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Best Thanksgiving Dishes for Eating Healthy

Nov. 26, 2014
Personal Finance
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Thanksgiving Day is a time to feast on one of the year’s most anticipated meals with family and friends. For many Americans, the holiday is also the perfect excuse to forgo their dietary standards.

The Calorie Control Council estimates that Americans eat about 4,500 calories on turkey day, including drinks and steady nibbling on snacks throughout. That’s more than twice the recommended 2,000 calorie per day diet for most adults.

But even if you’re among the many people who won’t be counting calories this Thanksgiving, you may want to know which items to limit. That’s where your nerdy friend comes in.

We found recipes for the most popular Thanksgiving dishes and crunched the numbers to find out which is the healthiest, and which is the least healthy. Calories, fat grams, and protein were used as metrics, and while many regions and cultures bring their own traditional meals to the table, we stuck to a classic menu. Here’s how each dish ranked, with the healthiest at No. 1.

Altogether, if you ate one serving of every item on the list, you’d eat a total of 4,747 calories, 253.5 grams of fat, and 212 grams of protein. But it’s safe to say your Thanksgiving meal will differ at least somewhat from the list, and most people won’t have both a deep fried and roasted turkey.

That’s good, since both types of turkey are the two most highly caloric items on the menu. Deep fried turkey is highest, at 603 calories per 5.5 ounce serving, but roasted turkey is still 545 calories for the same size. The American Heart Association recommends eating only a 3-ounce serving of meat per meal, but cooks can count on nearly doubling that portion size for the holiday.

In general, meat tends to have more calories because it’s nutrient dense, with lots of protein packed into every ounce. Protein is good for you but still has calories, leaving all three meat dishes in the bottom half of the list due to calorie count.

It may seem strange that pumpkin pie ranks healthier than many dishes. This holiday dessert is 379 calories for a 1/8 slice of a standard pie and has 14 grams of fat, but also offers 6 grams of protein. Contrast that with mashed potatoes, with 33 grams of fat, or deep fried turkey, with nearly 34 grams of fat.

While you may not be eating two types of turkey this year, don’t cut back on the bird because you’re worried about getting sleepy. While it does contain tryptophan, which may cause drowsiness, turkey has no more of the amino acid than chicken, and less than pork and cheese.

So, what causes that sleepy lull after Thanksgiving dinner? That’s just the effect of your body digesting all that food. Blood and oxygen stores are diverted away from your brain, resulting in a sleepy or fatigued feeling.