The Best (and Worst) Thanksgiving Foods
Thanksgiving is a great meal. Friends and family come together to give thanks and celebrate the harvest season–
…and to overeat.
All of us know the feeling of eating too much, too heavy, too rich. When we should be enjoying our time with loved ones, we are uncomfortable. We exasperate our health conditions and catch a cold. We put on weight and feel lethargic.
I’m not going to tell you to make dramatic changes to your Thanksgiving meal. Usually that doesn’t work—and besides, it’s no fun.
Instead I suggest you just make small choices. Pick one food instead of the other. Make little positive choices and they’ll add up to a healthier, more enjoyable meal.
The Best and Worst Thanksgiving Foods
Before we begin, let’s set some ground rules.
Obviously, everyone uses different recipes and buys different products. Nutritional value of Thanksgiving foods can vary widely. And everyone has different health concerns.
The “Best and Worst Thanksgiving Foods” list is intended as a general guideline. Consider the overall nutritional value of each food—calories, fats, nutrients and additives. Which food moves you closest to your health goals?
Dark Meat vs. White Meat
This is the classic Thanksgiving debate. Organic pasture-raised turkey is going to provide you with the best overall nutritional value. Eating the skin and dark meat will give you those good fats, but you will be consuming more calories. From a caloric perspective, white meat has the advantage. For each 3oz serving, white meat has 50 fewer calories and 4g less fat than dark. And at Thanksgiving, you’re bound to eat more than 3oz.
The best: Since you are going to be getting plenty of calories at this meal, your best choice is white meat.
Sweet Potatoes vs. Mashed Potatoes
Generally potatoes are a healthy food. I especially recommend sweet potatoes for fall and winter diets. However, drenching your yams in butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows negate any and all nutritional value. Mashed potatoes slathered in butter and gravy are not a health food either!
The best: Savory sweet potatoes. Bake diced sweet potatoes with a tiny bit of olive oil, garlic and rosemary for a delicious and nutritious side dish.
Brussel Sprouts vs. Collard Greens
This one is a trick question—they are both good. Make sure you add some of both to your plate! They are good for you and they fill you up so you don’t overeat other foods.
The best: Tie for first place.
Homemade Cranberry Sauce vs. Canned Cranberry Sauce
Cranberries are healthy and full of phytochemicals, which help protect against urinary tract infections, inflammation and cancer. Unfortunately, cranberry sauce is a different matter. Canned cranberry sauce can have high fructose corn syrup. You can leave the corn syrup out of homemade sauce, but many recipes call for lots of sugar.
The best: Homemade cranberry sauce. Over medium heat, cook some whole cranberries in a pan with some orange juice. Simmer until the cranberries pop open. Trust me- this is a recipe all will love!
Beer vs. Wine
The beer vs. wine debate is hotly contested, with each side claiming victory. Generally a serving of wine has fewer calories than beer and in some studies it is linked to cardiovascular health and lower cholesterol. On the other hand, a serving of beer generally has more nutrients and less alcohol than wine.
The best: You pick based on your health concerns. Are you watching calories or alcohol intake? In both cases, moderation is best.
Apple Pie vs. Pumpkin Pie
Both apples and pumpkins are a healthy start, but they take a turn when they become pie. Pies have a lot of fat in the crust and sugar in the filling.
Which is healthier? Pumpkin pie weighs in with 95 fewer calories and 5g less fat than apple pie, mainly because it has only one crust and is topped with a small dollop of whipped cream instead of a large scoop of ice cream.
The best: Pumpkin pie. Bonus if you pass on the whipped cream.
Whipped Cream vs. Ice Cream
This is a tough comparison because there is a wide range of products in each category. From Cool Whip to homemade whipped cream, from “frozen dairy dessert” (read the label of cheap ice creams and you’ll see this description) to real ice cream—there is a wide range of ingredients.
Obviously, both have fats and sugars. But one big difference between the two is how they are served. Generally a scoop of ice cream on a piece of pie can be at least half a cup, while a dollop of whipped cream is closer to two tablespoons. A serving of whipped cream is simply smaller than a serving of ice cream.
In both cases, check the ingredient labels for pure natural ingredients. Homemade gives you more control of the ingredients but choose your recipes wisely. Whipping cream has less fat than heavy cream, but it’s the high fat content in the recipes that make it “good.”
The best: Homemade organic whipping cream whipped in a frozen bowl with just a dash of maple syrup for sweetener, if desired. Bonus if you stick to two tablespoons.
Best wishes for a fun Thanksgiving feast. May you and your loved ones have safe travels and good times.