News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Thanksgiving nutrition: the good, the bad, the ugly

Thanksgiving opens the senses to the warmth and comfort of autumn’s bounty. The veggies, the bird and the accompanying spices all melt together in an experience that is indescribable to those who have not experienced it.

Every family has its own flair, whether it’s a corn casserole, sweet potato with orange juice, or cornbread stuffing — but there are some standalone classics that just about everyone has grown up to enjoy. Recently, some have come to scrutinize Thanksgiving as an avatar of our current state of health and dietary shortcomings. There are plenty of nutritional shortfalls obvious to most; however, inside a Thanksgiving meal there are strokes of nutritional glory.

The good:

Turkey includes a very high-quality source of protein, without a lot of fat. This lean protein will fill you up. It only has 130 calories per four-ounce serving, making it a nutritional winner.

Next the Brussels sprouts: These little globes of nutrition contain substantial levels of vitamins K and C. They contain a lot of fiber, which is beneficial to gut health and fills someone up. The antioxidants in cabbage and the like are cancer preventing. Someone can’t go wrong with an extra serving.

Cranberry sauce, while often only looked upon as a no-no for outstanding amounts of sugar, should be considered a Thanksgiving victory. Cranberries are a superfood because of their high levels of antioxidants (near the top of the list). They also are packed with vitamin C and fiber!

The Bad:

While the obvious offenders of Thanksgiving are well exposed, there are some to consider which might not get as much attention. For example, mashed potatoes can be a very healthful dish. Potatoes contain magnesium, B and C vitamins, along with a healthy amount of protein. Most of that nutrition gets drowned in butter, cream, and possibly cheese. What to do instead is use low-fat sour cream, and use half the butter. This can make mashed potatoes less of a caloric bomb and still flavorful.

Green bean casserole is another recipe which has the potential to have a healthy makeover. Traditionally, canned beans and canned soup go into the dish and deep-fried onions on top. Instead, try blanching fresh green beans, sauteing onions and mushrooms, and using two-percent milk with some flour to produce the creamy texture. Top with bread crumbs and some Parmesan cheese to finish.

The Ugly:

Sometimes, no matter how it’s done, a dish cannot be rescued. The first that comes to mind is gravy. The fat, the silky texture, and the rich flavor cannot be replicated. This is a bomb that ought to be deployed only in circumstances of necessity. A light drizzle over some white meat will liven up a rather bland piece of turkey. If the mashed potatoes are a little on the pasty or drab end of the spectrum, some here wouldn’t hurt. What happens is the gravy falls into the hands of trigger happy eaters and a cascade comes crashing all over the plate; half-a-cup of gravy saturates all.

Pecan pie is another offender. The nuts are only guilty by association, but this dish loses on all fronts because of the cups of sugar mixed with the sticks of butter. No wonder this pie is so delicious!

There are healthy ways to enjoy Thanksgiving, even if they don’t meet the normal criteria of healthy foods. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce all possess nutrition everyone can enjoy. Other aspects of Thanksgiving ought to be celebrated as occurrences of once-a-year frequency. One indulgent meal is not going to send you into a spiral of uncontrolled binge-eating with no coming back. Enjoy the time with friends and family and give many thanks for all of life’s simplest pleasures.


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