Smart Swaps for this Thanksgiving

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.

Dish Stack-up: 

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.

Dish Stack-up: 

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.

Dish Stack-up: 

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.

Dish Stack-up: 

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.

Dish Stack-up: 

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!

10 comments on “Smart Swaps for this Thanksgiving

  • I have RRMS and I’m wanting to change the way I eat to loose weight, what suggestions can you give me. I also suffer from hypothyroidism, due to Grave Decease, and Asthma/Bronchitis. My life is Screwed. I keep gaining weight from being on steroids on and off for the past three years. I’m now up to 247 pounds and I’m only 5’2”. I need help please🙏🏽😇

    • Hi, I’m not a physician but perhaps some personal guidance from a healthcare professional is needed since you have so many health issues with steroid use. I’m grateful for assistance from my naturopath & acupuncturist in addition to allopathic health care. A combination of ideas works for me.

      Best of luck and eat healthy! “Google is a girl’s best friend” for ideas about what to do. But leave the “heavy lifting” to the professionals. 🙋💕😎🍁👍

  • I make mashed cauliflower a lot works for me as I rarely eat photo I will have butternut squash serving which I like. Sweet potato I like sliced and baked sprinkle of cinnamon but I’m not making for thanksgiving.
    I’m good with my veggies and protein with pumpkin pie as pudding a favorite without crust
    We can have anything on any day I prefer fibrous veggies as Brussels sprouts sliced and bakes with salt pepper , garlic little oil

  • Ok, so for those of us who don’t have the ability to change-up our menu and can’t un-carb the options, should we NOT do the extended fast so our insulin isn’t extra sensitive to carbohydrates?
    I am an alternate day faster and I was planning on trying my first longer fast with you (currently approaching 36 hours), but since my thanksgiving food is already planned, purchased, and prepared by other people and I have no ability to change (and am not able to make extra dishes just for myself), I should stick to my alternate day fasting protocol and break my fast today (and again on thanksgiving since that is how the timing works) instead of doing a prolonged fast, so I can protect my body from the carbohydrates better?

    • I was thinking about that and, the thing is that insulin is extra sensitive right after a prolonged fast so maybe the course of action should be to do a long fast and finish it well ahead of time, maybe a day before so as to avoid this extra sensitive timeframe.

    • I totally agree with you. What I’m going to do is plan to enjoy what my hosts have prepared concentrating on fats protein and strategically ration the carbs making sure I can enjoy my dessert with black coffee. Then after all is said and done, fast 36 to 48 hours and resume my low carb OMAD. If I were hosting, then sure this is practical, but not everyone like low carb meals on a high carb holiday feast like Thanksgiving.

  • L, your question is a good one.

    I hear what you’re saying regarding eating a meal that you don’t prepare. I’m doing the 72 hour that started a couple of days ago so that tomorrow I can ease my way back into carbs before I have that crazy meal on Thursday.

    If I were you I would stick to your alternate day fast.

  • Thanks for the tips!!! That article about insulin resistant cells is confusing, scary about people with type 2 diabetes. I’m trying the Fast before the Feast and now I’m scared and anxious that I’m just messing my body up, slowing down my metabolism and destroying my cells somehow. So…if we just MUST eat lots of carbs… then it’s recommended to do another prolonged fast and end that one with a keto diet? Making sure I’m still getting sodium and magnesium.

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