Diet & Weight Loss
15 Classic Thanksgiving Foods, Ranked from Best to Worst for Your Weight
Certain Thanksgiving staples are far more sinful than others. Here, the healthiest Thanksgiving foods to indulge in, and other dishes to eat in moderation.
Cooked spinach: 41 calories per 1 cup
The pros: A generous portion keeps your appetite under control for far fewer calories and more vitamins than other Thanksgiving foods like, say, a biscuit. Each cup offers 5 grams of satiating protein. Need more reasons to eat more spinach right now? Your body absorbs higher levels of protein, vitamins A and E, fiber, calcium, iron, zinc, and valuable carotenoids such as beta-carotene (important for eye health) when you eat spinach cooked rather than raw.
The cons: The spinach could be loaded with hidden calories, depending on how it’s prepared. A quarter cup of crumbled feta, for example, can add upwards of 100 calories. Stick to a balsamic vinegar topping, for only 14 calories per tablespoon. (Looking for a stress-free Thanksgiving? Get our FREE guide for an unforgettable Thanksgiving. You’ll get easy recipes, kid-friendly crafts and games, inspiring traditions, and more ideas for the best holiday yet.)
Brussels sprouts: 56 calories per 1 cup
The pros: Like spinach, Brussels sprouts offer more satiating protein than most vegetables (4 grams per cup). Starting your meal with them can help keep cravings in check throughout the rest of dinner. Plus, one cup of Brussels sprouts provides 195 percent of vitamin K and 125 percent of vitamin C needs for the day.
The cons: They’re not always a crowd pleaser, as far as Thanksgiving foods go. People who dislike Brussels sprouts have a certain version of a taste receptor gene, which binds strongly to bitter compounds. This makes some people more sensitive to the veggies’ bitter flavor.
Gravy: 61 calories, 2.5 g fat per 1/2 cup
The pros: In moderation, gravy can be a tasty way to flavor healthy, slimming Thanksgiving foods (read: vegetables or skinless turkey breast).
The cons: It adds to your plate’s fat count. If you make gravy from scratch, refrigerate before serving and skim off the fat that solidifies on top with a spoon. Reheat and serve.
Corn on the cob: 95 calories (with a pat of butter)
The pros: Don’t let the “sweet” in sweet corn deter you. An ear of corn has about the same number of calories as an apple, but with less than a quarter of the sugar. It also has about 3 grams dietary fiber per ear. And if you’re short on time, you don’t even need to cook it.
The cons: A pat of butter (if you can stick to only a pat) adds 36 calories to your cob. Go liberally for a tablespoon? That’s 102 extra calories, and too much added salt can lead to belly bloat. But we get it, we’re all human and butter is delicious. Check out these 11 tricks to manage the inevitable holiday bloat.
Green bean casserole: 110 calories, 8 g fat per 2/3 cup
The pros: It’s not as high-cal as other Thanksgiving sides, which can help you in your quest to eat as much as scientifically possible on Thanksgiving. Many recipes use mushrooms in addition to green beans, so you get a healthy dose of veggies with your holiday tradition.
The cons: Most green bean casserole recipes call for processed ingredients, such as canned soup and processed cheese, that can be high in sodium and fat. Dishes often contain both saturated and trans fat. For every 2 percent of calories from trans fat consumed daily, your risk of heart disease rises by 23 percent.
Sweetened cranberry sauce: 110 calories, 22 g sugar per 1/4 cup
The pros: Cranberry sauce generally has little to no fat, plus some awesome health benefits. This may make it a good alternative to gravy for a meat topping if you’ve already served yourself plenty of dark meat (high in fat) and buttery side dishes.
The cons: It’s high in sugar and packs many calories for little satiety. If you decide to make it anyway, don’t save your grocery run for the worst day buy ingredients for Thanksgiving.
White wine: 121 calories per glass
The pros: Lower in calories than red wine or beer, white wine is a light drink choice for dinner that won’t derail your weight loss goals.
The cons: You’ll have to keep a closer eye on how much you pour. A study from Iowa State University and Cornell University found that white wine drinkers pour 9.2 percent more into their glass than do red wine drinkers (possibly because clear wine makes it seem like there’s less in a glass).
