Thanksgiving's 7 Diet-Unfriendly Dishes

"A lot of these recipes came about in the 1950s, 1940s, when we had a lot of canned food," she said. "We didn't know what we know now about foods."

Vegetables can, of course, be part of the plan for a nutritional Thanksgiving meal, as can any healthy option you can make yourself.

In 2004, Molly Kimball, a sports and exercise nutritionist at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in Harahan, La., recommended that if you want a diet-friendly Thanksgiving meal, you "offer to bring a healthy dish such as a salad or vegetable, so that you know you're guaranteed to have at least one healthy option available to you."

Diekman said that ideally, two thirds of the plate should be filled with vegetables and whole grains -- which can be provided by the stuffing if it is made right -- with the other third devoted to meats and sauces. Following that rule of thumb, she said, keeps the plate -- and, therefore, the meal -- balanced.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is another fixture on the Thanksgiving table, so it might be reassuring to know it has some health benefits.

The sauce, however, can be laden with too much sugar -- though cranberries do need some.

"Cranberries themselves are very tart; generally, you need some sugar in the cranberry sauce. I don't think that's a bad thing," said Klauer.

"I would suggest people make their own, and involve the children," she said, in order to get a sauce with better taste and nutrition.

Klauer said her own recipe that she has sent to patients includes orange zest and walnuts.

In advocating homemade cranberry sauce, she uses an argument familiar to any chef who has advocated for fresh ingredients over preserved ones.

"Why would you get some in a can if you can make your own?" she said.

Pumpkin Pie

Some of the desserts served on Thanksgiving can be found year-round, but pumpkin pie is a fall tradition.

Fortunately, it also presents less of a challenge nutrition-wise than other desserts.

"If you love the pumpkin pie, either take a small wedge or consider just eating the filling. The crust is where you get a lot of your calories," said Diekman.

So, for lovers of the dish there is good news -- the consensus seems to be that you can make space for a piece of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving.

Back in 2006, Ayoob pointed out that it almost seemed the agriculture department had Thanksgiving in mind when it set its guidelines, since the pie falls in line so well with allowances for discretionary calories.

For the more health-conscious pumpkin pie lover, Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, and his wife, Catherine, contributed a healthy recipe for the dish to back in 2007.


Pumpkin pie may be the most recognizable Thanksgiving dessert, but people are forgiving when it comes to adding variety to the end of the meal.

Brownies and pecan and apple pies are also familiar Thanksgiving desserts.

Despite the filling meal beforehand, Katz said people can typically find room for dessert, even if their explanation of where they found that space doesn't mesh with medical science.

And unfortunately, not all desserts can be as calorie-friendly as pumpkin pie.

"Probably the biggest challenge for a lot of people is the dessert piece," said Diekman, explaining that the calories can't be avoided in pecan, cream and mince-meat pies by simply not eating the crust.

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