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The Unhealthiest Thanksgiving Staples: How to Avoid a Caloric Catastrophe

The Thanksgiving Day meal can be a calorie catastrophe. Wouldn't you like to enjoy the holiday without slipping into a food coma (and waking up with food regret)?

On average, Americans will consume about 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat on Thanksgiving Day. That’s the same amount of fat in three entire sticks of butter! While this holiday is dedicated to feasting on rich, high-calorie fare, there are some healthy dishes you can choose and some not-so-healthy options to avoid or simply enjoy in small quantities.

Chuck It: Pecan or Apple Pie. One slice of apple pie sets you back 411 calories, and one slice of pecan pie (4.7 ounces) packs a portly 503 calories. Sheesh!

Chew It: Pumpkin Pie. Pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gets turned into vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A is important for maintaining healthy skin, vision, nails, and muscle fibers. Also, one slice of an 8-inch pie (4.7 ounces) will provide about 279 calories, much less than apple or pecan pie.

Chuck It: Deep-Fried Turkey. A serving of dark meat with skin (2-3 slices, about 8 ounces) clocks in at about 424 calories with 17.8 grams of fat.

Chew It: Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast (White Meat). Roasted turkey has enormous flavor on its own, especially if it is well-seasoned with delicious herbs and spices. Forego the fryer (and the skip the skin) and slash several hundred calories off the serving.

Chuck It: Mixed Nuts. If you nosh on roasted nuts as an appetizer before the main event, a 1/2-cup portion will shell out about 410 calories. Although nuts are certainly a healthy food, people often overdo it on portion size (nuts are a concentrated source of calories) and mindlessly munch until they’ve actually consumed 2-3 servings.

Chew It: Crudités & Salsa. This is an easy appetizer to bring to the party. Cut-up veggies (think carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, bell pepper strips) are colorful and easy to prepare, and you can really fill up on them without filling out because they’re so low in calories. Avoid the high-calorie dips (ranch, I’m looking at you) and dunk your veggies in spicy salsa. Salsa is low-calorie and research has found that eating spicy foods can help you take in fewer calories overall and may have a slight calorie-burning effect. Eight ounces of crudités has only 75 calories and two tablespoons of salsa houses a mere 15 calories.

Chuck It: Stuffing. A 1/2-cup (4 ounces) serving of stuffing stuffs you with a staggering 439 calories. If you’re like most people, you end up serving yourself a heftier portion than just 1/2 a cup, so imagine doubling that calorie-count if you double the portion size.

Chuck It: Macaroni & Cheese. This creamy side dish is a calorie catastrophe at more than 310 calories per serving.

Chew It: Green Bean Casserole. Because the main component of this dish--the green beans--is really low in calories to start with, a 3/4 cup serving of this Thanksgiving Day staple provides only 161 calories and 9 grams of fat, all while housing a good amount of filling fiber.

ChuckIt: Sweet Potato Casserole (with marshmallows). Shut the front door, this has 587 calories per 1 cup! This dish starts off with a healthy ingredient (sweet potatoes), but the calories add up quickly because of the copious amounts of butter and sugar that get added.

Chew It: Roasted Sweet Potatoes. Since sweet taters are chock-full of beneficial nutrients, including beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium, enjoy these while they’re in season. Rather than drown them in butter and sugar, bring out their natural sweetness by roasting them. Toss diced sweet potatoes with a small amount of heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil and your favorite spices and roast them for about 20-30 minutes at 420 degrees. They taste wonderful seasoned with chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, or cayenne, and a little salt and pepper. You’ll save several hundred calories by avoiding the extra fat and sugar, and you’ll get to truly savor the natural earthy flavor of the sweet potatoes.

Chuck It: Mashed Potatoes. Potatoes themselves aren’t necessarily the high-calorie culprit here, but rather the gobs of butter, cream, and whole milk that get added. Smother them in gravy and the calories will really be spilling over.

Chuck It: Gravy. Good gravy, a 1/4 cup serving of homemade gravy (made from the turkey drippings) tacks on an additional 262 calories.

Chew It: Fresh Herbs and Spices. Nothing makes flavor pop for a fraction of the calories quite like fresh herbs and scrumptious spices. Parsley, rosemary, thyme, and sage are a delicious combo. And remember — garlic is your friend.

Chuck It: Dinner Roll with Butter. This starchy holiday staple slathers more than 310 calories onto your day’s total. Skip this altogether considering it isn’t a particularly memorable or flavorful food.

Chuck It: Alcohol. On average, a glass of wine or serving of beer pours on an extra 150 calories. While that may not seem like very much, consider that your body doesn’t feel as full from liquids as it does from solid foods, and you likely don’t stop at just one alcoholic drink, so that calorie count can skyrocket as the day goes on. Alcohol can also cause your blood sugar to drop, making you eat more. Stick to one alcoholic drink and sip water, tea, or coffee the rest of the day.

[Image via Getty]

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