By Joe Wilkes

It's that time of year when it's not just the turkey that's getting stuffed. The Thanksgiving table is full of irresistible treats and sweets, but before you commit yourself to an afternoon of gluttony, followed by the traditional unbuttoning of the pants in front of the TV, you might consider that there are a lot of options that are actually good for you. And, if you're the one planning the menu, you can include even more choices so that you can enjoy Thanksgiving without turning into a Macy's parade float.

  1. Turkey. You can't beat lean turkey breast. With only 44 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 8 grams of protein per ounce, this is one of the healthiest things you can load up on. Even the dark meat only adds an extra gram of fat and 9 more calories per ounce. But skip the skin, which adds extra calories and fat, and go light on the gravy. Try the salad-dressing technique—dip the tines of your fork in the gravy before you spear your meat to get more flavor with less fat. Also, if you're cooking, baste the bird with broth, not butter, to keep the fat and calories low.
  2. Cranberries. These tart little berries are bursting with nutrition, including high levels of vitamin C and several polyphenol antioxidants. Cranberries are also good at inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria in the bladder and urethra. It's also believed that cranberries contain a chemical that helps stop tooth decay, but this could be moot if the cranberries are prepared with sugar. Instead of going overboard with the sugar, try cooking cranberries in orange juice, or a little port wine, to bring out their flavor without oversweetening them.
  3. Yams. These tasty tubers (not to be confused with sweet potatoes) are great sources of vitamin B6, which can reduce the risk of heart disease, and potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure. And because yams contain complex carbohydrates and fiber, they won't spike your blood sugar. Candying the yams, a popular Thanksgiving tradition, will largely negate any blood sugar benefits, however. Try having them with a little cinnamon instead. They are generally sweet enough on their own, but if your guests insist on candying them, maybe serve them with a little maple syrup on the side, so at least the sugar rush is optional.
  4. Sweet potatoes. Like their relative, the yam, sweet potatoes have lots of nutrients that regular potatoes don't have, including beta-carotene and vitamin C. The high levels of carotenoids in sweet potatoes also help regulate blood sugar, which will help you avoid the post-Thanksgiving "coma" that afflicts so many overindulgers on the holiday. Although, once again, you can easily counteract the nutritional benefits by melting marshmallows on top of the sweet spuds. But, at least marshmallows can be easily scraped off as opposed to the poor candied yam, which would have to be scrubbed down to get it back to its natural nutritious state.
  5. Salad. Load up on salad! And by salad, we mean lettuce and vegetables, not a cream-based Waldorf salad or mayonnaise-laden potato or macaroni salad. This is a good contribution you can make if you're a guest at someone else's Thanksgiving dinner. Offer to bring a salad, with dressing on the side, and you'll at least be guaranteed that there will be one healthy dish on the table.
  6. Pumpkin pie. When you're looking at the dessert selection, keep in mind that a slice of pumpkin pie has as much beta-carotene as an entire carrot. Take that, apple pie! It's also high in vitamin C. Unfortunately, it can oftentimes also be high in fat and sugar. But if you're making the pie, you can substitute skim milk for cream or sweetened, condensed milk. Some chefs even add silken tofu to thicken the pie filling, and provide the extra health benefits of soy.
If you're lucky or unlucky enough to be hosting the main event, you can try some other things to "health up" the meal. Think about offering a salad course and/or a (non-cream-based) soup course. This can prolong the meal and conversation (which can be good or bad, depending on your family) and allow you to fill up on healthy stuff before the main-course shoveling begins. Also, try scheduling the meal so it isn't eaten in front of the football game. Then, you can pay attention to your guests and what you're putting in your mouth. If you're at the mercy of some other Thanksgiving host, hope for a cornucopia of vegetables that you can choose from or offer to bring something healthy and delicious yourself. By making healthy choices, you'll have something to be thankful for instead of a couple of extra pounds.