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Nutrient Dense Foods to Add to Your Thanksgiving Spread
Thanksgiving is a time for friends, family, gratitude, and — most importantly — good food. While we certainly don’t want to deprive ourselves of classic Thanksgiving favorites, there’s nothing wrong with incorporating nutrient-dense foods in this year’s Thanksgiving spread to help us stay on track.
Keep reading to learn how to include more healthy, nutrient-dense foods into your special day to boost your health this Thanksgiving.
PREPPING YOUR MEAL WITH HEALTHY FATS
Many people use vegetable oils for cooking because they're marketed in a way that makes them seem healthy. Truth is, most vegetable oils sold today are heavily processed and refined, which means they lack nutrients and flavor.
Moreover, vegetable oils are low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids yet contain an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids.
A high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio has been linked to inflammation and chronic disease.
To help keep things balanced, try these healthy vegetable oil substitutes this Thanksgiving.
Tallow is made by rendering the fat of a sheep or cow. It has a high smoke point and a dry, waxy texture similar to cold butter or coconut oil.
Tallow from grass-fed beef contains oleic acid, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and other fatty acids that may help support cognitive health, increase “good” cholesterol levels, and aid in fat loss.
Tallow is also reasonably high in vitamins A, D, E, K, and B12, as well as other beneficial compounds such as choline and selenium.
Tallow is best used for: Beef tallow has a relatively mild yet delicious flavor. Because of its high smoke point (~420ºF), tallow is great for roasting, sautéing, and frying.
Lard is a semi-solid fat that is made by melting pork fat. It is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and lower in saturated fat than many other animal fats.
Lard from pasture-raised pigs is one of the best dietary sources of vitamin D, packing in as much as 1,000 IU of vitamin D per one tablespoon serving.
Lard is best used for: With a relatively high smoke point (~375ºF) and a flavor that ranges from neutral to mildly porky, lard is extremely versatile and can be used for grilling, baking, sautéing, and frying
Ghee is a clarified butter made by simmering butter until the milk solids separate from the fats. It has a rich, slightly nutty, buttery flavor and a high smoke point (~485ºF).
Ghee is also higher in short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate, which studies suggest plays a vital role in fighting inflammation and supporting gut health.
Moreover, because the milk solids are removed during production, ghee is an excellent option for people who are lactose intolerant.
Ghee is best used for: Thanks to its high smoke point, ghee can be heated to high temperatures without burning. This makes it a great option for grilling, stir-frying, searing, or any other high-heat cooking method. You can also use ghee as a substitute for butter on bagels and toast.
NUTRIENT DENSE SIDE DISHES
These side dishes incorporate foods from all food groups, aren’t difficult to make, and put a better-for-you spin on traditional Thanksgiving sides.
4) FRESH BERRIES
Fresh berries are a stress-free side dish that packs a nutritional punch. In addition to being low in calories, berries are high in antioxidants, iron, fiber, B vitamins, and vitamin C.
Cranberries, which reach their peak color and flavor around November, are one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods. They’re especially rich in vitamin C and antioxidants to help ward off disease and boost your health.
If you’re not a fan of their notoriously bitter, sharp taste, consider combining fresh cranberries, apples, and oranges to make a naturally sweetened cranberry sauce.
Adding this nutrient-dense food to salads and baked goods is also a great way to sneak in some extra nutrition and flavor.
Other nutrient-rich berries to add to your holiday spread include:
- Goji berries
- Açaí berries
5) LEAFY GREENS
We’re sure leafy greens aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving dinner.
However, leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, collard greens, and swiss chard, can add color and contrast to your Thanksgiving spread while boosting your health.
Leafy greens are chock-full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and K, as well as several B vitamins and potassium.
To incorporate more of these nutrient-rich foods into your holiday spread, add a side salad with kale, spinach, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds to your holiday table.
For a simple side dish that is low-carb, vegan, and nutritious, you can also serve up sautéed greens with kale and spinach, garlic, sea salt, and red pepper flakes
6) SWEET POTATOES
Sweet potatoes are a classic Thanksgiving favorite. They’re also one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat and are rich in vitamins A, C, and B6, as well as potassium, pantothenic acid, and niacin.
One baked sweet potato (with skin) gives you around 156% of your daily vitamin A requirement.
Vitamin A is important for healthy vision, regulating cell growth, immune health, and bone health.
Sweet potatoes also contain choline, one of many essential nutrients important for supporting the nervous system. Choline is also vital for learning, memory, mood, and muscle movement.
You can use sweet potatoes to make a no-sugar-added sweet potato casserole naturally flavored with vanilla, spices, and dried fruit and topped with nuts.
Mashed sweet potatoes are also a simple, healthy, delicious Thanksgiving side dish.
7) BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Butternut squash, also known as winter squash, is rich in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium.
One cup of butternut squash has just 63 calories and contains 7 grams of satiating fiber, 100% of your daily requirement for vitamin A, and 40% of your daily requirement for vitamin C.
