For so many of us, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family and friends, give thanks for our many blessings, eat, drink, watch football, be merry, and did I mention eat?
Feasting until our stomachs nearly burst has become a common tradition for many as we kick off the holiday season. But while we’re used to eating until we can’t possibly eat anymore, is this really the best way we to celebrate our blessings? While it’s true that food is a blessing, it can also be a curse if we overeat or abuse it like a drug. That’s why we’ve found a remedy this year: the 500-calorie Thanksgiving Day meal.
Research by the University of Adelaide and the University of Connecticut show that food that’s high in fat and sugar triggers the same pleasure center of our brains that methamphetamines or cocaine would.
These foods stimulate the neurotransmitters of the mesolimbic pathway—particularly dopamine—thus giving us a “high” and actually leading us to feel addicted to food. That’s one of the reasons it’s so difficult to only eat one potato chip. This also contributes to a typical Thanksgiving Day meal packing in around 4,500 calories, according to the Calorie Control Council—significantly more than the 1,500 calories recommended for females and the 2,000 calories recommended for males, says registered dietician Mary Ellen Herndon.
Herndon further suggests a Thanksgiving Day feast should only occupy 1/3 of these calories. That leaves us with 500-700 calories to work with. While this may seem impossible, the lovely folks at Spark People, Live Science, Women’s Health and Pinterest have compiled some healthy holiday tips, as well as delicious low-calorie recipes for everything from meals and side dishes to desserts; helping keep this holiday’s indulgences on track with your personal health goals.
The best way to keep calories below 500-700 is to start with filling half of your plate with low-starch vegetables and greens. This should then be accompanied by a 3-oz portion of turkey (lean meat, as it’s lower in saturated fat). The rest of the plate may be filled with small ½-cup portions of your favorite trimmings.
Some suggestions for cutting calories on sides is to replace the green bean casserole with steamed green beans; cranberry jelly with real cranberry relish; mashed potatoes with roasted sweet potatoes or squash; rolls with cornbread; gravy with a light apple cider vinegar gravy; and traditional stuffing with a healthy alternative made from fruit and veggies.
You can also try new recipes for healthy, low-calorie side dishes. The links above contain several additional tips and recipes to try. A healthy alternative to pie or other desserts can also help lower the calorie count, as can substituting cooked and mashed cauliflower for potatoes or root vegetables, and even replacing all uses of butter with garlic, herbs and chicken or vegetable stock for flavoring.
So there you have it! We hope we’ve given you all the tools you’ll need to enjoy your holidays without the stress of overeating. Don’t forget to reach out if you’d like more tips or advice this year!