Let’s be real, sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to go ham on a plate of turkey. If there’s anytime it’s appropriate to indulge, it’s Thanksgiving. And why not? Food is delicious, it’s social, and even regular fasters need plenty of food to stay healthy: we need fat to replenish and rebuild our cell membranes, we need amino acids to repair and grow our muscles, we need fiber to keep our digestive system running smoothly, and we sometimes need carbohydrates for energy. Food is functional. It’s ok to enjoy it!
But is there a middle ground? Is there a way to enjoy the smorgasbord without going overboard? If you’re participating in our Fast Before the Feast you may be wondering, “Am I about to undo the benefits of my fast if I chow down on a bunch of carbs?”
One of the benefits we get from a fast is a leveling off of blood sugar—calming and dampening the rollercoaster of spikes and dips that are so common with the high-sugar, high-carb Standard American Diet. Interestingly, there’s a sort of “whiplash” phenomenon that seems to occur in the days immediately following a prolonged fast, wherein insulin can be extra sensitive to carbohydrates, and blood sugar spikes can be even more pronounced than normal. In prolonged fasting, blood sugar and insulin levels decrease. The body then wants to reserve the remaining blood sugar and the newly created sugar from gluconeogenesis for the brain, thus creating an insulin resistant environment in our muscles.
It’s for this reason, among others, that our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Peter Attia, recommends entering and exiting a fast on a ketogenic diet. This begs the question—is it possible to be keto on Turkey day? Can we remove or at least minimize carbohydrates and still have a Thanksgiving feast? This is, after all, a day known for its carb-heavy delights: stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, mac ‘n cheese, pumpkin pie, the menu goes on and on.
Some of you may want to just turn your brain off for a day or two and enjoy your holiday, no holds barred. Others may want to feast a little more thoughtfully following your fast. So we’ve compiled a few “Thanksgiving hacks” to significantly lower the glycemic index of your meal.
Swap This for That
Mashed Potatoes for Mashed Cauliflower
Let’s be honest, the real hero of any mashed potato recipe worth its salt is the butter. Luckily, butter can be very keto-friendly. We recommend using organic, grass-fed butter or a vegan equivalent. Starchy potatoes, however… not so much. Luckily, the more fibrous cauliflower behaves surprisingly similarly to potatoes when cooked. One thing to look out for: you definitely want to squeeze the excess water out of your steamed cauliflower before mashing it to avoid your dish getting too runny or watery. If you want to get adventurous with your flavors, adding tahini to your cauliflower mash adds even more keto-friendly fats, plus a surprisingly scrumptious flavor twist.
- Mashed Potatoes: 43 g carbs, 37 gm net carbs per serving
- Mashed Cauliflower: 12 g carbs, 8 gm net carbs per serving
Mac ‘n Cheese for Cauliflower Mac
Sensing a theme here? Cauliflower is a great high-fiber, low-index carb to replace a lot of our favorite starchy sides. You’ll want to break the cauliflower into small pieces and pre-cook it—we recommend roasting, to cook off the excess moisture. Then add it into a pot with your favorite cheese-sauce ingredients and bake to simmering, golden brown perfection. If you like topping your mac ‘n cheese with bread crumbs, try substituting parmesan crumbles instead to get a crisp topping without upping the carb count.
Honeybaked Ham for Roasted or Smoked Ham
If you’re a ham family, you may not realize there are a lot of sneaky carbs hiding in the most popular varieties, even though it’s right there in the name. Honeybaked hams come loaded with added sugar. So if you’re worried about extra carbs on Thanksgiving, try swapping your honeybaked ham for a smoked, roasted, or pulled variety of pork instead.
Bread Stuffing/Dressing for Grain Free Stuffing
A quick google search for low carb stuffing will reveal plenty of… you guessed it: cauliflower options. But you may be tiring of cauliflower at this point. A more fun (albeit time-consuming) option is to make your own low-carb cheesy or almond-flour bread, and use that with your favorite stuffing recipe. After all, it’s the bread that brings the carbs. If you don’t have the time to make your own, there are a few great low-carb bread options available online, but order them early; you might be hard-pressed to find low-carb bread in stores.
Marshmallow Yams for Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes
You may not be kicking carbs entirely on Thanksgiving. After all, yams and sweet potatoes have plenty of nutritional benefits. But you may want to cut back on the added sugars—all the maple and marshmallows can turn your nutritious tubers into a glycemic grenade. Instead, try letting the natural sweetness of the taters shine, and go a more savory route with your topping. Try spiced pecans, or butter and parmesan with thyme or rosemary. The sweet/savory combo might be unorthodox, but it’s also a delicious change of pace.
- Candied Yams: 66 g carbs, 64 g net carbs
- Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes: 37 g carbs, 31 g net carbs for ½ a sweet potato
The bottom line is this: feel free to enjoy your feast. But if you’re concerned about your blood sugar and your health for the long haul, there are plenty of ways to bend the rules rather than breaking them entirely.
What are your favorite low-carb swaps? Comment below!