Add roasted butternut squash sprinkled with cinnamon or silky smooth butternut squash soup to your Thanksgiving spread this year to enjoy fall flavor at its finest.
8) BONE BROTH GRAVY
Rich in the protein collagen, electrolytes, joint-supporting nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin, and the amino acid glycine, bone broth is one of the most nutritious (and affordable) foods you can prepare at home.
Enjoy all the health benefits of bone broth by topping your turkey with delicious homemade bone broth gravy this year.
MAIN DISHES A.K.A. PROTEIN
Here are some of the healthiest proteins to keep your Thanksgiving clean and lean this year.
9) GRASS FED TURKEY
As we know, turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table. When shopping for a turkey this year, consider choosing a fresh, pasture-raised, grass-fed turkey.
A pasture-raised turkey will spend months roaming freely while eating a complex, healthy, natural diet of grass, seeds, bugs, and berries. They are also raised without antibiotics, steroids, growth hormones, allowing the bird to gain weight slower and more naturally.
As a result, pasture-raised birds are higher in nutrients, such as heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Additionally, pastured turkeys are significantly more juicy and flavorful than non-pastured turkeys.
10) GRASS FED RED MEAT
Ever heard the saying, “you are what you eat?”
Well, this applies to cows, too.
Beef from grass-fed cows naturally contains as much as five times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids and about twice the amount of CLA than beef from grain-fed cows. Grass-fed red meat is also higher in antioxidants and leaner than its grain-fed counterpart.
11) WILD-CAUGHT SALMON
Wild-caught salmon has been hailed as one of the most nutritious foods known to man. Apart from being one of the best dietary sources of omega-3s, it is a good source of other beneficial nutrients, such as selenium, phosphorus, and B vitamins.
Furthermore, wild-caught salmon is an excellent source of high-quality protein that provides all the essential amino acids our body requires.
One 3.5-ounce serving of wild-caught salmon (cooked) provides:
- 182 calories
- 25 grams of protein
- 8 grams of fat
- 127% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin B12
- 85% of the DV for selenium
- 21% of the DV for phosphorus
12) ORGAN MEAT
While organ meats like liver and heart are often overlooked, they are highly nutritious and can make a great addition to your diet. In fact, organ meats were highly prized by our hunter-gatherer ancestors because of how satisfying they were.
In addition to being high in protein, organ meats are rich in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium. They’re also high in fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K.
Organ meats tend to have a strong, unique flavor that some enjoy — but it’s very much of an acquired taste. As such, consider starting out cooking with organs like heart and tongue that have a mild flavor.
One of the easiest ways to add organ meat to your meals is by adding small amounts of it to grass-fed ground beef. You can also add organ meat to soups and stews.
Make your own healthy version of your favorite desserts by making a few simple food swaps.
For example, you can use monk fruit instead of table sugar in your favorite recipe to lower its carb and calorie content without sacrificing flavor. Monk fruit extract is 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar but is free of calories, sugar, and fat.
Because monk fruit is so sweet, you may need to experiment in the kitchen to find a ratio that best fits your needs. However, it’s generally recommended to start by substituting 1/3 cup of monk fruit sugar for 1 cup of sugar.
Other simple swaps to increase the nutrient density of your desserts include:
- Substitute unsweetened applesauce for oil in baking
- Choose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
- Use coconut cream instead of regular cream
- Substitute puree black beans for flour (Yes! This actually works!)
- Use fresh fruit as a sweetener
- Use white flour instead of whole wheat flour
COOKING TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND
Consider these cooking tips to make your Thanksgiving feast healthier without losing tradition.
- Go easy on the alcohol: Alcoholic beverages can be heavy in calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. The calories from alcohol are empty calories, meaning they have no nutritional value. Instead of craft beers and frozen mixed drinks, opt for light beers, red wine, and spritzers for a low-calorie alternative.
- Roast your turkey: Roast your turkey in its own juices instead of frying it. If you do choose to fry your turkey, choose grass-fed animal fats or a natural oil with a high-smoke point, such as avocado oil or refined coconut oil.
- Use an air-fryer: Use an air fryer instead of deep-frying foods. This technique gives your foods a crispy texture without all of the calories and fat.
While Thanksgiving is based around food, it doesn’t mean you have to lose sight of your fitness goals or deprive yourself of your holiday favorites.
Creating new traditions by incorporating more nutrient-dense foods into your Thanksgiving spread can help keep you on track this year.
Additionally, prioritizing protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains before moving on to the pecan pie and marshmallow salad can keep you satiated and prevent you from overindulging.
Lastly, enjoy yourself and the good food that comes with Thanksgiving. It takes days of overindulging to gain body fat. So don’t panic if you deviate from your healthy diet for one day. The important thing is to get back on track by exercising and eating a healthy diet as soon as possible.