Thanksgiving dinner is traditionally a high-carb affair.
Tables often feature some combination of mashed potatoes, thick gravy, sweet baked beans, yams, cornbread, and pie. Those dishes can feel like an abomination for people on a ketogenic diet, which limits one’s carb intake to 20-50 grams per day.
Keto dieters aim to stay in a state of ketosis, in which the body burns fat for fuel. The approach is backed by some evidence that suggests limiting carbs could boost your health. A rigorously controlled study published in the BMJ this month suggested that overweight people who stick to low-carb diets (getting 20% of their daily calories from carbs) may burn around 250 more calories per day than people who follow high-carb eating plans.
The study is the latest to question the conventional idea that “a calorie is a calorie.” More research is still needed, but the finding suggests there might be something sluggish about the way our bodies run when using carbs as an energy source, and that could have serious consequences for our health and make long-term weight maintenance trickier.
For keto eaters, a single serving of mashed potatoes or slice of apple pie could send their system out of ketosis by raising their blood sugar. But there are still ways to follow the rules and feast at Thanksgiving. Here are a few simple and delicious ways to stay keto this week without deprivation or cheating.
First, a warning about the keto diet.
The keto diet may not be right for pregnant women, people with kidney or liver issues, or people with rare disorders that make it difficult to metabolize ketones (the chemicals your liver makes when it burns fat for fuel).
If you’re considering it, consult a doctor first.
Turkey is definitely keto-friendly.
- Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker
Keto diets are designed to be high-fat, which means that you can even slather your turkey with as much butter as you like.
Just don’t put any bread in the stuffing.
Instead of mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, try a cauliflower mash.
Boil the cauliflower and add butter, parmesan and cream, Taste of Home suggests. Mashed cauliflower that’s dripping with butter could fool your grandmother into thinking there are potatoes on the table.
Gravy that uses flour for thickener is out of the question. But you can make a keto-friendly dressing using drippings, broth, and cream.
- Africa Studio/ Shutterstock
Ketologic, a popular keto diet website, suggests thickening gravy up by adding some xantham gum. But you don’t have to go that far if you’re fine eating a soupier gravy.
Green beans are one of the few beans that are low-carb enough to include in your meal.
Simplysohealthy.com offers a keto-friendly twist on traditional green bean casserole that features fresh mushrooms, parmesan, and garlic cream cheese.
Other beans aren’t generally allowed on the keto diet because they’re high-carb. But a cup of green beans has about seven grams of carbs, and half of those are in the form of fiber (which doesn’t count for keto-ers). So a serving of the greens won’t put you anywhere near your daily carb limit.
Get creative with appetizers, salads, and crudités.
Keto diets aren’t meant to be protein-rich, but it can be easy to forget veggies on Thanksgiving, when meats and dairy abound.
A keto feast could include a salad with avocado, onions, green peppers, cucumber, and tomatoes, or a crudité platter.
Deviled eggs are also a keto-friendly hors d’oeuvre.
Cheese is always a tasty option, too.
- Flickr / Didricks
Cheese is a staple of the keto diet, and scientists even think there might be something special about the way calcium, protein, and butter-fat are arranged in full-fat cheeses – a so-called “cheese matrix” that could help protect our hearts.
One vegetable-focused side to try is Brussels sprouts with bacon.
Dress up Brussels sprouts with bacon, garlic, and cheese, suggests CafeDelights. (Skip the cornstarch in this recipe if you’re keto.)
You could also consider a side dish of asparagus or broccoli.
You could also make creamed kale or spinach.
Kale and spinach leaves are loaded with potassium, vitamins, and magnesium, which are important nutrients that keto dieters sometimes neglect. Many recipes for creamed greens call for butter, cream, and cheese – those are fine on the keto plan, but regular milk has sugar so is generally avoided.
A glass of wine with dinner is fine.
- David Silverman/Getty Images
David Harper, a cancer researcher who’s been keto for over six years, says he often has a glass of wine with dinner, and it doesn’t mess with his state of ketosis.
Red wine has slightly less sugar than white, but a single serving of either kind won’t do you in.
Apples are a high-carb fruit, so keto dieters can’t eat apple pie. Berries with cream are a more fitting dessert option.
- Wikimedia Commons
Blackberries and raspberries served with whipped (unsweetened) cream is a satisfying low-carb dessert option.
If you’re dying for an apple-pie substitute, there are some squash recipes out there. GnomGnom.com suggests using the Mexican squash chayote topped with a crumble made from coconut and almond flours.
You could also opt for cheesecake.
- merc67, Shutterstock
A New York-style cheesecake, like the one from alldayidreamaboutfood.com calls for cream cheese, butter, eggs, sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla extract – all keto-approved ingredients. You’d have to make one substitution, though: instead of regular sugar, a keto-friendly artificial sweetener like Stevia. (It’s also best to opt for crustless cheesecake if you’re going keto.)
Throughout the meal, remember to stay hydrated.
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It’s easy to get dehydrated while on the keto diet, especially if you consume more meat on the plan, since that ups the amount of protein and uric acid in your body.
Remember to drink plenty of liquid to help keep your digestive system running smoothly and ensure you’re not just eating because you’re thirsty.
Whatever your eating plan is this Thanksgiving, remember that the food is only part of the feast.
Remember that holidays are also about social support. Connect with friends or family – even a simple gesture like a hug can be important.
In fact, researchers recently surveyed over 400 adults about how often they’d been hugged over a two-week period. The results suggested that people who got a consensual hug now and then were less bugged by interpersonal conflicts in their lives.