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Keeping a Healthy Holiday Balance

Simple ways to enjoy the feast without overdoing it

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Ready, set, eat.

On Thanksgiving Day, the average American will consume 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat at the average holiday feast, according to a tally provided by the American Council on Exercise.

That's the caloric equivalent of 5.5 Big Macs from McDonald's, or 15 Supreme Tacos from Taco Bell, according to ACE.

But even if just these facts make you feel stuffed, you still don't have to go cold turkey on the turkey and trimmings to eat healthily.

There are ways to minimize calories and still keep the flavor and fun, said Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian in Burbank, Calif., and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Step one is awareness on how a traditional Thanksgiving dinner can add up to more than 3,000 calories, she said. She breaks it down the following way:

  • Egg nog -- 684 calories and 36 grams of fat for two cups
  • Dark turkey meat --187 calories and 7.2 grams of fat per 3.5-oz serving
  • Candied sweet potatoes -- 286 calories and 7.8 grams of fat per cup
  • Green bean casserole -- 366 calories and 26 grams of fat per cup
  • Cranberry sauce -- 86 calories, 0 grams fat, per slice
  • Mashed potatoes -- with whole milk and butter -- 222 calories and 9 grams of fat per one-cup serving
  • Gravy -- 30 calories and 2 grams of fat per 1/4 cup
  • Dinner rolls -- 340 calories and 8 grams of fat without butter (add 202 calories and 24 grams of fat per 2 tablespoons butter)
  • Corn bread stuffing -- 180 calories and 9 grams of fat per cup
  • Pumpkin pie -- 316 calories and 14 grams of fat per slice
  • Pecan pie -- 502 calories and 27 grams of fat per slice
  • Wine -- 100 calories, 0 grams fat per 5-ounce glass

Grand tally: 3,501 and 170 grams of fat, a bit above the ACE calorie estimate and a bit below its fat gram prediction.

"The average Thanksgiving meal would be between 2,500 and 4,000 calories," Frechman said. Clearly, that's much more than the average person needs, but with a little restraint and keeping it to a one-day splurge, not that much damage will be done, she added.

"If you know you are going to overeat, balance it with physical activity," Frechman said. "Try to incorporate other things besides eating, such as going for a walk before or after dinner."

Another winning strategy: take a smaller portion of everything so you won't feel deprived, she said.

And keep the day's most important goal in mind.

"The purpose of this is to get together with family and friends, so focus more on the socializing than the food," Frechman said.

More information

To learn more about healthy eating, visit the American Dietetic Association.

Gobbling Wisely on Turkey Day:

Staying healthy and on track on Thanksgiving isn't impossible. Just exercise some restraint, learn a few cooking tricks and build activity into your holiday rituals, suggested Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

  • On the day of the feast, always eat breakfast, she said. Otherwise, you'll be famished by the time the dinner hour arrives. Faced with the feast, pace yourself. "Start with something light, like vegetables," she said. They'll tend to fill you up and reduce the risk of overeating."
  • If you're the cook, or you contribute to a potluck, you can control the calories and fat, Moore said. Take stuffing, for example. "One of the best ways to reduce the calories is to add things such as cranberries and celery," Moore said. You've upped the nutritional value and fiber and reduced the calories without compromising the taste. Instead of using gobs of butter for veggie dishes, substitute spices.
  • Make activity part of your holiday ritual. "Organize a game of touch football before dessert," Moore suggested. "Plan it ahead of time and get everyone excited about it."

SOURCES: Marisa Moore, R.D., registered dietitian, and American Dietetic Association spokesperson, Atlanta; Ruth Frechman, R.D., registered dietitian, and American Dietetic Association spokesperson, Burbank, Calif.; November 2008 news release, American Council on Exercise, San Diego

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