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Five Ways to Cut the Fat this Thanksgiving

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Turducken and Gooducken -- turkey or goose, respectively, stuffed with a duck which is, in turn, stuffed with a chicken -- may sound like excess, but a chef in Devon, U.K. boasts having made a multi-bird roast using up to 12 types of fowl! This monstrous feast served 125, took eight hours to cook and, had 50 thousand calories all told. That's 400 calories per person, without the gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, casseroles, pumpkin pie, wine...

Studies show that the average person consumes 3,000 to 4,500 calories at a traditional (single bird!) thanksgiving dinner. That's up to double the amount most people should eat in one day! Let's do the math on a few more conservative choices: One glass of wine, one cracker with cheese (who does that?) and half a cup of mixed, raw veggies as an appetizer, three cups of salad with low-fat dressing, six ounces of white and dark turkey, half a cup of stuffing, half a cup of mashed potatoes without gravy or even a pat of butter and one slice of pumpkin pie comes to 1165 calories. According to About.com, you'll be walking 11.65 miles, or 23,300 steps to work that one off!

American Thanksgiving is widely known for its beginnings in 1621 in Plymouth where, having experienced a successful growing season, the Pilgrims gathered to share a 3-day celebration of the harvest with the Native Americans. However, thanksgiving services were documented as early as the beginning of that century. Abraham Lincoln declared it an official "day of thanksgiving and praise" in 1863.

Thanksgiving in Canada originated with Martin Frobisher, who had endured harrowing weather and perilous icebergs crossing the Atlantic from England in his endeavor to forge a Northwest Passage to the Pacific. In 1578 after surviving his third such journey, Frobisher hosted a feast of thanks in what is now known as Nunavut. The tradition grew as settlers from France, Germany, Scotland and Ireland arrived and colonized Canada, bringing with them their native traditions. The foods that constituted the feast were, naturally, taken from the settlers' own harvested crops and included large pots of baked beans, meat pies, fruit pies, squash, turnips, home-made pickles and salads. Turkey doesn't appear to have been part of the festivities in Canada until the later 1800s!

So, at first glance the traditional thanksgiving turkey dinner appears innocent enough -- turkey is one of the leaner sources of protein, lots of healthy vegetables and fruits are available. That is until we pour on the gravy, cream sauces and melted cheese or, God forbid, deep fry that poor innocent bird!

A popular cooking method in the southern United States, Canadian Chef Michael Smith offers his version on the FoodNetwork.ca website with the following caveat: "Make sure the fryer is positioned well away from any children, teenagers, pets or flammable structures." If seeing that at the beginning of a recipe doesn't raise alarm bells, maybe this will: 1 serving (1/16th of a 12 pound bird) of deep-fried turkey contains 603 calories, 33.6 grams of fat and 228 mg of cholesterol. In actual fact, that's not far off an equal portion of roast turkey.

If you really would rather not wake up next Tuesday with a tryptophan hangover and a shock when you step on the scale, here are a few tips for trimming the fat, Skinny Chicks style:

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Five Ways to a Healthy Thanksgiving
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1) Turkey is one of the leanest sources of protein available, so you want to prepare it in a way that doesn't turn it into an oil sponge. The simplest way to avoid extra calories is to leave the skin on the plate. In my book, Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads, you'll find a recipe for Baked Turkey, Sweet Potato and Steamed Broccoli that boasts 32 grams of protein and just 6 grams of fat for only 396 calories.

2) Most modern-day thanksgiving meals begin or end with alcohol, and some connoisseurs will pair a wine with each course. Not only does alcohol impair the liver's ability to metabolize fatty acids, it diminishes will-power! A two-ounce glass of the best wine you can afford sipped slowly shouldn't dampen your holiday spirit or throw a bucket of water on your weight loss.

3) There are plenty of tasty ways to prepare fresh vegetables that are probably closer to the methods the original settlers used, without the rich and caloric additions our culture tends to glorify in the name of gastronomy. Not only are fresh-cut, steamed vegetables crisper and brighter in colour, they retain far more of the nutrients that satisfy your body's health needs.

4) So much of what defines the North American Thanksgiving Dinner is about the "extras" -- the cranberry sauce, warm crescent rolls dripping with butter, nuts, pickles, celery stuffed with cream cheese, chips, cheese and crackers and of course, the gravy. Sadly, these add-ons may enhance the meal both visually and taste-wise, but they really add on the pounds. Returning to the handy-dandy calorie calculator from About.com we used earlier but choosing only the "extras" listed above, the astounding total is 1,405 calories of basically nutrient-free fat-snacks! No holiday is an excuse to eat everything in sight -- think before putting food mindlessly in your mouth and remember, it all adds up!

5) Desserts...ah, the pumpkin pie with whipped cream, the deep dish apple pie with ice cream, the nanaimo bars, the plates of cookies, fudge and brownies...divine decadence, or too much of a good thing? Temptations are everywhere and all I can do is encourage you to check out the recipes in both of my books Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salad and Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food. They include delightful concoctions such as Raspberry Chambord Trifle, Hi-Protein Pumpkin Ginger Pancakes, White Peach and Bing Cherry Cobbler and even low-fat, low-sugar versions of pumpkin bread, cheesecake and banana bread.

Remember, thanksgiving may be only once a year, but so is Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, your birthday, your anniversary...there are a million and one reasons to celebrate with food, but one very good reason to think like a Skinny Chick...your health!