Thanksgiving's 7 Diet-Unfriendly Dishes

Everyone's talking about national health care, but national holidays are, unfortunately, part of the problem. They add to the obesity epidemic.

Everyone knows Thanksgiving can undo a diet. So how to make sure there isn't more of you around the middle to be thankful for after the holiday?

Read on for some tips.

VIDEO: Diet proof Thanksgiving dinner
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One obvious possibility is exercise. Nutrition experts advise working out on the days before and after Thanksgiving, and, if possible, on the holiday itself. Taking a walk before or after dinner can help shed pounds. One can play a little touch football before sitting down to watch the game.

"Thanksgiving is the absolute must-be day where everybody should be exercising. Everyone should go for a big walk after Thanksgiving dinner. It's not optional on Thanksgiving," said Dr. Jana Klauer, a Manhattan physician who is a research fellow at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

On the food side, health-conscious hosts may avoid serving fatty dishes, but you can't control that if you're a guest at someone else's house.

You can take at least one step before the food arrives, when you are offered drinks.

"Get your enjoyment from the food and keep that alcohol piece smaller," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.

On Thanksgiving, she said, many of the foods served are unique to the holiday. "Spend your calories on those things that you may not see until Thanksgiving."

Over the years, the ABC News medical unit has spoken with many health experts about the potential pitfalls of the holiday meal for someone who wants to diet. This year, we present a complete guide to having a healthier Thanksgiving meal.

Turkey

The turkey is the centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and while it certainly isn't the unhealthiest item on the menu, it does its fair share of damage to dieters.

While the first turkey decision many Thanksgiving diners face is white meat or dark meat, both can be part of a healthier meal.



"I really don't think it makes that much of a difference. There's a little bit more fat in dark meat. Some people avoid that and only eat white turkey meat, which I really don't understand," said Klauer, explaining that the difference is minimal, so people should select their meat based on taste.

More important, Klauer said, "You should take off the skin, because the majority of fat is in the skin."

Preparation counts too, since adding butter or certain gravies to the turkey will raise its fat content, no matter what type of meat you're eating.

"Calorie-wise, most of the turkey meat is going to be lean enough that the concern shouldn't be there, it should be with the gravy that you might smother it with or the sides that are really packed with calories," said Diekman.

"You want to use good things when you cook it -- herbs and vegetables and a thoughtful preparation," said Klauer.

A serving of turkey is four ounces, so four to six ounces may be a wise limit, but turkey is probably not the biggest concern at the Thanksgiving table.

"I think it's better if you're indulging, even overindulging, to have a bit too much turkey than too much mashed potatoes," said Klauer.

For those who prefer to forgo the Thanksgiving turkey entirely, Dr. Neal Barnard and Sarah Farr of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine wrote a 2007 column for this site about an entirely vegetarian Thanksgiving.

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