Thanksgiving not only marks the official start of the holiday season, but it also kicks off the six-week period where every media outlet starts hounding us about weight gain. In fact, the holiday weight gain may even get more press than the “freshman 15,” … and just like the “freshman 15,” you’re not required to gain that weight—so lay off the dread, will ya? Instead, start the holiday season off with the right mindset and indulge in some healthy Thanksgiving foods.
“While enjoying your Thanksgiving meal, be sure to do just that—enjoy it!,” say Jane Schwartz RD and Stephanie Goodman, CNC, the founders of The Nourishing Gurus. “Take time to savor the food and enjoy the company around you, although we do recommend watching the portion sizes.” They recommend starting small and then going back for seconds, but they assure us that even if your self-control doesn’t quitemake it to the dinner table with you, there’s no need to fear weight gain. “Eating too much in one day won’t cause you to gain weight, although it may cause some discomfort. It’s what you do the next day that really matters,” they agree. Read: Forget the guilt trip and get back on track with your normal diet come Black Friday. That being said, if you are one to drink too much out of the “what-have-I-done” punch more often than not, ease your guilt with this bit of knowledge. Plenty of Thanksgiving’s staples are both hearty and healthy.
“Most people know that turkey is packed with protein, but few realize that turkey also contains several important B vitamins and trace minerals, including selenium,” the Gurus say. The mineral helps to detox the body as well as support the thyroid, and has even been known to prevent cancer.
Surprisingly, many of the herbs used in giving the turkey its delicious flavor are actually packed with nutritional benefits. Oregano has antibacterial properties and antioxidants. Rosemary, which can be helpful with concentration, has both B vitamins and vitamin C. Thyme, an herb that aids digestion, has B vitamins, iron, and vitamin C.
Thanks to their richness in vitamin A, sweet potatoes are vital for bone health, vision, and boosting the immune system. That said, be sure to cook them correctly, and forgo the marshmallows while you’re at it. Use a pinch of organic butter or ghee and some cinnamon to enhance the flavor of the sweet potatoes instead.
This antioxidant-rich fruit may help protect against urinary tract infections and even cancer. Schwartz and Goodman recommend keeping the sugar levels down by just using fruit, like apples, pears, oranges, and pineapple, to sweeten the tart cranberries rather than adding sugar. You can also consider adding a few figs or dates to the mix for color and added natural sweetness and fiber.
If Brussels sprouts aren’t already a family staple, they should be: Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, which are important phytonutrients for our health because they’re the chemical starting points for a variety of cancer-protective substances. Goodman and Schwartz recommend dressing up the veggie with crunchy almonds and chopped cranberries.
It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a green bean casserole. Regardless of how they’re prepared, the vegetable is packed with vitamin A, C, and folate. Add in some immune boosting fresh mushrooms for even more nutrition.
Good news: You don’t have to skip dessert. The season’s favorites, pumpkin and apple pies, actually have benefits of their own. “Both pumpkins, which are loaded with vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and folate, and apples, which are also loaded with vitamin A and potassium, are high in fiber to complete your healthy Thanksgiving,” the Gurus say. Cut back on sugar intake by baking with lower glycemic sweeteners like stevia or coconut sugar.
Read more: 6 Healthy Fats That Can Help You Lose Weight