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How These Top 10 Favorite Thanksgiving Dishes Impact Your Health

We enjoy classics like the turkey, gravy and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. But how do these foods impact our health?

By Monica Cull
Nov 13, 2023 7:00 PMMar 25, 2024 7:13 PM
Thanksgiving Table
(Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)


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We enjoy classics like turkey, gravy, and pumpkin pie during the holidays. But how do our favorite Thanksgiving foods impact our health? 

Thanksgiving is upon us once again. It’s time to gather with our friends and families and dig into a delicious feast! 

As you pass around the dishes of sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and of course the turkey, do you ever wonder how these Thanksgiving favorites can affect your mind and body? Here’s a list of the top 10 favorite Thanksgiving foods and how they impact your health.

1. Rolls

(Credit: Marie C Fields/Shutterstock)

Don’t you just love a good dinner roll? Light, airy and that wonderful buttery smell. Recently, bread and dinner rolls have gotten a lot of flak for not being “good for you.” But, like all foods, how “good” something is for you typically depends on the portion you consume. 

How Healthy Is Bread?

We don’t suggest eating just bread – your body won’t get all the nutrients it needs to maintain its health. However, bread does have some nutritional value:

  • Bread helps support the probiotics in your body.

  • Bread contains fiber which is key for digestion. Fiber is also key in helping to maintain blood sugar

  • Bread is low in fat.

  • Bread has protein.

  • Bread can help prevent certain cancers.

Is White Bread Bad for You?

Now, most of these health benefits come from eating whole grains; white bread that contains bleached flour isn’t as nutritious for your body. Switch to whole grain rolls for one of the healthiest foods to eat on Thanksgiving.

A dinner roll contains fiber and protein that are beneficial for your body, once again if consumed in moderation. But go ahead, have two. We won’t tell anyone.

Read More: What Exactly Are Ancient Grains — and Should You Be Eating Them?

2. Cranberry Sauce

(Credit: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock)

Whether you make your own cranberry sauce or buy it from the store, this sweet, red garnish is still delicious and nutritious. No wonder it ended up on the top ten favorite Thanksgiving foods list! 

Why Are Cranberries Important to Thanksgiving?

Cranberries were essential to some Native American tribes. Especially the Wampanoag, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims. They used it for dying, food, and medicine. Since it is theorized that cranberries were used at the first Thanksgiving, they have since then become a staple on the dinner table.

Do Cranberries Have a Lot of Fiber?

Much like dinner rolls, cranberries are high in fiber and low in fat. Which means they are excellent for digestion. The two major benefits of cranberry sauce, however, is that it is packed full of vitamin C and antioxidants, both of which are great at helping you build up your immune system – especially since cold and flu season is on the way. 

Read More: What to Feed Your Microbes

3. Sweet Potatoes

(Credit: nteanudragos/Shutterstock)

Sweet potatoes, much like cranberry sauce, help add a little sweetness to the traditional savory Thanksgiving dinner. Typically topped with marshmallows and a sugary oat crumble, sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest foods to eat on Thanksgiving. Of course, they would be more so without the sugary toppings, but you can indulge for the day.

Are Sweet Potatoes Healthy?

Sweet potatoes also are full of protein and fiber (something you’ll need to help your digestive system on turkey day) and great vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C. They are great immunity boosters, pathogen fighters and brain boosters. This is why they fall into the top 10 favorite Thanksgiving foods. Or is it the marshmallows? We’ll let you decide.

4. Mashed Potatoes

It’s a safe bet that mashed potatoes are always a favorite at Thanksgiving. And better yet, they’re actually pretty good for you! 

Are Mashed Potatoes Healthy?

Potatoes are full of potassium, which can help lower blood pressure and help to nourish your muscles. Potatoes also have a lot of vitamin B6. This is a great vitamin for your metabolism. If you want to keep mashed potatoes one of the healthiest foods for Thanksgiving, we suggest laying off salt and butter. These can counteract the nutrition of your potatoes. 

