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Turkey Day Tips for Heart Health

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Turkey Day Tips for Heart Health


Think about the foods you eat on Thanksgiving. The traditional Thanksgiving meal is decadent and delicious and full of butter—probably not the healthiest options. But a little careful planning and portion management can allow you to enjoy your holiday meal without damaging your cardiovascular health in the process.

In general, it’s often best to enjoy your holiday meal with your family and friends, but make a point of not overeating. With the span of the holidays (Thanksgiving through New Years), the  effects of overeating can really add up. Try to limit yourself to one serving during each holiday meal. If you take a break after you eat a plateful, you likely will be full and not want seconds. This will lead to better sleep and feeling much better the next day. Also limit alcohol to one drink to prevent heart rhythm problems and overeating.

It is possible that the average person to rack up 2,000 calories in a single Thanksgiving sitting (that does not even include leftovers). 2,000 calories is the recommended number of calories for most adults for an entire day.

Here’s a breakdown of turkey day’s goodies:

  • Not surprisingly, vegetables are the heart-healthiest part of the big Thanksgiving meal. Items like green beans, carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes balance their calories with plenty of heart-helpful vitamins and minerals.
  • The worst part for your heart? It’s the gravy. Typically made from the high-fat, high-calorie greasy drippings of the cooked bird, gravy is very high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol. It’s been shown that a single high-fat meal can damage your arteries. But again, portion size is the key.
  • If the cranberry relish is homemade, using real cranberries, it can be heart-healthy. If it’s out of a can, it’s likely to be very high in simple sugars which can worsen diabetes and raise triglcyerides (fats) in the blood.
  • If you’re nibbling on dark meat or, far worse, the turkey skin, you’re ingesting even higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. Try not to do that, or just take a taste and stop.

Adjusting your Thanksgiving recipes can make a big difference in their relative heart-healthiness. For example, you use yogurt instead of sour cream, or maybe just egg whites? Using light, unsalted butters and margarine also can lower levels of saturated fat without sacrificing much taste. Even gravy, Thanksgiving’s highest fat recipe, can be made in a healthier way.

If you plan to try the healthy route and you’re not doing the cooking, consider making half of your Thanksgiving plate should consist of fruit and vegetables, with a fourth devoted to light turkey meat (minimum gravy), and a fourth to starches like sweet potatoes or whole grain bread. If you’re having pie, limit the serving size to a small taste – and again resist that second helping.

Eat smaller portions and try to eat lighter. This will help you feel much more healthy during your Thanksgiving celebration.

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