A mountain of moist, steaming stuffing.
A tower of turkey with crisp, brown skin.
A river of thick, brown gravy.
And a slice of warm pecan pie topped with vanilla ice cream.
Thanksgiving dinner is like a recipe for the best nap of the year.
Unfortunately, the most revered meal in America also is one of the highest in calories and fat.
Eating the foods above would provide more than enough calories for the entire day. Six ounces of white and dark turkey meat with skin, 345 calories; 1 cup of stuffing, 396 calories; 4 tablespoons of gravy, 164 calories; one slice of pecan pie, 510 calories; vanilla ice cream, 270 calories.
The total: 1,685 calories. And that doesn't include sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls or butter.
According to dietitians at CSRA Partners in Health, the average Thanksgiving Day meal packs nearly 3,000 calories.
How does that compare to what you normally eat? Women and older children need about 1,600 calories a day. Active women, children, teen-age girls and most men need about 2,200 calories. Teen-age boys and active men need about 2,800 per day.
One day of overeating won't hurt you, but for many Thanksgiving marks the start of a holiday feeding frenzy.
Shaynee Duncan, a registered and licensed dietitian at St. Joseph Hospital, said that if you normally get 1,400 to 1,500 calories a day, you can expect for that to increase to 2,000 to 2,500 during the holidays.
"The things that people need to be careful of are sugars and saturated fats, or those that are solid at room temperature," Ms. Duncan said. "People tend to get more of these two groups during the holidays."
From Halloween through New Year's celebrations, people tend to gain an average of three to 10 pounds, Ms. Duncan said.
But a few easy tricks, some good nutritional sense and a little moderation can help keep your holiday diet under control.
While cooking, pay attention to places where you can substitute lower-fat ingredients.
If a recipe calls for milk, try using evaporated skim milk. Some grocery stores also have fat-free half and half. Both options provide a thick, creamy texture without the fat of the original product.
To cut fat in your stuffing, cook it in a separate dish rather than inside the turkey. It will stay just as moist without absorbing extra fat. And use a low-fat or fat-free broth in your dressing in place of butter, oil or pan drippings. The broth can be used for basting the bird also. For a zesty flavor, try basting with fruit juice.
Another way to combat holiday weight gain is to exercise more. But because most people are pressed for time during the holidays, Ms. Duncan suggests squeezing a few mini-workouts into the day.
"Don't look for the first parking space at the mall, park at the end of the parking lot; take the steps instead of the elevator or escalator; or take several short 10-minute walks during breaks at work," she said.
And since not splurging is unrealistic, choose your splurges wisely.
"Do your best not to have something high-fat every day," Ms. Duncan suggested. "Give yourself a day to splurge."
One trick to keep nibbling at bay is to chew peppermint gum or sip peppermint tea while you cook. The mint taste in your mouth will discourage snacking. The same technique will work after you have eaten.
Donna Martin, senior dietitian at CSRA Partners in Health, recommends having at least one low-calorie choice on the dinner or buffet table. Dishes such as raw or steamed vegetables can help fill your stomach so you don't eat as much of the high-fat dishes.
Even when sitting down to the turkey feast, there are many small ways to avoid calories. Most know to skip the skin and that white meat has less fat.
Try putting your fork down between bites. Enjoy the conversation.
And overall, Ms. Martin said, make your calories count.
"Pick and choose what is really important to you and skip the things that aren't that special," Ms. Martin said.
SOURCES: CSRA Partners in Health, Mayo Clinic Health Oasis, Prevention Magazine and St. Joseph Hospital.
Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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