By Alanna Nuñez
November 18, 2011

How many calories are in your Thanksgiving meal? I know it's not fun to think about, especially on a day like Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday precisely because it becomes socially acceptable to sit on the couch all day and eat), but the reality is that Americans consume a ton of food on Thanksgiving. The American Council on Fitness estimates that the average person consumes around 3,000 calories on Thanksgiving and 229 grams of fat. Ouch! So we rounded up an example of a typical Thanksgiving meal and went to registered dietitian Tara Gidus to figure out how many calories it might be. She gave us some easy tips on how to cut almost 1,000 calories while still being able to enjoy all of your Thanksgiving favorites.

The meal:

• Turkey, white and dark meat, with skin (6 ounces)

• Gravy, (one-third of a cup)

• Mashed potatoes, (1 cup)

• Cranberry sauce, (one-third of a cup)

• Green bean casserole, (1 cup)

• Sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows (1 cup)

• Dinner roll, (1)

• Butter, (1 tablespoon)

• Pecan pie, (1 slice)

• Vanilla ice cream (one-half of a cup)

• Red wine (one glass, or 5 ounces)

The verdict:

"This meal probably contains around 2,400 calories," Gidus says. "And that's without going back for seconds!"

But Gidus stresses that you don't have to deprive yourself of anything.

"The traditional holiday menu contains some wholesome, good-for-you foods," she says. "It all depends on how you cook them and how much of them you consume."

Here are some of Gidus' easy ways you can cut calories and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal:

• Turkey: "Stick to about 3 ounces of white meat and no skin," Gidus says. "That's about the size of your credit card or a deck of cards and about an inch and a half thick."

• Gravy or cranberry sauce: One-third of a cup is the recommended serving amount for each.

• Mashed potatoes: One cup of mashed potatoes contains around 210 calories, so if you stick to the recommended amount of half of a cup, you can slash the caloric intake to 105.

• Green beans: Instead of making green bean casserole, serve them stir-fried or grilled with a little olive oil and garlic. Since green bean casserole tends to be made with canned soup and fried onions, it's like a heart attack waiting to happen. But if you really can't give up the the idea of green bean casserole, try this healthy recipe instead.

• Sweet potato casserole: Simply make the sweet potato casserole as you would and forego the marshmallows on top.

• Dinner roll: Stick with one, or skip it altogether.

• Butter (2 tsp): Replace the butter in your meal with margarine instead to reduce the amount of saturated and trans-fat in the meal.

• Pecan pie (1 slice): Pecan pie comes in at a whopping 503 calories and 27 grams of fat. Swap it out for a slice of the healthier pumpkin pie or apple pie. If you can't resist the pecan pie, check out this nifty infographic which shows you exactly how big of a slice to eat and not exceed 200 calories.

• Low-fat vanilla ice cream or cool whip: Instead of topping your desserts with full-fat ice cream this holiday season, substitute lower fat or reduced-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt.

• Red wine (5 oz): "Alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram itself, which makes it nearly twice as fattening as carbohydrates or protein (both contain about 4 calories per gram) and only just under the caloric value for fat (9 calories per gram)," Gidus says. "If there are carbs (like in beer and some in wine) in the alcohol, too, or if you are mixing hard liquor with high sugar mixers, the calories compound. This means that if you are watching your weight this holiday season you will want to stick to the lighter or lower-calorie drinks." Your best bets? Lighter spirits such as vodka, wine, light beers or tonics.

"It's really all about portion control," Gidus says. "By reducing portions, you're able to enjoy all of your holiday favorites, and your pants will still fit. You don't have to enjoy Thanksgiving all in one night-leftovers are just as good, if not better!"


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