Read More: Ancient Holiday Celebrations

5. Gravy

(Credit: Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock)

You can’t have your mashed potatoes without the gravy! While this is a tasty topping, unfortunately, gravy does not have a lot of health benefits … if any at all. 

How Is Gravy Made?

Gravy is made from the juices that come off meat while it cooks. The juices are typically combined with flour or corn starch to thicken them up. 

Is Gravy Unhealthy?

Gravy has a lot of excess salt, no fiber and very little protein. It’s definitely not the healthiest food for Thanksgiving, but we’re not going to stop you from adding a little bit to your mashed potatoes.

6. Mac and Cheese

(Credit: Goskova Tatiana/Shutterstock)

Mac n Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. That’s why it’s made its way to the top 10 favorite Thanksgiving foods list. 

Is Mac and Cheese Healthy?

Unfortunately, much like gravy, there isn’t a whole lot of nutritional value in mac n cheese

The cheese itself carries all the nutritional value, with protein as well as healthy fat. 

The noodles do contain fiber, which is good for digestion, but the combo makes for a high-carb, high-calorie and high-sodium dish. When you’re scooping your Mac n Cheese this Thanksgiving, maybe cut back on your portion. Or don’t, we aren’t your mom.

Read More: Interesting November Holidays That Are Rooted in Science

7. Green Bean Casserole

(Credit: from my point of view/Shutterstock)

The beans, the cream of mushroom soup, the crunchy onions. Mmm …can’t you just taste it? It’s no surprise that green bean casserole made the top 10 favorite Thanksgiving foods list. 

is green bean casserole healthy

Is Green Bean Casserole Healthy?

Now, while you may be thinking that you’re getting a double helping of veggies in your casserole, the unfortunate news is that many green bean casserole recipes require canned veggies, soup and fried onions. These can be overly processed and contain a high amount of sodium. However, if you used fresh ingredients, your casserole can contain a lot more nutrients, including:

  • Fiber

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamins B1, B2 and B6

  • Calcium

These are just a few of green beans’ many health benefits. If you’re using fresh beans, make sure you take an extra scoop of casserole.

Read More: Cooking a Turkey for Thanksgiving? Here's What To Do

8. Stuffing

(Credit: MSPhotographic/Shutterstock)

Stuffing can make or break your Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone seems to have a secret recipe. 

What Makes Stuffing Unhealthy?

Stuffing, though mostly bread, can be one of the healthiest foods to eat on Thanksgiving, especially if it’s made right. 

How to Make Healthier Stuffing

Use whole wheat bread – including the crust – to get the extra fiber and nutrients that are excellent for digestion. Your stuffing will also include a lot of great protein and antioxidants.

Scoop up some more stuffing this year!  

Read More: Feeling Sleepy After a Thanksgiving Meal? It Might Not Be the Turkey

9. Turkey

(Credit: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock)

We all know that turkey is the main dish of the day, but is it one of the healthiest foods to eat on Thanksgiving? 

Is Turkey Healthy?

Turkey is full of lean protein, B vitamins, and can even help boost serotonin levels. No wonder everyone is feeling full, happy, and sleepy after their Thanksgiving feast!

10. Pumpkin Pie

(Credit: Anna_Pustynnikova/Shutterstock)

Last but certainly not least on our top 10 favorite Thanksgiving foods list is the pumpkin pie! 

Is Pumpkin Healthy?

Pumpkin is full of vitamins and other essential nutrients for your health. Pumpkin contains potassium, which can help lower your blood sugar and vitamin C for immune health. The major benefit is beta-carotene, which can help lower the risk of cancer. 

What do you think of the top 10 favorite Thanksgiving foods? Are you surprised by the benefits many of them have? Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. While these foods are a great source of nutrients, overeating them can take away many of their benefits. It's not always easy, but everything is better in moderation. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Read More: A Brief History of Celebrating Thanksgiving in Space

This article was originally published on Nov. 19, 2021 and has since been updated by the Discover staff.

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