Turkey skin: More good fat than bad, and other Thanksgiving truths
November 23rd, 2010
04:20 PM ET

Turkey skin: More good fat than bad, and other Thanksgiving truths

It's that time of year again when some people try to take the fun out of Thanksgiving dinner by highlighting just how many calories the average American will be consuming in this one, very special meal. It completely overshadows the fact that the individual, traditional components of this feast have some true health benefits and with some simple techniques can be prepared in a tasty AND healthy way. It's worth a reminder of what we're eating (in moderation) is truly good for us.

"Turkey is a lean, flavorful protein source," says Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "It's also a source of trace minerals zinc and selenium, which helps with cell and tissue repair and growth," she adds. Harvard's health newsletter says it's hard to beat turkey when you're looking for a lean cut of meat: "A 3-ounce serving of skinless white meat [which is about the size of a woman's palm] contains 25 grams of protein, barely 3 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat." The newsletter also notes that turkey is a good source of arginine, which some research suggests may help open arteries.

You may not have to forgo the scrumptious skin either, suggests Lilian Cheung, editorial director of "The Nutrition Source" from Harvard's School of Public Health. "There is more monounsaturated fat than saturated fat in poultry skin.  The skin adds calories, but there is more healthful fat in it than unhealthful fat. So it's OK to enjoy, if you like it," she tells CNN.  Moore suggests having some, rather than a whole plateful of skin may be advisable.  "If you roast your turkey on a rack most of the fat will drip down" says Cheung. Cooking Light magazine offers a recipe for the ultimate roasted turkey .

"Cranberries are naturally antioxidant rich," says Moore. Antioxidants can help protect the cells in your body from damage caused by molecules called 'free radicals. '" These harmful molecules are produced when the body breaks down food, or by tobacco smoke or radiation or other environmental pollutants, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"They've been shown to help your heart health and they might even improve brain health," says Moore.

Consuming cranberries in liquid form may help prevent urinary tract infection (but not treat them as some might think). But for the traditional consumption of cranberries on this holiday, Moore suggests making your own chutney or sauce to make them healthier than the store bought version. "Prepare them with orange juice or you can even reduce the amount of sugar by half"," she says, which help keeps the sugar and calorie count down. Food Network chef Tyler Florence has a yummy recipe that does just that.

Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are tasty and packed with nutrition. They are a great source of beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A, which can help maintain healthy eyes and may also be good for your heart.  Sweet potatoes are also high in potassium (it's not just the banana!). "Potassium is important because it blunts the effect of salt and it also helps lower blood pressure," Moore explains.

The beauty of this root vegetable is that it's already sweet, "so you have to add a lot to them to flavor them," says Moore. Simply roasting sweet potatoes in the oven will help the sugars inside caramelize and naturally sweeten this aptly named sweet potato.  Harvard's health newsletter offers a slightly more decadent yet doctor-approved recipe.

Green beans
Moore notes this is a dish is a "great place to scale back" the calories. Green beans themselves are very low in calories. They only have 35 in a cup. However the traditional green bean casserole is made with cream of mushroom soup. Moore suggests trying to use fat-free or low-fat soup can make for a healthier dish. However, by forgoing the mushroom soup altogether and adding some olive oil, lemon or garlic, green beans can be a heart-healthy, low-calorie and tasty alternative, says Moore.

Pumpkin itself is another good source of vitamins A and C and very low in calories (only 25 calories in half a cup), says Moore. But  in the company of other traditional pie ingredients, the nutritional benefits can be wiped out by the calories in just one piece (about 300 per slice according to the USDA).

Moore says there are ways to modify a traditional recipe: "Instead of whole milk, you can use evaporated skim milk [which] still provides a velvety texture."  She also recommends cutting back on the butter by a half or a quarter and reduce the sugar by a half or a third.

Health.com: Thanksgiving recipes for picky guests

Finally, pecans
Pecans are a definitely a heart-healthy source of mono-unsaturated fat, which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels, says Moore. They are also a source of fiber, which can help curb your appetite. But traditional pecan pie, made with lots of corn syrup and sugar, can easily lead to 500 calories in a slice. Reducing the amount of sugar may make a caloric dent, but Moore suggests enjoying this traditional element in a completely different (and healthy) way. "I like them with Brussels sprouts" Or, says Moore, "Why not have some roasted pecans around to snack on before the meal?"

