Five Easy Ways to Lighten Up Thanksgiving

Health Writer

Let's outsmart the holiday feeding frenzy this year with five tips that will help counterbalance the calorie load that Thanksgiving brings.

Emphasize lean and plant-based proteins

Recent nutrition recommendations suggest that consuming more protein and fewer grain-based carbohydrates, may help to drive your metabolism, and stabilize blood sugar levels. Protein also happens to be satisfying and provides satiation. If you think about most of the grain dishes you cook for Thanksgiving, they tend to be filled with sodium, fats, and sugar. So it's best to limit portion sizes and how frequently you consume these treats.

Turn instead to measured servings of unprocessed nuts, bean or hummus dip with vegetables, a cup of lentil soup, hard-boiled eggs, roasted edamame. These as well as Greek yogurt, or fruit with some nut butter can satisfy cravings and help you to limit calories without feeling deprived. You can also choose lean proteins like white meat skinless turkey or chicken, and opt for a swap-out like fish for some of your holiday entrees.

All grain dishes follow the rule "single serve, portion control," and add vegetables

I just mentioned how the grain dishes can be our downfall and add to our waistlines, just because of their calorie load and ingredients - think stuffing, mac n cheese, marshmallow topped sweet potatoes, pumpkin bread. You can enjoy these celebratory grain dishes, but there has to be some level of control and mindfulness, even during holiday entertaining. Adding vegetables to these grain recipes (purees are one way), and using whole grains certainly makes them healthier. But you still need to measure portions.   Use smaller utensils to serve grains and smaller dinner dishes. Add roasted root vegetables, and vegetable soup or chili to your holiday menus, or use ancient grains and high-protein grains like quinoa. Create an invisible outline on your dinner plate and fill one forth with protein, one forth with grain (not heaping) one forth with vegetables or salad and one forth with fruit, or double up on the vegetables.

Swap out high fat, creamy ingredients

There's nothing wrong with a decadent treat periodically, but during the holidays most recipes tend to include loads of creamy ingredients. So find ways to swap out the high saturated fat creams, butter, and sauces with pureed fruit, pureed vegetables (sweet potatoes work well in desserts), low sodium broth, yogurt, part-skim ricotta cheese, evaporated skim milk, and soy or nut milks. In some cases, if you can't swap out the ingredient, you can use smaller amounts. Many holiday recipes can work with these conversions without sacrificing taste, and your waistline will thank you for it. Remember that some treats come in the form of a creamy drink or alcoholic beverage.

With dessert, use the, "it's a treat" principle

We all throw around the word moderation, and when I query people as to its definition, I get a vast range of answers. An easier concept is "treat." A treat is a food item that is decadent. According to the rules of nutrition, treats should be enjoyed and savored selectively. If it's especially decadent, then a small amount should go a long way.

If you want more than one treat at a meal, then you have to limit the amount to a spoonful or two. A dinner that includes red meat with a baked potato topped with cream and string bean casserole, is a plate with three treats. Treats are not meant to be enjoyed several times a day or several days in a row. These are no longer treats and become daily food staples. So pick and choose should be the mantra, along with portion control. You should also eat a treat VERY slowly to trulyy appreciate the sublime pleasure. Don't forget that some treats come in the form of decadent drinks.

Most of us inhale our treats and eat far too many, in far too large portions, especially at holiday time. Alcohol can also blunt control, luring us to overeat more easily. Redefine your relationship with treat foods by following some of these suggestions.

For every holiday meal you eat, work out a minimum of 30 minutes vigorously

That means if you have a holiday office lunch party and then a dinner event, you need to clock in 60 minutes of vigorous exercise. We get overwhelmed with the demands and commitments required during the holiday season. If you're eating more and allowing yourself to indulge, you need daily exercise to burn off the excess calories. If you're in a time crunch, use interval training, or a method like HIIT. Try and move throughout the day. Climb stairs at the mall. Walk a further distance to your parked car, and walk errands when possible. Exercise when you wake up because leaving it for later in the day typically means you'll skip it.