Heart Healthy Thanksgiving Dishes
Very few holidays involve as much gluttonous, excessive eating as Thanksgiving. While traditional Thanksgiving meals are filled with a wide range of rich, flavorful, delicious dishes, many of these options aren’t good for your heart health. While preparing a heart healthy Thanksgiving meal is ideal for all people, it’s especially important if someone in attendance has heart disease.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to have a heart healthy Thanksgiving meal. With several strategic ingredient substitutions, you can make many of your favorite dishes healthier without diminishing your enjoyment of the meal.
Tips for a Heart Healthy Turkey
Buying a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey will make it a heart healthier dish since the breast meat is lower in calories than the dark meat found in other regions of the bird. This option is great for small gatherings. For larger gatherings, you can still make this substitution; however, you may need to buy two turkey breasts depending on the number of people in attendance.
If you prefer a whole turkey, the following tips will help you prepare it in a more heart healthy manner:
- Choose a fresh turkey. These are much healthier than “self-basting” turkeys which are injected with a salt and flavor solution that will typically contain added fat
- Avoid cooking your turkey in the deep fryer. Roasting it in the oven or smoking it will be much healthier without sacrificing flavor.
- Stuff the turkey cavity with halved onions, lemons and apples, as well as sprigs of fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
- Use an oil spray on the skin instead of rubbing it with butter.
Use a Healthy Gravy
Gravy is one of the highest calorie items on the Thanksgiving dinner table and it can often contain a variety of ingredients that are bad for your heart health. You can make this flavor enhancer healthier by using small amounts of Olive oil or vegetable oil instead of turkey drippings. While both options are fat, olive oil and vegetable oil are lower in saturated fat than turkey drippings, and are is cholesterol free.
You can also make your gravy with low-fat broth or use a vegetarian gravy for a healthier option. In addition, using a fat separator when you prepare your gravy will make it easy to skim a lot of fat off the top prior to serving.
Make Your Traditional Sides Heart Healthy
You can still enjoy many of your favorite Thanksgiving sides. Just prepare them in a more heart healthy manner. The following tips can help you slim down traditional side dishes.
The following tips will help you prepare heart healthier mashed potatoes that are still delicious:
- Add some of the starchy water used to boil the potatoes instead of using lots of butter and cream. The starchy water will provide a creamy texture with less fat and fewer calories.
- For more robust flavor, add low sodium turkey or chicken broth, fat free sour cream or evaporated skim milk.
- Roasted garlic and herbs provide excellent flavor without adding excess fat and calories to your potatoes.
- Mix in pureed cooked cauliflower, parsnips or turnips to make the dish more nutritious.
It’s hard to make a healthy stuffing, but there are ways to make it slightly healthier:
- Make your stuffing with whole grain bread or brown rice instead of bread cubes. Brown rice is a whole grain that is healthier than white bread.
- Skip the sausage or bacon. These foods may make your stuffing taste great, but they’re some of the least heart healthy ingredients you can use.
- Add herbs and dried fruits or vegetables as an alternative to sausage as a flavor enhancer. Mushrooms and apples both complement the other flavors in stuffing very well.
Many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing and sweet potato casserole, are carbohydrate heavy. Loading up on these items makes it more challenging to create a heart healthy Thanksgiving menu. While it’s fine to include these dishes, you should also give vegetables a more prominent role in your meal. The following vegetable sides make a great addition to your Thanksgiving feast:
- Sweet potatoes (bake them instead of making them in a casserole with unhealthy enhancements such as marshmallows)
- Green beans
- Winter squash
Use herbs, spices, vinegar or citrus juices to bring out the natural flavor of your vegetable sides. These will help your vegetable dishes delight your guests without the need to enhance them with unhealthy ingredients such as salt, butter and cream-based sauces.
Casserole dishes are a common Thanksgiving side. You can make these dishes more heart healthy by using, low-fat milk instead of heavy cream, and by limiting the amount of cheese used in your casseroles. Also, use low sodium items in your dish.
Store-bought cranberry sauce is often loaded with added sugars. Avoid these and instead make your own cranberry sauce using fresh berries. You can cut down on the sugar content in your home-made cranberry sauce by using fruit juices or apple sauce.
Healthy Dessert Options
A huge Thanksgiving feast won’t be complete without dessert. Fortunately, there are ways to enjoy dessert and still have a heart healthy meal. If you’re going to bake a dessert, the following substitutions will make your dish healthier:
- Use low-fat or skim milk instead of cream
- Use applesauce instead of butter or oil
- Mix whole wheat and white flour instead of just using white flour
- Use a lower calorie sugar substitute instead of sugar
- Watch the sodium
When making pies, keep in mind that most of the fat comes from the crust. You can make your pies more heart healthy by using a reduced fat graham cracker crust or by making a crust-free pie.
You can also serve heart healthy dessert options such as in-season fruits.
Additional Tips for a Heart Healthy Thanksgiving Meal
The following best practices will make it easier to enjoy a heart healthy meal this Thanksgiving:
- Cook and bake from scratch whenever possible. This gives you greater control over the ingredients used and allows you to make substitutions that will lower the amount of fat, sugar and sodium in your dishes.
- Check nutrition labels on packaged foods and choose the option with the lowest levels of fat, sugar and sodium.
- Limit your alcohol consumption to one to two drinks on Thanksgiving.
- Limit your portion sizes. It’s easy to overload your plate with all of the different dishes on the menu. Take very small portions of everything since you’ll most likely find out that these smaller portions still add up to a lot of food.
- Resist the urge to get seconds.
- If possible, try to get in a cardio intensive workout before your Thanksgiving meal. You should also plan on taking a walk after dinner to get your blood flowing and stimulate the digestive process.
South Denver Cardiology Associates Can Help You Make Heart Healthy Holiday Choices
If you’re concerned with your ability to maintain a heart healthy lifestyle over the holidays, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to stay healthy over the holidays due to all of the big meals and parties they attend. If you’re looking for help making heart healthy holiday choices this year, South Denver Cardiology Associates has you covered.
Our nutritional counseling services will help you plan heart heathy holiday meals for you and your family. You can also visit our medical fitness gym to work with one of our certified exercise specialists who will help you develop a customized fitness routine for optimal heart health. If you typically experience increased stress over the holidays, our Mind/Body Studio offers a variety of services to help lower your stress, including:
- Yoga of the heart
- Tai chi
- Relaxation classes
- Stress management
Contact us today to schedule an appointment. South Denver Cardiology Associates serves patients in Denver, Littleton and the surrounding areas of Colorado.
As with any health concerns, your specific treatment program should be discussed thoroughly with your primary care physician as well as any specialists who may need to be consulted – like a cardiologist.Sign Up