Thanksgiving features the savory meal that kicks off the holiday season, and even for the least celebratory people, it’s hard to pass up. The focus around this holiday tends to be on the food that you’re bringing to a friend or family member’s house, with excitement building around filling your plate and stuffing your stomach. Keeping Thanksgiving healthy isn’t the most exciting idea—but there’s a lot at risk, and more to consider than just what you eat.
Health around this holiday entails a host of factors, including kitchen safety, as well as heart issues, food poisoning, and of course, the number of calories that many of us ingest without thinking twice. For those who are focused on living a healthier lifestyle and think that your efforts have to go out the window during this time of year, don’t be dismayed. Today, we’re going to dive deep into some of the most pressing health issues regarding Thanksgiving and uncover how you can enjoy yourself while staying healthy and safe.
First, The Food
It goes without saying that many of us eat with wild abandon during the holiday season, and while it may be a great time to try your Aunt Martha’s new stuffing recipe, it’s best to also consider just how much you’re eating. Last Thanksgiving, Consumer Reports released a study with some shocking information. Most adults consume anywhere between 1600 and 2800 calories over the course of an entire day, but during Thanksgiving dinner, that number skyrockets to 4500 during just the one meal!
Why is there such a huge shift during this holiday meal? Sure, some may have a penchant for specific Thanksgiving foods and only let themselves indulge this singular day of the year, but in reality, these figures are based upon the extremely caloric foods that often make their way to the dinner table. When you combine the American idea of filling your plate until it’s overflowing with these specific foods, there’s no question why people are eating more than twice their daily intake of calories.
For example, appetizers alone can rack up several hundred calories before you even sit down for your meal. Items like fancy cheeses with crackers, pigs in a blanket, and a host of other savory options may equate to roughly 400 calories. The main meal is, of course, where the real trouble is, with meats and side dishes that are heavy in fats and sugars. Desserts and alcoholic beverages also add to the calorie count, making this holiday feast unhealthy enough to send people to the emergency room.
The top foods that contribute to an unhealthy diet may be some of your favorites, but they also involve ingredients that can be easily substituted for more health-conscious options. Consider the following foods that typically end up on your dinner plate:
- Mashed potatoes – While they’re delicious with tons of butter, sour cream, and even bacon bits, this popular side dish can add an enormous amount of cholesterol to your plate. Try blending them with Greek yogurt and leaving off some of the usual toppings to opt for a healthier Thanksgiving staple.
- Gravy – Typically, this condiment is made using a packaged mix, which imparts huge amounts of sodium into your meal. If you absolutely can’t skip this part of your feast, try making gravy from scratch. Using vegetable broth, cornstarch, and a few seasonings, you’ll end up with something really tasty and less fattening.
- Sugary drinks – Sodas and ciders often come along with Thanksgiving festivities, but these options only add that much more sugar and artificial ingredients to your diet. For those who love their bubbles, opt for a sparkling water. Alcoholic beverages should be consumed in moderation, too.
You don’t have to let the goal of having a healthy Thanksgiving deprive you of your favorite items. Simply swap out a few ingredients for lower calorie options and stay mindful of how much you put on your plate. As we’re about to see, the concerns surrounding Thanksgiving health involve more than just what you eat.
How To Keep Your Holiday Danger-free
Thanksgiving, and most holidays, are obviously tough to avoid. After all, they’re the best times of the year. Beyond just the foods that we eat in excess, though, a range of other health issues can arise that land people in the position of needing medical care. US News & World Report highlighted that ER physicians definitely see an uptick in patient count during the two days that follow Thanksgiving, and unfortunately, the nature of traveling out of town can make it difficult to find appropriate treatments. Many don’t travel with a list of their current medications, or even know the name of them, thus creating more difficulty when seeking emergency care.
One of the more common reasons for going to the hospital tends to be the onset of food poisoning symptoms, and while these could theoretically hit at any time, the ways in which Thanksgiving dinner is prepared may lead to a higher risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these helpful guidelines to ensure that your food is handled safely:
- Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water, but never directly on the countertop. Bacteria are likely to grow quickly after a turkey has been left out for more than two hours.
- Keep raw food utensils separate from others and make sure to wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Consider cooking your stuffing in a separate container, or if you must place it inside of the turkey, do so just before putting it into the oven. Again, this helps to limit the spread of harmful bacteria.
- Turkeys should be cooked to a safe internal temperature of at least 165°F. Use a food thermometer to make sure your bird is thoroughly cooked before removing it from the oven, and let it stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving.
Examining Heart And Mental Health
While we may prepare our food safely and want to use Thanksgiving as the one day of the year to let ourselves indulge, the extreme increase in calories can have an effect on more than just your waistline. Data from the CDC in 2013 showed that December death rates were 5% higher than those in November. The dangers of driving while under the influence certainly play into these figures, but experts note that there’s another force behind them too.
Researchers examined the death certificates of individuals in Los Angeles County across the 1980s and 1990s and found an interesting pattern. Roughly 33% more coronary related deaths took place during the winter as opposed to the summer, with a huge spike occurring year after year right after Thanksgiving. Not only do doctors predict that eating fatty and salty foods contributes to this data, but also traveling without medications, drinking too much, and dealing with holiday stress can all add up to heart issues, too.
Lastly, the holiday season can be a very stressful time for many, and even if you are surrounded by friends and family that you love, it doesn’t mean that your mental health isn’t something to consider as a part of Thanksgiving health. In 2014, the National Alliance on Mental Health conducted a study with 300 individuals who were interviewed right around Thanksgiving time. Of those who had previously been diagnosed with a mental illness, 24% said the holidays made their condition “a lot” worse. 40% of respondents said the season made their symptoms “somewhat worse.”
It’s not just a fight at the dinner table that can bring on concerns about mental health, as the same participants weighed in on the reasons that they felt triggered around the holidays. Most pointed to a feeling of being financially strained while others mentioned loneliness or a feeling of unrealistic pressure. As we move into the holiday season, it’s vital that individuals make their own mental health a priority. Take time for your favorite activities, go out with close friends, and be extra gentle with yourself—it never hurts to spend extra time on self-care and relaxation.
Making It A Thanksgiving To Remember
When the topic of a healthy Thanksgiving holiday is brought up, it’s easy to see that so much more goes into this singular day than simply trying to watch our waistlines. Those who are traveling this year should make sure to bring their health information with them in the case of an emergency and everyone should have an increased focus on their behaviors and activities. Take extra precautions in the kitchen to ensure no one ends up with food poisoning, experiment with healthy versions of your favorite dishes, and eat with moderation in mind.
Above all else, make sure you spend time with ones that you love. Thanksgiving all too often ends up being a dramatic day that most would rather skip, but if we all make an extra effort to get along with friends and family, it can be a day that you look forward to all year long.
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