Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season and its corresponding motto: Eat, drink and be merry. While indulging, and overindulging, is practically the event itself on Thanksgiving, it does take a toll on our bodies.

“It’s estimated that about 3,000 calories are eaten during a typical Thanksgiving meal, and another 500-1,500 calories are consumed in snacks, appetizers and alcohol throughout the day,” said Doreen Highfield, RD, LD, CDE, a clinical dietitian at Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center. That’s a total of 4,500 average calories consumed on Thanksgiving, more than twice the recommended daily average for most adults. The Calorie Control Council estimates that up to 45 percent of those calories are from fat alone.

“It takes 3,500 calories to gain one pound, and this is just one meal,” Highfield said. Many of us are willing to take a caloric hit in the name of Thanksgiving tradition, but understanding what an influx of food can do to the body is crucial for those hoping to make better choices this year.


Turkey can be better or worse for you, depending on your preferences. Dark meat with skin is fattier, higher in calories and less nutritionally dense than skinless white meat. “A turkey breast can be lean and high in protein,” Highfield said.

A 4 oz. serving of white turkey breast without skin is about 160 calories, 1 gram of fat and 34 grams of protein vs. a 4 oz. serving of dark meat turkey, which is about 250 calories, 13 grams of fat and 31 grams of protein.


Stuffing generally is a high-sodium, low-nutrient calorie bomb. But depending on how stuffing is dressed and what kind of bread is used, there can be some variation.

An average cup of stuffing will run you about 350 calories, 16 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates and up to 1000 milligrams of sodium (which is nearly half the daily recommended amount.)

Mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes are middle of the road — certainly not great, but not terrible in moderation. Just keep your serving small and don’t go back for seconds.

One cup of mashed potatoes, made with whole milk and butter, is about 230 calories, 10 grams of fat and 30 grams of carbohydrates.

Cranberry sauce

It’s a rivalry that divides families: canned cranberry sauce vs. homemade cranberry sauce. Cranberries are full of important antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, but many of those nutrients are processed out in canned versions. Homemade cranberry sauce, made with whole cranberries, has more nutrients and less refined sugar.

A slice of canned cranberry sauce is about 90 calories and 22 grams of sugar vs. three tablespoons of homemade cranberry sauce is about 75 calories and 15 grams of sugar.


There’s nothing good in gravy. Really, there’s no point of redemption on this one.

One cup of gravy can carry almost 200 calories, 14 grams of fat and up to 1000 milligrams of sodium.


Pumpkins, pecans and apples are heavy hitters on Thanksgiving, and while each is great on its own — full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — when you put them in a pie filled with sugar, butter and carbohydrates, their healthy points get overshadowed.

And plopping whipped cream on any of these or making them à la mode can double the calories, fat and sugar.

A 1/8 of a 9” pecan pie has about 500 calories per slice, 27 grams of fat and 64 grams of carbohydrates.

The same amount of apple pie averages 300 calories, 14 grams of fat and 43 carbohydrates.

The same amount of pumpkin pie averages 320 calories, 13 grams of fat and 46 carbohydrates.

Does alcohol Affect digestion?

Yes. “Alcohol can increase insulin secretion in the liver, causing low blood sugar, which can be dangerous,” Highfield said. Moderating food and alcohol intake, avoiding simple carbohydrates and refined sugar, and eating at a slower pace can help avoid problems.

Diabetics should be especially careful not to overeat and they should avoid drinking alcohol completely.

What’s a “food coma”?

The tryptophan in turkey (also found in other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish and eggs) gets a bad rap for making people sleepy on Thanksgiving, but it’s not the actual culprit.

Tryptophan does contribute to serotonin production in the brain, and serotonin is used to produce melatonin, a chemical that can make you sleepy. However, it’s unlikely you could eat enough tryptophan to actually put you to sleep.

Overeating is what really does it. When you’re full, your stomach sends a message to your brain telling it to relax and digest instead of seeking more food. When you overeat, the process intensifies and puts a strain on your digestive system, which makes you tired.

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