Thanksgiving Fare to Help Ease Your Back Pain

Thanksgiving Day marks the beginning of a joyful holiday season that involves lots of eating and drinking. How to indulge without overdoing it.

Why worry about one holiday meal? Everybody splurges on Thanksgiving! But our annual day of thankfulness kicks off a season notorious for months of overeating and overdrinking, and all that indulgence can lead to some serious weight gain. When you have chronic back pain, one common side effect of additional weight gain can be increased back pain. So unless you’re a turkey (and you’re probably not), there’s no good reason to stuff yourself!

Young girl with sign stating, I'm thankful!While the Thanksgiving Holiday is a time to be thankful, even for small things, it may be a time to be grateful for some nutritional advice. Photo Source:

But there’s also no reason to serve up a skimpy diet plate on a holiday that’s all about good food and family food traditions. Go ahead and prepare a classic Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings—turkey with dressing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Tweak your recipes to cut back a little on fat, sugar and calories, pay attention to your portion sizes, and tilt the traditional balance of foods toward larger servings of veggies and lean meat, smaller servings of breadstuff, fats, and desserts.

Cutting calories isn’t the only reason to indulge in lightened-up but still traditional Thanksgiving fare. Researchers have found that foods rich in carotenoids—antioxidant nutrients like the beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, green vegetables and cranberries—may help control inflammation and protect against oxidative stress, or harmful cell damage, within the central nervous system. So whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner or an ordinary meal, be sure to indulge in these foods!

Traditional Thanksgiving Meal Trade-Offs

This year, try substituting at least one new and healthier, but equally delicious, side dish for a classic that’s just too rich and heavy. For instance, instead of bread stuffing, try a recipe for wild rice dressing with apples and nuts. Or instead of fatty, flour-thickened gravy, try turkey “au jus,” which translates to “with juice,” and is made with defatted pan juices from the roasted bird.

  • Start with this simple starter recipe, then season to taste: Gently simmer together a cup of defatted turkey pan juices, ½ cup apple cider and a teaspoon or two each of dried sage and thyme. Season with salt, pepper and additional herbs, to taste.

Lighten up traditional vegetable side dishes by using healthier seasoning ingredients and flavor-enhancing cooking methods, like roasting and broiling, that caramelize vegetables and bring out their natural sweetness.

Here are some simple, yet festive ideas:

  • Skip the marshmallows and other “candying’ when it comes to sweet potatoes and yams, and go savory instead. For instance, toss sweet potato wedges or cubes in a little olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary and salt, and roast at medium-high heat until tender.
  • Forget about glazing the carrots with butter and honey. Instead, steam chunks of carrot in advance, then saute just before serving in olive or coconut oil, along with naturally sweet sliced apples and golden raisins. Season with salt, pepper, parsley and thyme. Even easier: Toss baby carrots in a half-and-half mixture of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and roast until tender; season to taste.
  • Combine streamed or broiled green beans with roasted cherry tomatoes and scallions, and just a drizzle of olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Brussels sprouts also develop a rich, earthy flavor when roasted at medium-high heat. Toss with fresh orange sections, ripe sliced pear and raisins, or scallions and a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
  • When you mash potatoes, switch out at least half, if not all, the heavy cream and butter for yogurt and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, of course, and add soft roasted garlic and chopped chives for extra-special holiday flavor.
  • If you want to skip the traditional cranberry sauce but still give your meal some of that sweet and tangy flavor, try sprinkling dried cranberries over a spinach and walnut salad, rice pilaf or dressing, and even that sliver of pumpkin pie.

Make just a few modifications like these to your holiday meal, and you don’t have to worry so much about the sugar in your cranberry sauce or the fat and sweet combination of ingredients in your pumpkin pie. And while you may find that alcohol helps infuse the holiday spirit, and maybe even ease some of your pain in the short-term, remember that the long-term effects of excessive drinking can result in health complications that cause even more pain.

If you do drink alcohol, and you want to stay safe, healthy, and as pain-free as possible, stick to one or two small glasses of wine with dinner or a bottle or two of beer while you’re watching the football game. Resist the urge to overindulge in food or drink, and you’re likely to be giving thanks for many days to come!

Updated on: 11/12/19
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