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10 Healthy Thanksgiving Foods (and Leftovers)

Holiday feasts generally provide some delicious and healthy options. Here are Thanksgiving foods to pile high on your holiday plate.


A seasonal favorite for Thanksgiving, pomegranate and cranberry relish and sauces are a perfect balance of sweet and tangy goodness. “They are rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants, and offer antibacterial and antiviral properties,” says Pam Nisevich Bede, MS, RD, sports dietitian for Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition. These tiny seeds include 15 percent of your daily value of vitamin C and 3 grams of fiber per half-cup. Try this delicious pomegranate cranberry relish recipe.

bowl of beets and greensiStock/fortyforks


If you’re signing up for a turkey trot 5K or playing a friendly game of flag football after the feast, beets may give you a competitive edge. “The nitric oxide in beets dilates blood vessels and therefore aids in the delivery of blood and oxygen to working muscles,” says Nisevich Bede. “Nitric oxide is also an important player in many intracellular processes such as muscle contraction.” Beets, a sweet root vegetable that comes in red and yellow, also support neurological and heart health. In fact, beets are one of these foods that may help lower high blood pressure.


Pumpkin pie

If you’re going to go for dessert, pumpkin pie is the best of the confections. Half a can of canned pumpkin has only 42 calories and fully 4 grams of fiber, and is a great source for vitamin A and potassium. “Even better than a pie, save calories and gain nutrients by incorporating pumpkin into a savory soup or quick bread in place of heavy creams and oils,” Nisevich Bede says. Check out these tested and loved pumpkin pie recipes.

bowl of fresh cranberriesiStock/gitusik


Fresh cranberries are one of the healthiest foods in the world, according to Amy Isabella Chalker, RD, owner of Isabella Gourmet Foods in Santa Barbara, California. “They are known for their role in preventing and treating urinary tract infections, as well as having a preventative effect against dental cavities,” Chalker says. “Cranberries are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals.” Just one serving contains 20 percent of your daily value for fiber and 24 percent for vitamin C. It’s also a good source of manganese, which helps the body form bones, connective tissue, and blood clotting factors. Canned cranberries add about 100 more calories and around 6 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Here are more healthy reasons to eat cranberries this holiday season.

plate of thanksgiving foodiStock/nicolebranan


Turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table for many us and with good reason. “You can’t go wrong with turkey, especially the ultra-lean white meat portions,” says Bobby Maknoon, RD in New York City. “Turkey packs plenty of high-quality protein, which helps you feel full and satisfied.” Skinless turkey has around 32 grams of protein in a four-ounce serving and is rich in energizing B vitamins and selenium, a mineral that supports our immune system. If you’re watching your caloric intake, Maknoon suggests piling your plate with turkey at the beginning of the meal so you’ll feel satisfied without going for seconds on everything else. So, what about that post-turkey snooze-fest after the feast? It’s bogus, according to Liz DeJulius, RD, LDN, with Fitness Formula Clubs in Cincinnati, Ohio: Turkey doesn’t make you tired. “It’s generally the surge in sugar and refined carbohydrates that cause a blood sugar crash and inevitable sleepiness,” she says.

green beans with almond sliversiStock/4kodiak

Green beans

“Green beans are rich in antioxidants, good sources of vitamin K, vitamin C, fiber, and manganese,” says Jessica Van Cleave, RD, in Columbus, Ohio. If you’re not using fresh green beans, opt for frozen, or the no-added-salt canned variety. If green bean casserole is a must-have, Van Cleave suggests using low-fat milk and whole wheat bread crumbs.

brussels sprouts in cast iron paniStock/rudisill

Brussels sprouts

Check out the profile on these cute veggies (the nutrition profile, that is). “Brussels sprouts are a fiber-rich cruciferous vegetable that helps lower cholesterol and protect against cancer due to the phytonutrient glucosinolate,” DeJulius says. (See more cancer-fighting foods here.) If you steam your sprouts, the benefits are amplified. Brussels sprouts also support the body’s detoxification system and anti-inflammatory response and are rich with antioxidants.

mashed sweet potatoesiStock/Jelena990

Sweet potatoes

These tasty tubers have fewer calories and more fiber than their white-fleshed cousins. “Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene and antioxidants, and have 400 percent of our daily requirement for vitamin A,” Van Cleave says. “Instead of sugar-packed candied yams and sweet potato recipes, try roasting them, or replace your traditional mashed potatoes with mashed sweet potatoes.”

Turkey sandwichiStock/Olga-Nayashkova

Healthy leftovers

The second-best part of the holiday is a fridge filled with delicious Thanksgiving leftovers. When round two comes around, keep it healthy with these suggestions: Turkey sammie #1: “Skip the stuffing layer and choose a high-quality whole-wheat or sourdough bread, piled high with white turkey meat, avocado, lettuce, and tomato,” Chalker suggests. “Add homemade cranberry sauce, because the canned version is extremely high in sugar.” For turkey sammie #2: “Skinless white meat turkey can be made into a great sandwich with avocado, tomato, hummus, kale, mustard, and lemon on toasted Ezekiel bread,” says Monica Auslander, MS, RD, LDN, owner of Turn leftover cranberries and cranberry sauce into a salsa or cranberry applesauce, or add it to oatmeal, plain Greek yogurt, or whole-grain pancakes, suggests Kacie Vavrek, RD, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Roasted veggies can be added to a vegetable broth and turned into a hearty soup, along with turkey shavings.

overhead shot of Thanksgiving tableiStock/GMVozd

Stick to Thanksgiving specials

Perhaps the wisest tip of all is to eat the foods that you would typically eat only during Thanksgiving and pass on foods that are more common in our daily diet. “For example, pumpkin pie is a dessert that most people consume during Thanksgiving but is not typically eaten on a regular basis, whereas other desserts like cookies or cupcakes can be eaten year-round,” Vavrek says. Savor and relish the special foods of Thanksgiving and consider taking a walk after dinner instead of flopping onto the couch.


Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer and writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among others. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.