Although Thanksgiving is always a time to be thankful, this year it's also a time to get those candles glowing. This will be the only occasion in our lifetimes when the first day of Hanukkah, the festival of lights, coincides with Thanksgiving - creating the widely promoted "Thanksgivukkah," though I prefer "Hanukkahiving."
Thanksgiving is not only one of the busiest travel days of the year, but it's a day associated with the busiest digestive systems of the year. According to the American Council on Exercise, the average American consumes 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat at Thanksgiving dinner, and some clock in even higher.
So this year, instead of just focusing on the calories we're consuming, let's take a closer look at what our traditional treats will be "giving" us:
-- Split Pea Soup. Soup is a great starting course because it fills you up for minimal calories. Split pea soup is one of my favorites because peas, which are in the same family as lentils and beans, pack protein and fiber - with little fat and lots of heart healthy benefits. As a bonus, these superstars regulate your digestive tract, helping you feel deliciously satiated.
[Read: The Power of Pea Protein.]
-- Turkey. Most of us know that turkey contributes a hefty protein load (4 ounces contains 32 grams of protein), and it's rich in selenium, an essential mineral that helps boost your immune system. Turkey also contains important omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins and other minerals, such as zinc, magnesium, copper and phosphorus.
-- Potatoes. Latkes may make a guest appearance on your Thanksgivukkah table this year, but even if you're only celebrating Thanksgiving, potatoes are a holiday staple - which is great news for your health. White veggies (like potatoes and parsnips) are loaded with fiber, potassium and magnesium. Orange sweet potatoes and yams are loaded with beta-carotene and vitamin B6. Purple potatoes, packed with even more color, are rich in anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant that fights inflammation. Don't shy away from this starchy vegetable this year - it's loaded with nutritious benefits.
-- Fresh cranberry sauce. If you opt for fresh over canned cranberry sauce, you'll be consuming a substantial dose of anthocyanins. You'll gobble plenty of vitamins C, E and K, along with a good dose of fiber. When I make cranberry sauce I add chopped apples and white raisins while cooking, which helps reduce the tart flavor of the berries and curbs the need for lots of sugar.
-- Brussels sprouts and cruciferous veggies are packed with fiber, sulfur and vitamins K, C and A. Research suggests that these are linked to a lower cancer risk, increased digestive support and cardiovascular health. Additionally, cruciferous vegetables contain B vitamins that inhibit memory decline, as well as calcium that prevents osteoporosis.
-- Apples in cider, stuffing or applesauce. Apples are a perfect fall pick because for just 95 calories a pop, you'll get good doses of fiber and flavonoids, which help regulate blood sugar. Plus, research suggests that apples help protect against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, while also lowering your risk of developing diabetes.
[Read: 3 Healthy Apple Dishes for Fall.]
-- Pumpkin. Pumpkin pie has become a family favorite this time of year, and it's so easy to make. You can use 2 percent fat condensed milk, and if you use canned pumpkin, be sure to check food labels and choose the unsweetened type. One cup of pureed pumpkin contains just 80 calories, 1 gram of fat, 10 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein - and you'll reap brain, heart and eye support from this wildly popular fall veggie. My pumpkin muffins are sure-shot crowd-pleasers, and they're perfect when frozen and thawed for later use.
In any event, try to choose foods that will leave you with fond memories on Black Friday, rather than indigestion. Make sure every bite (or calorie) is worth it, and don't forget to sneak in some activity during the day to keep health in check and stress at bay.
[Read: Unusual Uses for Pumpkins.]
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.