Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving Tips

Thanksgiving is about enjoying time with our family and celebrating with traditional foods we know and love. Unfortunately, many of those foods are packed with fat, sodium, sugar and too many calories. The American Heart Association (AHA) offers these tips and healthy smart substitutions for your holiday meals to help keep health on the holiday menu.

“There are many healthy ingredient options at the supermarkets, you just have to be on the lookout. Make it a habit to make the healthy choice the default choice,” said Carolyn Torella, AHA spokesperson, “Choose low-sodium, low-fat, low-sugar ingredients and try to provide a variety of vegetable side dishes to provide healthy options at your Thanksgiving meal.”

White meat turkey is a good low-fat choice but watch hidden salt in turkeys which are “injected with a sodium solution” by manufacturers. The solution drips into the pan for use as gravy drippings, so you don’t need to add salt to your gravy. Taste it first before adding extra salt.

Vegetables like sweet potatoes, asparagus, artichokes, string beans, carrots, mushrooms are all healthy traditional holiday foods, but recipes tend to douse them in salt, butter and fatty toppings, making them less healthy. Steamed, baked or roasted vegetables are healthy preparation methods.

“A plain, baked sweet potato is packed with fiber and Vitamins A and C but if you cover it with butter and sugar, and now it becomes a liability to your diet. It’s about making healthy choices throughout the day, even at the holidays,” said Torella.

Try some of these smart swaps to create healthier dishes at Thanksgiving and all year long. Use low-sodium stuffing, broths, gravies and canned ingredients. Use olive oil instead of butter, and try herbs and spices, like rosemary and cloves, to flavor dishes instead of butter and salt. Try whole-grain breads and pastas instead of white flour ones. Instead of whole milk, heavy cream, or sour cream, substitute low-fat or fat-free versions.

Now that you’ve prepared your Thanksgiving meal, prepare yourself a balanced plate of some of your favorite holiday foods, starting with a salad and vegetables. Eating your low-calorie veggies will ensure you get the nutrients you need for health, and they’ll help fill you up, so you don’t overload on the high-calorie foods your body needs less of, such as rolls, stuffing and pie.

In baking, instead of butter, substitute equal parts cinnamon-flavored, no-sugar-added applesauce. Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie sugar substitute. Instead of whole or heavy cream, substitute low-fat or skim milk. Instead of using only white flour, use half white and half whole-wheat flour. Instead of adding chocolate chips or candies, use small amounts of dried fruit, like cranberries or cherries. Top desserts with a light drizzle of glaze instead of an inch of icing. Use extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint to add flavor, instead of sugar or butter.

With all the festive gatherings, we’re bound to be eating more than normal. Try to increase your physical activity over Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season to combat seasonal weight gain—and exercise can help with holiday stress, too. Go for a family walk after each meal or gathering.

Don’t skimp on sleep at the holidays. According to research, your quality of sleep can impact your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends adults get six to eight hours of sleep per night. Get into bed early to give yourself enough time to wind down after your day and to fall asleep faster and more soundly.

Get more tips and inspiration to live a heart-healthier lifestyle www.heart.org or www.goredforwomen.org. For healthy recipes, visit www.heart.org/recipes.


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Check out this great Simple Cooking with Heart, heart-healthy version of an American holiday favorite!


Green Bean Casserole

 Nutrition Information: Calories – 77 Per Serving, Protein – 3g Per Serving, Fiber – 2g Per Serving, Sodium – 138 mg, Cost Per Serving – $0.62


1 lb. frozen green beans (French cut is best), thawed

10.5 oz. canned, reduced-fat, low-sodium cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

1/2 tsp. pepper

1 small onion (cut into thin strips)

nonstick Cooking spray

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a 9×13 casserole dish, combine green beans, soup, sour cream, and pepper. Stir until well mixed and bake for 20 minutes.
  3. While casserole bakes spread out onion sticks and lightly spray with cooking spray.
  4. Sprinkle flour over onion pieces, tossing to coat equally.
  5. Spray a medium-large skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until crispy, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove casserole from oven, add ½ onions and stir well.
  7. Top with remaining half and return to oven, bake 5 minutes more.


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