5 RD-Approved Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving A Little Healthier
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which officially kicks off a time of year full of social gatherings and festive celebrations. But it also means extra calories are sneaking in everywhere, along with a side of guilt and shame.
You don't have to deprive yourself to be healthy, though. You can (and should!) allow yourself indulgences; just be mindful that they are comprised of foods that support your wellness goals. As a functional medicine dietitian, I use a food-as-medicine approach, equally valuing the removal of processed, inflammatory, and hormone- and gut-disturbing foods, as well as the addition of whole therapeutic foods with unique nutritional compounds.
So, this Thanksgiving, let's focus on what we can add to the table rather than take away. Here are my top five ways to boost nutrient density and get the most out of your holiday spread:
1. Get in your greens.
Now, greens may not be the first thing that comes to mind on Thanksgiving, but hear me out. Adding leafy greens to your menu will provide volume and fiber to support satiety at a lower caloric density. Plus, many dark, leafy, winter greens provide a powerhouse of minerals and B vitamins to support a mellow mood.
Consuming leafy greens provides a palette of possibilities. They pair well with many other health-supporting foods like a dressing of lemon, garlic, and olive oil, or braised in bone broth and apple cider vinegar. Both raw and cooked greens stimulate bile flow in the liver and gallbladder to aid in digestive function and detoxification, welcome support at a classic time of overindulgence.
2. Choose quality fats.
Fats provide the building blocks for our hormones as well as our cell membranes, supporting healthy cellular communication and protection. When selecting fats for cooking, it is important to choose those that are the least processed and have an appropriate smoke point.
Fats are supportive of appetite regulation as well. Consuming dietary fat provides signals to the brain, through the hormone leptin, that you are full. This allows the body to prioritize metabolism over intake.
When it comes to incorporating healthy fats at thanksgiving, think about how you baste your turkey. I suggest coating the carcass with fresh herbs, salt, and pepper, blended with grass-fed butter and ghee. Or if you are dairy-free, you could opt for an olive oil and avocado oil mixture. Use pan drippings as the basting liquid throughout the roasting process. If the turkey doesn't have a lot of fat, which can happen with lean pastured birds, consider adding bone broth to the bottom of the pan to get some liquid and deglaze the browning fat for more flavor.
3. Try baking with nut flours.
Nut flours are made by blanching a nut and removing the skin, then grinding and sifting it into a fine flour. There is no bleaching, extraction of nutrients, and synthetic enrichment as seen with grain-based counterparts.
Traditional grain-based flour loses a lot of its nutrients during processing. When it is milled and bleached, it is stripped of the nutrient-dense germ and bran. To remedy this nutrient loss, the flour is then enriched with B vitamins and minerals. However, this can cause issues, as the synthetic nutrients the flour are supplemented with may respond differently in the body than their natural form. For example, folic acid, the synthetic version of folate, is not well tolerated by individuals that have a MTHFR mutation (Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase).
Additionally, nut flours are lower in total carbohydrates while providing more fiber and protein. They also have a slightly sweet flavor, so you might not need to add as much sweetener to recipes. Just be aware that nut flours provide more density, and recipes may need to be revised.
4. Sip on bone broth.
Do not ditch that carcass! You have the ability to make liquid gold, aka bone broth, post turkey carving. I like to place the carcass in my largest stock pot with 3 onions, halved; 3 to 4 sprigs of rosemary; 1 to 2 Tbsp. salt, 2 Tbsp. peppercorns, 1 Tbsp. ground turmeric; and 2 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar; and let it simmer overnight for 18 to 24 hours.
Keep some broth in the fridge to turn into leftover soup (I throw in roasted veggies and hunks of turkey per bowl), then freeze the remaining in ice cube trays. You can use the broth cubes as a simple way to deglaze your pan when sautéing a vegetable or protein.
Bone broth provides therapeutic amino acids glutamine, glycine, and cysteine along with a delivery of collagen and gelatin to coat and protect the gut lining. Glutamine serves as a fuel source and building block to your enterocytes, or gut cells, to repair and damage that stress or inflammatory foods may have caused while also serving to reduce food sensitivities and sugar cravings. Glycine supports neuromuscular relaxation, liver function, and mood stability with serotonin influence. Cysteine serves as an antioxidant and can break up mucus and phlegm while supporting respiratory and immune function. Collagen and gelatin serve to aid in connective tissue including hair, skin, nails, joints, and tendons.
5. Incorporate organs.
When working to be a conscious consumer and support a more sustainable approach to our food system, it is important to prioritize local sourcing and birds that are raised in fresh pastures. If choosing to consume meat, poultry, and fish, a holistic snout-to-tail approach is economical and sustainable, not to mention nutritious.
Growing up, my grandma would always take the organs from inside the turkey (neck, gizzard, heart, and liver) and set them aside to sauté and blend into our stuffing or gravy. And it turns out, grandma was on to something. Organs (offal) are really nature's superfood, providing a powerhouse of B vitamins, choline, CoQ10, as well as A and C to boost energy, metabolism, and immune health.
I like to sauté organs in fat and then let them simmer in a cup of bone broth with a cup of water while my turkey roasts. Then as I'm deglazing my turkey roasting pan with white wine to make gravy, I add back the chopped simmered organs and ladles of broth, whisking to remove the pan drippings. I typically pour this into a blender with ⅓ cup of heavy whipping cream and season to taste. It is indulgent and so nourishing. You may also consider throwing the neck into the pan at the end of the roasting process and then adding it to your bone broth along with the carcass.
Alternatively, you can just thaw the organs and make a pate.
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