Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Choices

By Charles Platkin, PhD

CANDIED SWEET POTATOES VERSUS MASHED POTATOES
I was hoping that the candied sweet potatoes would somehow turn out to be less fattening, but no luck. A cup of mashed potatoes has about 240 to 300 calories, depending on how much butter (each tablespoon is 100 calories) and what type of milk or cream you use. Candied sweet potatoes, however, also contain butter — as well as brown sugar and sometimes even marmalade, honey, maple syrup, marshmallows and/or pecans, which can add up to more than 450 calories for a one-cup portion.

Your best bet? Stick the sweet potato in the microwave until it’s soft, then mash it up with some margarine spray and salt, and you’ll probably be more than satisfied at about one-third the calories. You can also cut the sweet potato into six pieces, put it in the toaster oven, and then coat the cooked potato with margarine spray for “guiltless” sweet potato fries. Or to reduce the calories in regular mashed potatoes, prepare them with skim milk, low-fat plain yogurt or poultry broth and fat-free sour cream instead of whole milk and butter.

APPLE CIDER VERSUS BEER OR WINE
Apple cider has about 120 calories per 8-ounce serving, which is similar to many beers and wines. Just watch how many glasses you’re having because the calories can add up quickly, especially when you’re eating a lot of salty food. Alternatives: unsweetened iced tea with mint, water with lemon or diet soda.

SAUSAGE STUFFING VERSUS WILD RICE
Regular wild rice (about 160 to 220 calories per cup) is not so bad, but when you start dressing it up for Thanksgiving with loads of olive oil, pecans and cranberries it can add up to 550 or 600 calories per cup. However, the same amount of stuffing made with eggs, butter and sausage is also in that same high-calorie range. (By the way, you don’t have to use butter in stuffing at all unless you’re cooking it in a pan outside the bird, in which case you have a choice of basting it with the turkey drippings or dotting it with butter.) Stick with the rice — at least it offers some health benefits because of the nuts and cranberries. Or try preparing the stuffing with croutons, chopped apple, celery and onion, and moisten with chicken broth.

TRADITIONAL TURKEY GRAVY VERSUS CRANBERRY SAUCE
Funny, I thought cranberry sauce would be the winner, but gravy is the right choice. Per half-cup, cranberry sauce has 180 calories compared with only 80 calories for traditional turkey gravy.

If you want to make the gravy lower in calories you can remove the fat with a fat separator (a cup with a spout designed to pour the juices from the bottom and leave the fat on top) or you can add ice cubes to the pan juices so that the fat hardens and clings to the ice. If you have enough time, you can also refrigerate the pan drippings so that the fat rises to the top and hardens, allowing you to scrape it off before reheating the gravy.

TURKEY: WHITE MEAT VERSUS DARK MEAT
The dark meat has about 15 percent more calories. A 3.5-ounce serving of turkey breast with skin has about 153 calories; dark meat with skin has about 182 calories. If you really want to save, you need to remove the skin, but not until after the turkey is cooked (otherwise the meat will dry out during the long cooking time). Removing the skin saves another 10 percent in calories. White meat without skin: 135 calories; dark meat without skin: 162 calories.

Other healthy suggestions include roasting your turkey on a rack so that it is not sitting in its own juices. The rack does not have to be metal. A bed of chopped onions and carrots or quartered apples or a medley of lemon, orange and lime quarters can add wonderful flavor and fragrance to the holiday bird. You can also baste the turkey with apple juice or low-fat chicken broth instead of its own juices.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH VERSUS PUMPKIN SOUP
In this case they’re both pretty good bargains. Creamy butternut squash soup has about 90 to 140 calories a cup. Pumpkin soup is also very low in calories, coming in at about 100 to 140 calories per cup. But either one can quickly turn into a diet disaster depending on how much butter, oil or cream is used in the preparation. Try nonfat yogurt rather than sour cream or heavy cream as your thickener if you don’t want the calories per cup to shoot up to as much as 400.

CREAMED PEARL ONIONS VERSUS CREAMED SWEET CORN VERSUS SAUTEED SPINACH WITH GARLIC
I guess with “creamed” in the name you would immediately assume that the onions and corn weren’t fat- or calorie-free. And you’d be correct. The creamed pearl onions are made with milk, butter, flour and sometimes nuts and have about 225 calories per one-cup serving. The spinach with garlic is your best bet at about 175 calories per cup. And the big loser is the creamed corn at a whopping 325 calories per cup.

PUMPKIN PIE VERSUS APPLE PIE VERSUS PECAN PIE
The pumpkin pie is actually the best of the three, coming in at 270 calories per slice, but the apple pie is a close second at about 350. Pecan pie, however, is a dietary disaster at more than 700 calories. Whichever one you choose, definitely skip the whipped cream — it adds an extra 80 to 100 calories per serving. Oh, and if you add a scoop of vanilla Haagen-Dazs ice cream to make it “a la mode,” tack on another 270 calories.






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