Thanksgiving Dinner Is Healthy, Actually

Contributor: Beth Skwarecki

Across the U.S., people will gather (or, ideally, not) for a dinner of lean meat, plentiful vegetables, and moderate amounts of sweets. In a testament to our ability to manufacture guilt out of nothing, we then wonder if this dinner — this whole holiday — is “healthy.”

The answer: of course it is. First, you can be healthy even if you were to roll up to Thanksgiving dinner and eat nothing but whole pies. Indulgences happen, life goes on, and one meal just doesn’t have that much of an effect on your body. No matter what you eat, any guilt about it is not only outsized but unnecessary.

But the most perplexing thing about wondering if Thanksgiving dinner is “healthy” is that the traditional fare is a textbook example of a healthy meal.

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Turkey is lean protein

I like to think of protein as the core of any meal, because our bodies need it for maintenance and repair, and it can’t be replaced by any other nutrient. You can eat low carb and high fat, or low fat and high carb, but there has to be a good helping of protein in there somewhere.

Turkey and Tofurky are both excellent examples of a lean protein: plenty of those essential amino acids without much else. Turkey breast is as lean as it gets: a deck-of-cards sized portion has a whopping 30 grams of protein in just 161 calories, with just a small trace of fat and no carbs.

Even if you go for dark meat and leave the skin on, that’s 27 grams of protein in 232 calories. That’s an excellent nutrient profile, in my opinion, and leaves plenty of room for carbs and other deliciousness.

Vegetarian options vary, but this Tofurky roast has 34 grams of protein in a 290 calorie serving. (Most of the rest is carbs, rather than fat.) Another good option that you really can’t call unhealthy.

There are so many dang veggies

Look around — do you have Brussels sprouts? Green beans? Peas? Corn? Sweet potatoes? Side dishes vary from tradition to tradition, but surely there are some vegetables on your table, right? Even before the meal is served, chances are there’s a plate of veggies and dip somewhere. Or if there isn’t, there easily could be.

If everything is drowned in marshmallows or cream sauce, that is arguably not ideal, but green beans in a casserole are still green beans, and they still have just as much fibre and vitamins as they would anywhere else. Remember, healthy eating isn’t just about what you don’t eat. It can also be about getting good nutrients.

Still, if you can’t find an unadorned veggie, be the person who brings salad or the simply-prepared vegetable dish of your choice. This is an easy win.

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You can control portions however you want

This one is totally up to you. Eat more of the healthy stuff and as little as you like of the things that don’t fit the way you want to eat today.

How often can you eat half a slice of pie and not worry about how you will dispose of the leftovers? Normally your treats might come in predetermined serving sizes, but there’s a knife right next to the Thanksgiving pie, and you can have as much or as little as you want and the rest will simply disappear.

On the flip side, do you want more? Does dessert make you happy? Have the dang dessert. It’s mentally healthy to relax sometimes, after all. You aren’t ruining your body or your diet, you’re just eating, and even if it’s a big meal you’ll still be fine in the big picture.

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