If you can't do without the pie, Cheung says "you could use a whole grain pie crust," because whole grains are very good for heart health and regularity. Cooking Light suggests making a healthier pecan pie by putting healthier ingredients in, rather than taking not-so healthy things out.

Regardless of how you choose to modify your dishes to make them healthier, Moore suggests trying them out before the big day, so you're sure they are still as delicious as possible.

One more way to make your Thanksgiving healthy is to reduce the stress. For that you may turn to our colleagues at Eatocracy:  They'll be live-blogging from Wednesday evening through Thursday mealtime, offering kitchen and hosting advice or offering a supportive shoulder and a laugh if you need it. Just leave a note in the comments or reach out on Twitter @eatocracy and they'll do the best to help you keep calm and carry on.

Cheung offers this final thought for you when you sit down for your Thanksgiving feast – practice "mindful eating." Slow down, reflect on how the food came to you.

soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. Jean

    These good foods are good ... in moderation. Don't pig out. Remember those who have little.

    November 23, 2010 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Be thankful

      Along the same lines, if you do pig out, make sure you also donate food to a local shelter or volunteer your time for part of the day. You'll be truly thankful for what you have, if you see the needs of others. It'll make you feel good to help, believe me. Happy Thanksgiving!

      November 23, 2010 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
    • Robby

      I can't wait till Tgiving this year.. glad I am not making the Turkey.. I am charged with the appetizers this year..I am making these sweet potato and jalapeno balls. that are awesome.. also this deep fried wonton stuffed with brie and raspberry jam.. got the recipes in this hilarious politically incorrect cookbook called.. well, i won't tell you the name of it here cause some of you will freak out on me, but if you google "whipped & Beaten culinary works" you can find it.. but seriously.. don't go if you can't take a good joke..

      November 24, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Jean, I'll eat as much as I damn want. Thanks.

      November 24, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      Jean – thanks for the tips. I'll rember them when i'm shoving my face full of the food i bought with the money i earned from my hard working job. Amen Joe.

      November 24, 2010 at 23:42 | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Those who have little won't have a bit less however much I eat !

      November 25, 2010 at 20:03 | Report abuse |
    • Carlos

      What is not mentioned is how healthy the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and desserts are (not)

      November 25, 2010 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
  2. David

    Use a mixture of splenda and honey for the pecan pie for a healthy alternative.

    November 24, 2010 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Colleen

      That sounds good! Honey is delicious...never thought to try it in pecan pie. Thanks for the tip! Happy holidays 🙂

      November 24, 2010 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
    • 100yearswar

      try stavia instead of splenda. its made from a sweet leaf, which is natural. the body will process natural foods much better.

      November 24, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
    • Joseph

      Splenda is not a "healthy" alternative, it can cause weight gain. Your brain can detect what your putting in your body and reacts appropriately i.e. When you eat a big meal, your brain will tell you you're full. The problem with Splenda is that it's 600 times sweeter than sugar but without the calories. So when you eat something with Splenda, your brain detects "sugar" but cannot derive any energy from it and therefore signals for you to eat more.

      December 8, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse |
  3. carolyn

    Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! The skin! The best part. Finally, some good news.

    November 24, 2010 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • EuphoriCrest

      The best part, Carolyn the barbarian, is knowing you have not taken the life of an animal and, instead, enjoyed a healthy vegetarian feast.

      November 24, 2010 at 19:24 | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      Actually, the best part is knowing that i live on the top of the food chain, and that my dog will also enjoy a bite of turkey too!

      November 24, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
  4. Odalice feliz

    good to know!

    November 24, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. bcalb

    Forget the calories. Just enjoy all the good stuff and don't worry about it until after the holidays. I hate these "healthy tips"

    November 24, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • deeleerodho

      If you hate them, why read them? Do you know what I hate? People that say they hate something they could have avoided.

      Happy Thanksgiving

      November 24, 2010 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
  6. lee


    November 24, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. FarrahFood

    And while youre pigging out, remember where the food is coming from and the people and animals who were necessary to produce it. I would recommend this to anyone planning to eat turkey tomorrow. Its a touching, emotional, and overall beautiful look at why we are really thankful this thanksgiving:


    November 24, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. oh yes

    And those marshmallows you put on top of the yams, those are good for you too.

    November 24, 2010 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mom of 5

    Love the skin!

    November 24, 2010 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. moderateray

    "Regardless of how you choose to modify your [Thanksgiving] dishes to make them healthier, Moore suggests trying them out before the big day."

