particular food. It’s just the combination of all the foods and the portions they’re choosing, so it could be the potatoes, it could be the stuffing, it could be the gravy, it could be the pie,” Ambroz said. “It could be any of those things.”
Depending on age, weight and gender, most people should have between 1,600 and 2,800 calories daily, according to a Consumer Reports dish-by-dish guide to eating healthier.
Those with a chronic health condition such as diabetes or congestive heart failure should watch what they eat for Thanksgiving when food is often in ample supply and easily within reach.
“Diabetics will want to watch carbohydrates … and those with congestive heart failures are trying to watch sodium. It depends on how the food is prepared. … The cook will often use a heavier calorie item and add more sugar and fat to those dishes,” Ambroz said.
For example, most of the sodium in stuffing comes from broth, so reducing it by using a lower-sodium version can make a big difference.
“If you do have a chronic condition, think about what you can bring to help contribute to the meal to make it more healthy,” Ambroz said. “For example if you need to watch sodium, bring a low-sodium snack or appetizer — a vegetable tray or hummus.”
Sugar, fat and salt are among the key and basic ingredients that make any food item taste better for most people.
“The combination of the three — sugar, fat and salt — so pie is kind of a combination of all of those things,” Ambroz said. “That’s why pie tastes so good.”
It’s easier to consume calories than it is to burn them. It would take about an hour of hiking, for example, to burn 438 calories for a 160-pound person, according to the Mayo Clinic. But just one slice of pumpkin pie contains about 400 calories, according to the Food Network.
Feast, not fast
The Pilgrims had a three-day feast — three days — to celebrate a bountiful harvest in the fall of 1621, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that many regard as the nation’s first Thanksgiving.
Binging is never a good idea, but going in the opposite direction and skipping meals earlier in the day isn’t a great idea either, according to Ambroz.
“One thing I would try to do to prevent overindulging is make sure I ate a small breakfast and lunch — try not to fast — to prevent overeating,” Ambroz said. “And if I were to be the cook, I’d look at ways to decrease the calories in the dishes.”
Besides eating slowly and practicing portion control, Ambroz recommended being mindful of the beverage choice offered at Thanksgiving meals and noted it is best to opt for lower-calorie or diet options.
“Just think about what you’re eating. You should eat what you want, but try to avoid overeating as much as you can. And if you do overeat, don’t beat yourself up and instead go for a walk afterwards,” Ambroz said. “Working on weight loss is kind of a hard thing to do at this time of the year, but you certainly don’t want to gain weight if you can help it.”
Calories in the Thanksgiving classics, per serving
Mashed potatoes: 400 calories — lots of butter and cream.
Green bean casserole: 500 calories — cream and creamy canned soup mixes.
Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows — 460 calories, loads of butter and sugar.
Meaty stuffing: 425 calories — fatty meats and too much butter.
Creamy soups: 250-350 calories — large doses of cream.
Apple pie: 475 calories — large portions and a high-fat crust.
Pumpkin pie: 400 calories — large portions and a high-fat crust.
Source: Food Network.
Thanksgiving calorie-saving tips
Turkey: Skip the crispy skin and save roughly 30 calories per serving.
Stuffing: Add chopped veggies like carrots and celery, and use low-sodium broth.
Sweet potatoes: Opt for a plain baked sweet potato or roasted sweet potato chunks.
Green bean casserole: Serve instead green beans almondine — steamed string beans sautéed in a small amount of butter and tossed with slivered almonds and lemon juice.
Mashed potatoes: Use lower-fat milk, or replace some of the butter and milk with lower-sodium chicken broth.
Gravy: Make it with the turkey drippings, separating out the fat and using little salt.
Cranberry sauce: Use less sugar when making it from scratch, and add some cinnamon, cloves and grated orange rind to help enhance the sweetness of the sauce.
Pumpkin pie: Better than a slice of apple pie or pecan pie, which pack more calories.
Source: Consumer Reports