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How to Have a Healthier Thanksgiving

As we go into the kitchen to prepare another Thanksgiving dinner, food may be more on our minds than the amount of calories in it. Take a look at the calorie count in some of our favorite dishes, get ideas on how to cut them down, learn how long it would take to walk them off and learn how to craft a healthier Thanksgiving.

The average American adult weighs 176 pounds, according to a recent Gallup poll. It would take an hour to burn 90 calories if a person this size walks at 3 mph, according to a report by the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. We’ve broken down how long it would take to burn each dish based on this calculation. (You may burn more if you weigh more, or less if you are lighter.)

Calories are the amount of energy in food, and we need them to do various activities through the day—even to sleep and rest. Depending on age, weight and exercise routine, different calorie amounts are needed. Women aged 18 and older need between 1,600 and 2,000 calories a day (if they are not physically active). Men older than 18 need 2,000 to 2,400 calories a day. Comparing brands and recipes in advance on sites like Calorie Count can help you plan how much you should eat on Thanksgiving.

  • For most households, a roasted turkey is the center of Thanksgiving dinner. A few slices (8 ounces) is just 238 calories, but drowning the meat in gravy adds 30 calories and 300 mg of sodium for each one-fourth cup serving. Being less heavy handed in pouring can reduce calories. Walking time to burn: 2 hours and 40 minutes—longer if you’ve added gravy.
  • This cheesy goodness is a holiday favorite, but macaroni and cheese is often the most caloric; just one cup adds as much as 493 calories to your place. To cut down, use low-fat cheese and milk. Margarine will add less cholesterol than butter, but it won’t cut the calories. If you don’t want to compromise, eat a smaller amount and forget that dinner roll. Estimated walking time to burn: 5 hours and 29 minutes.
  • Cranberry sauce is tasty alternative in place of gravy on the roasted turkey. It is low in fat, but one-fourth cup of sweetened cranberry can be as much as 100 calories for most brands. So: Have a light touch. Walking time: a little more than an hour.
  • One serving of Kraft’s stove-top stuffing mix for turkey comes in at 110 calories (that’s one-sixth of the box). Adding butter to the mix can increase calories by 102 calories per tablespoon. Walking time to burn: 2 hours and 21 minutes.
  • A half-cup of candied yams is 170 calories. If you add marshmallows to this confection, you’ll run up the calorie meter even more. (A half-cup of marshmallows is 80 calories.) It’s easy to reach for seconds on this dish, but beware: That can easily bring you to 500 calories. Walking time: 2 hours and 46 minutes.
  • Everyone prepares their collard greens differently, and calories will vary based on whether you add meat to the pot. Generally, a cup of collard greens is only 11 calories, so this is the healthiest food on the menu. It is high in vitamin A, which helps you maintain healthy skin and teeth. If you’re going to go for seconds, this is your best bet. Calorie-burning time: a brisk 7 minute walk.
  • There’s nothing like the smell of warm, fresh bread smeared with butter. But a small dinner roll can be 87 calories. Add another 100 calories with butter and you’ve go almost 200 calories. Avoid butter if you want to cut down on the calories. Walking time: 2 hours and 10 minutes.
  • After the meal has settled and you’re rubbing your stomach, a slice of sweet potato pie can put you into a food coma. Although we love to brag about this moment at the end of dinner, beware that one slice can be as much as 340 calories. If you can turn away from it altogether, do it. Taking a small slice—which we know is no fun—is also an option. A tablespoon of whipped cream also adds 8 calories. Walking time: 3 hours and 50 minutes.
  • For many people, the holidays are the best time to pour it up. Good conversation may have you refilling without realizing. Five fluid ounces of red wine is at least 125 calories, and drinking two or three more glasses is almost equivalent to eating another slice of pie. Drink less or none at all to avoid calories. Water may not be as much fun, but it will quench your thirst. Walking time: 1 hour 25 minutes.


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