    Thanks for that tip...on Wednesday afternoon!

    November 24, 2010 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mali

    You Americans and westerners should be ashamed for eating meat of animal. Soon you will be like my religion and your children not eat meat because we are taking over soon.

    November 24, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Los T'jobs

      Sorry, Bubba. Why would you want to conquer other nations? Inferiority complex? Inability to work WITH others to improve your conditions? Selfish wanna-bees? Your people are too weak to take anything over. If you maintained a diet of protein-rich meats and vegetables, you might grow up some day into strong, healthy targets for our bullets.

      November 26, 2010 at 10:03 | Report abuse |
  12. Mali

    I as a hindu am offended by all the meat that is everywhere here.

    November 24, 2010 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • EuphoriCrest

      I am atheist and also offended by all the killing and consumption of animals.

      November 24, 2010 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
    • Gymbo 2004

      Please if you are so offended, feel free to go back to India and worship your cow.

      November 25, 2010 at 19:58 | Report abuse |
    • EuphoriCrest

      Gymbo: What makes you think Mali ever left India??? India DOES have internet and CNN access. Use your frontal lobes before you post.

      November 26, 2010 at 04:09 | Report abuse |
    • Los T'jobs

      As an American, I'm offended that members of a religious group are ungrateful for the riches which have been bestowed upon them by Americans. Biting the hand which feeds you is never a good idea.

      November 26, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse |
  13. Greg

    There are great tips for eating right over the holidays and keeping your holidays meals under control posted on Holosfitness.com: http://www.holosfitness.com/blog/view/1/331/Ways-to-Control-Your-Eating-Over-the-Holidays/

    November 24, 2010 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Voletear

    I, too, am offended by all the animals people will be eating this holiday. For myself, I much prefer eating babies. Big, fat, juicy babies. Just remember to give thanks to our Lord and Savior.

    November 24, 2010 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Brandon

      the fingers of those little lucious babies are quite delectable.

      November 24, 2010 at 23:44 | Report abuse |
    • Dahmer

      I thank the Lord for giving us all of these scrumptious babies to choose from! Amen!

      November 26, 2010 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
  15. Softship

    Why in the world get so uptight about making Thanksgiving a "healthy" meal?
    If people are eating only healthy meals for the other 364 days a year, it hardly makes a difference what they eat on Thanksgiving.
    And if they're not eating meals for the other 364 days a year, they don't need to make an exception for Thanksgiving!
    Just remember to be thankful for what you've got – that's the most important part of this wonderful holiday.

    November 25, 2010 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Juan

      I am currently in triinang to be a social worker and i must admit it is a tough world to work in. What i have read and studied have made me at times feel very downhearted, BUT it has been those poor kids and babies that have made me carry on with my studies and websites like these are a great help in bringing about awareness and education as to this social problem. Keep it up..!!

      April 14, 2012 at 13:59 | Report abuse |
  16. Cindy Merrill

    My grandfather didn't think a holiday meal was complete if pickles were not incuded. Impress the heck out of older folks by mixing one can of dark or light kidneybeans ( drained) with canned corn ( niblets, not the creamed): Add a splash of cider vinegar and a few slices of fresh onion, if you have it, and a bayleaf or two. Make at least two hours in advance and keep chilled. Remove bayleaf before serving.

    November 25, 2010 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. fred

    I'm offended by people who are offended!

    November 26, 2010 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Barney

      Uh, hey Fred! I'm offended that you spent the night with Betty while I was shopping for turkey!

      November 26, 2010 at 09:48 | Report abuse |
  18. kate

    I Like to read about thanksgiving yams with marshmallows.Got your page on Friday.Your Post Turkey skin: More good fat than bad, and other Thanksgiving truths – The Chart – CNN.com Blogs is really Nice.Thanks.

    January 7, 2011 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Cimot

    Laurie – Thank you so much for sharing these Marcy. The teipurcs are beautiful and believe me folks when I say this is just a very small sampling of what the photos were like Totally amazing!!! Thanks again for capturing Paul and Chels' day so beautifully.

    April 14, 2012 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. bitty

    would like a phone # for turkey skin only i find it tasting and good snack plz reply

    November 20, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bitty

      i will pay just for the skin

      November 20, 2012 at 20:23 | Report abuse |
  21. bitty

    would like to get some turkey skin itz good for snacking
    plz send me #

    November 20, 2012 at 19:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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