Nutrition Column – Don’t be the One Who’s Overstuffed this Holiday Season

Thanksgiving is a special time for socializing and celebrating with family and friends. It’s also a time of feasting, often more than we wish we’d done as we struggle later to lose those holiday pounds.

Before we blame Thanksgiving day for our weight issues, it’s not overeating one day a year that is the problem. It’s overeating more often than we undereat throughout the holiday season that puts on those extra pounds.

Matching the amount overeaten one day with a similar amount undereaten the next day is one way to control weight during the holidays. While this sounds great in theory, our appetite control center in the brain is not very responsive to fatty substances in the blood. It’s more interested in having a continuous supply of glucose coming into the brain. As a result, we’re usually as hungry the day after we’ve eaten too much as we are after a day of normal eating.

Eating less in the first place is another method. This may sound less exciting, but it does provide better assurance that you won’t have that stuffed feeling at the end of the day. Moreover, eating less doesn’t mean depriving yourself of the wonderful flavors associated with the Thanksgiving season. For guests it simply means taking smaller helpings, selecting between potatoes and dressing or taking small portions of each, filling the gaps in your plate with green vegetables and/or green salad, stopping at one roll with a small amount of margarine and jam, and asking for a small piece of pie without topping or with a very small amount of topping.

For the host or hostess, decalorizing Thanksgiving dinner can be a rewarding experience in gourmet cooking. For example, instead of serving a rich sausage dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy and candied sweet potatoes, select one starch, a green vegetable and one other less starchy vegetable or salad. The starch might be wild rice, herb-baked potatoes or a sherry bread dressing with chopped celery, onions and green peppers.  

Ideas for the green vegetable include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, French-style green beans, kale or Chinese mixed vegetables. Base the salad on mixed greens or on other green, yellow or orange vegetables like peas, carrots and yellow squash. Calorie-wise, the particular green or yellow vegetable chosen makes very little difference – the difference is in the sauce, dressing and seasonings used. For example, each tablespoon of butter or mayonnaise contributes 100 calories. In contrast, each tablespoon of sour cream, medium white sauce or cheese sauce contributes 30 calories, and each tablespoon of plain yogurt adds only 10 calories. Yogurt or sour cream mixed with herbs such as basil, minced onions and/or garlic salt can make a delicious gourmet dressing for any green vegetable or salad.

Another very caloric portion of Thanksgiving dinner is dessert. A piece of pecan pie (one-sixth of the pie) provides around 600 calories – as many calories as some people eat in a whole meal. Pumpkin pie provides about half that amount, although a dollop of whipped cream may add an additional 50 calories. In contrast, one-half cup of pumpkin pie ice cream or a pudding dessert may provide only 150 calories yet serve the same purpose.

Thanksgiving dinner need not be synonymous with painful feelings of overconsumption. With a little imagination and self-control, it can be a thankful occasion for our health as well as our taste buds. Enjoy!

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension