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Make This Thanksgiving A Healthy One

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Written by Andrea Ho, a registered dietitian with the Schulich Heart Program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The start of October, crisp cool mornings, and changing fall colours mean one thing: Thanksgiving is around the corner! This fall holiday is typically marked with a delicious (and often decadent) turkey meal. Whether you're planning to host or attend a holiday get-together, consider these tips for enjoying a heart-healthy Thanksgiving:

#1 Skip turkeys that are pre-basted with butter.
There's plenty of fat in the turkey skin to keep it moist and juicy while it's roasting, so there's no need for the added saturated fat that comes with pre-basted turkeys. Instead, choose a fresh or frozen turkey (not pre-basted), and trim off extra fat and skin before roasting. Brush the top of the turkey with 1-2 tablespoons of oil before roasting and cover with aluminum foil halfway through the roasting period to keep it from drying out.

#2 If you are using the turkey drippings to make gravy, skim off all the oil first.
Use low-sodium chicken broth and omit the giblets for a heart healthier gravy.

#3 Cook the stuffing on the side instead of in the turkey.
Make a version of your favorite stuffing on the stovetop or baked in the oven to cut down on calories, fat and cooking time for the turkey.

#4 Give your favorite side dishes a healthy boost with lower fat, higher fibre ingredients.
  • Salad: serve up a salad packed with dark leafy greens (e.g. kale, spinach), colourful vegetables (e.g. bell peppers, tomatoes), and a vinaigrette dressing on the side.
  • Roasted vegetables: roast a large pan of colourful mixed vegetables like beets, carrots, turnips, squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
  • Stuffing: use hearty whole grain bread or make a brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa stuffing instead.
  • Mashed Potatoes: keep the skin on the potatoes and use 1% milk, light sour cream or low-fat Greek yogurt, and partly skimmed cheese.
  • Sweet Potatoes: serve these roasted or mashed, and skip the marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole that's loaded with calories, fat, and sugar.

#5 Fill your plate half full with salad and vegetable side dishes first.
Vegetables have a filling effect and can help you enjoy a balanced meal without over-indulging. Fill the remaining half of your plate with equal amounts of protein (e.g. turkey) and starch (e.g. potato, rice).

#6 Enjoy your turkey with small amounts of gravy and cranberry sauce.
This will allow you to savor the natural sweetness of the turkey without too much added salt from the gravy or added sugar from the cranberry sauce. One quarter cup of whole berry or jellied cranberry sauce has 22 to 24 grams of sugar, the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar!

#7 Silence your sweet tooth with fruit.
For a sweet finish to your meal, enjoy some fresh fruit that is full of nutrients, fibre, antioxidants!

Find more heart-healthy tips from Sunnybrook experts at

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