Paleo Nutrition: Making Thanksgiving Healthy

The following post is c/o Coach Gil of Simplistic Nutrition of Seattle. He is an AMA student in Muay Thai & BJJ and is available for 1-on-1 nutrition consults for AMA students/families.

Thanksgiving is a great excuse to sit down and eat for hours. I mean, how often do you get to do that? While being a great holiday, it is still not really an excuse to pig out on certain foods that will leave a negative impact on your body for days after and hurt your overall health goals and athletic performance.

The good news is, many traditional thanksgiving foods are not only great tasting but also very nutritious. Others however, are not. While most Thanksgiving nutrition advice is along the lines of eating low fat foods and only taking one small serving of each food to keep your calories low. This article is about how to choose the right foods so you don’t have to do all that. Most importantly, you won’t feel guilty afterwards.

The Bad Stuff

Stuffing: Stuffing is basically just a pile of bread, which means it is a pile of refined, high blood sugar spiking, gut irritating starchy carbohydrates. Even whole wheat stuffing is not by any means a healthful food to be eating. Here’s where you start making sacrifices for good health, by leaving the stuffing off the menu.

White Potatoes: While mashed potatoes are a very traditional food, much like the stuffing they are a pile of starchy carbohydrates that are recognized by the body the same way that sugar is. If you are someone who tries to avoid sugar but still eats potatoes, you are essentially wasting your time.

Cranberry Sauce (sweetened): The amount of sugar in this dish is extremely high. If you are going to be sweetening a cranberry sauce, consider looking at natural sweeteners such as raw honey and maple syrup rather than refined sugar. While natural sweeteners won’t make it much less harsh on the body, it at least will provide some nutrients to come with that sugar high. Also, don’t even get near any artificial sweeteners which might be the only thing you can do worse.

Gravy: Your normal turkey gravy contents are mostly fine, however the flour that is added to thicken it is not good. Instead consider either making extra gravy and then reducing it over heat to thicken it or experimenting with plant based thickeners such as arrowroot. At the very least, use rice or corn starch rather than flour which will keep your gravy gluten free.

Desserts & Pie: Going with the same rules as above, try to sweeten your pies with natural sugars and bake them yourselves to avoid artificial ingredients that many pies have. Look into gluten-free base alternative such as almond or coconut flour. At the very least, look for marketed gluten free flours which are typically made from rice or garbanzo beans. These are not ideal but still much better than wheat.

Now here’s what my ideal thanksgiving menu would look like.

Turkey (free ranged or pasture raised. No antibiotics. It is purchased from PCC, Whole Foods, a local farm, or any other conventional supermarket that happens to sell free ranged birds. No need to toss the skin when ordering a high quality bird. Enjoy it.

Yams: Yams or sweet potatoes are a great healthful addition to a thanksgiving table. Fill up on these rather than white potatoes or stuffing.

Gravy: Thickened using above methods.

Vegetables: Green Beans, Squash, Beats, Brussels Sprouts, etc

As you can see there is still plenty of stuff to keep your feast going. Incorporating these nutritional rules into your daily lives will help you not just on the night of the big feast but as you choose your foods each time you eat. Happy thanksgiving and stay warm!