Your Health: Eat smart this Thanksgiving |

Your Health: Eat smart this Thanksgiving

Turkey and other Thanksgiving favorites are served up to the community during a past holiday meal at St. Michael's Catholic Church. Watching calorie intake and eating sensible portions are two ways to avoid overeating during the holiday.

Thanksgiving Day means different things for all Americans.

For some, it's an annual football game and for others, it's the countdown to Christmas shopping. For nearly everyone across the nation, Nov. 28 is the date to indulge one's self at the dinner table. And with that tradition invariably comes a number of people who overdo it.

Making sensible dietary choices during Thanksgiving and other winter holiday meals can have a significant impact on your health as the days get colder. By eating smart, you can enjoy such celebrations guilt-free.

Worry less about what you eat than how much of it you eat

Turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and many other favorite dishes will be on the menu during the Thanksgiving meal, and for some the concern is that a serving of one particular food item will be worse for them than another.

Lindsey Hester, a registered dietitian with The Memorial Hospital, said a common mistake is to forgo one kind of food only to overcompensate with another. For instance, a diner may leave the stuffing off his or her plate and then pile on twice as much turkey.

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Heavy foods don't need to be avoided altogether. One strategy to keep yourself from partaking in more than you need to during the meal is to take the time to eat some salad or healthy snacks beforehand.

Even so, social pressures often result in people eating even after they've reached their limit, with those visiting multiple friends or family members throughout the holiday consuming many more helpings than they'd like just to be polite.

The problem — there is no perfect amount for everyone.

"Everyone has different food triggers, everyone has different tastes," Hester said.

Calories do count

The calorie count of an average holiday meal is between 1,500 and 3,000 calories, well past a healthy amount.

"That's close to double what we need," Hester said.

A caloric intake of 3,500 can amount to a gain of about one pound, Hester said.

Thanksgiving doesn't have to turn into an all-you-can-eat buffet, she said, though people should keep in mind what foods to go easy on if they're worried about weight gain.

Starchy foods — bread, potatoes, yams, corn — are best eaten in moderate, fist-sized portions. As for the bird in the center of the table, skinless white meat is the most healthful, with a serving size about the width of one's palm with the thickness of a deck of cards.

If you're looking forward to dessert, take it easier on the entrees so the 400 calories from a slice of pumpkin pie isn't so daunting.

"People just need to be aware of what they're taking in," Hester said. "They need to strike a balance with the calories available and be mindful that there are so many options for a holiday meal."

Seconds, anyone?

One issue with the Thanksgiving meal is that it often signals the start of an entire month of overeating, as people go through Turkey Day leftovers and ultimately lose self-control through Christmas and New Year's Eve.

This problem can affect the whole family and set patterns for unhealthy eating for children in the future. TMH pediatricians Kelly Follett and Kristie Yarmer said the key is to let Thanksgiving be a day of excessive eating — within reason — without letting it spill over into the coming weeks.

It's not easy, though, as the temptations of December are numerous.

"People eat way too much in between (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and way too many sweets," Yarmer said. "There's a constant influx of pies, cookies and candy."

Yarmer advised parents to limit sugary selections to two to three times per week during this period rather than to offer kids dessert after every meal. A helpful source for eating choices year-round is United States Department of Agriculture's, which details ways to manage weight through sensible diet and exercise.

Part of this is being vigilant about kids' eating habits at school as well as home.

"If your kids have a holiday party at school, rather than being the parent that brings cupcakes with frosting, be the parent who brings a fruit tray or a veggie tray with some dip," she said.

Yarmer said one way to keep kids from wanting to chow down nonstop during the holiday season is to not make Thanksgiving all about what comes out of the oven.

"If you're having people over, play a game so kids have some kind of activity and they aren't going to be eating out of boredom," she said.

Afterward, rather than collapse on the couch for a nap, families can take a walk outside, build a snowman, have a snowball fight or find something physical to do inside while digesting.

Yarmer's suggestions include dancing to music for 30 minutes, engaging in calisthenics or clearing furniture aside and turning the house into a balloon volleyball court.

"It's harder to do something inside when it's cold out, but it's important and it can be fun," she said.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or

Strategies for healthy holiday dining

• If you don’t want to say no to certain foods, identify the energy-dense foods — high fat, sugar concentrated, high calorie — and allow only one or two bites of about five of these items before the meal. This will equal about 200 calories. Then serve up your normal Thanksgiving plate again, identify the energy-dense items and only eat half. This will equal about 400 calories. If you skip all calorie-containing beverages and take a few bites of dessert, you will have consumed a total of about 750 calories and about 33 grams of fat. This is a far cry from 1,500 to 3,000 calories while still indulging in holiday foods. And it may surprise you how full you are!

• Do you love some foods but are not so crazy about others? Do you admit that you are not able to only take a couple of bites of certain foods? There is a way to work around that within reason. As an appetizer, have one or two bites of your favorite foods — this will equal about 200 calories. For the meal, have full servings of two of your favorite foods, including dessert if desired, take two bites of everything else, do not consume any calorie-containing beverages and you will finish with about 750 calories.

• Are you attending multiple holiday parties or meals? Consider this: at each party or meal, only indulge within one course of the meal at a time.

— Want more than one cup of eggnog (600 to 700 calories)? Great, but skip the appetizer and opt for a large salad with white, skinless meat versus casseroles and skip dessert.

— At the next function, how about you sip on water and take a couple of the bacon wrapped jalapenos (about 350 calories) during the appetizer? Same thing with the entree and dessert as above.

— At the next function, skip the beverages and appetizers, and serve yourself up the appropriate portions of sweet potatoes and other energy-dense casseroles — no serving should be larger or deeper than your fist — and skip the dessert.

— At your next function is there a dessert bar that looks like it is out of a magazine? Great, skip the beverage and appetizer, and opt only for bites of casseroles while filling up on greens and white, lean meats. At dessert, allow five to 10 bites of the best-looking dessert (400 calories).

• All of the above examples will provide about 700 to 750 calories per meal. For some this is more calories than needed. So consider fitting in some movement that is realistic for your lifestyle. Some ideas may include meeting up with a friend to start baking for the holidays. Allow an extra 20 to 30 minutes to go for a walk before getting started. Try to have an extremely clean house during the holidays, this will provide extra movement and the benefits of a clean house. Commit to trying one new exercise class. Try raking the leaves from the yard. Above all, remember, you burn five calories for every one minute of moderate-intensity, conversation-paced exercise.

— Prepared by Lindsey Hester, registered dietitian for The Memorial Hospital