Red wine: 125 calories per glass
The pros: When Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers tracked nearly 20,000 normal-weight women for 13 years, they found that those who enjoyed a glass or two of red wine a day were 30 percent less likely to be overweight than nondrinkers. Related studies have suggested that a compound present in red wine and grapes may inhibit the development of fat cells. Red wine also has slightly less sugar in a serving than white wine.
The cons: The calories can add up, especially if you have more than one glass, along with the calories you’re already getting from your Thanksgiving foods.
Turkey breast without skin (about 3.5 ounces): 127 calories, 2 g fat
The pros: White turkey meat (wings and breast) has fewer calories and less fat than dark meat (thighs). It packs about 30 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving. Even though this holds for turkeys of all shapes and sizes, we know you want to buy the best one.
The cons: If you’re trying to sneak in a few extra healthy nutrients on Thanksgiving, turkey breast has lower levels of vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, thiamine, and vitamins B6 and B12 than dark meat. Here’s how to eat as much food on Thanksgiving as possible.
Dark turkey meat with skin (about 3.5 ounces): 206 calories, 10 g fat
The pros: Though higher in calories and fat than white meat, dark meat is still a good source of filling protein (about 27 g per 3.5-ounce serving). It also delivers more iron than turkey breast: 11 percent of the daily value, compared to 7 percent in turkey breast.
The cons: By leaving the skin on, you significantly increase the amount of saturated fat on your plate. Look out for these turkey myths that could ruin your Thanksgiving.
Biscuit: 212 calories
The pros: If you’re cooking biscuits, you have a bit more flexibility than with other dishes to make healthy tweaks. For example, instead of using sour cream, you can sub in Greek yogurt to lower the fat and calorie count.
The cons: Without any healthy tweaks, biscuits are essentially flour, baking powder, salt, butter, and milk or cream. That’s a large number of calories for little nutritional value and little satiety. And chances are, you’re topping that biscuit with butter or gravy.
Mashed potatoes with whole milk and margarine: 237 calories, 9 g fat per cup
The pros: A cup of mashed potatoes offers 3 g of healthy fiber. It also has a good amount of vitamin C, vitamin B, and minerals including potassium, magnesium, and iron.
The cons: As with many Thanksgiving sides, the main culprit in high-calorie, high-fat mashed potatoes is the add-ins (in this case, whole milk and margarine). By preparing mashed potatoes with just whole milk, and no margarine, you can save 73 calories and 8 g fat per cup. Don’t let the calorie crushing stop there. Check out these 10 healthy foods you need to add to your Thanksgiving menu.
Pumpkin pie: 316 calories, 14 g fat per slice
The pros: Pumpkin itself is low in calories and packed with fiber, which means more satiety and a lower chance of cravings later in the evening. And as if these healthy ways to eat pumpkin spice weren’t enough, it’s also a great source of vitamins, minerals, and beta-carotene.
The cons: Clearly, pumpkin pie has more ingredients than just healthy pumpkin. The crust’s butter and flour, along with cream and sugar required for the filling, make for a large dose of saturated fat and calories. Before you go for seconds, keep this in mind: It would take a 32-minute run to burn off the calories in one slice. Consider including an active family activity.
Stuffing: 390 calories, 24 g fat per cup
The pros: It’s possible to cut calories! Cook it in a separate dish outside of the turkey and save yourself 70 calories per tablespoon.
The cons: You’re essentially chowing down on bread, butter, and sometimes sausage. Make it healthier: Use whole wheat bread instead of white bread, and Granny Smith apples rather than cranberries. Don’t miss these 12 other Thanksgiving cooking tips from celeb chefs.
Apple pie: 411 calories, 19 g of fat per slice
The pros: It’s a Thanksgiving favorite. An NPR poll found 20 percent of people prefer apple pie over any other type this holiday, though many don’t know how apple pie became America’s favorite dessert. Looking forward to an indulgence for dessert could encourage you to make healthier decisions (like swapping out spuds for spinach) throughout the rest of the meal.
The cons: With its buttery crust and sugary filling, one slice of apple pie has more calories than a plate of turkey breast with gravy, buttery corn on the cob, and a glass of red wine. But Thanksgiving dinner is only as good as the people you eat it with. Make sure you memorize these must-know Thanksgiving etiquette rules for hosts and guests.