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Thanksgiving Day is a time to feast on one of the year’s most anticipated meals with family and friends. For many Americans, the holiday is also the perfect excuse to forgo their dietary standards.

The Calorie Control Council estimates that Americans eat about 4,500 calories on turkey day, including drinks and steady nibbling on snacks throughout. That’s more than twice the recommended 2,000 calorie per day diet for most adults.

But even if you’re among the many people who won’t be counting calories this Thanksgiving, you may want to know which items to limit. That’s where your nerdy friend comes in.

We found recipes for the most popular Thanksgiving dishes and crunched the numbers to find out which is the healthiest, and which is the least healthy. Calories, fat grams, and protein were used as metrics, and while many regions and cultures bring their own traditional meals to the table, we stuck to a classic menu. Here’s how each dish ranked, with the healthiest at No. 1.

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Altogether, if you ate one serving of every item on the list, you’d eat a total of 4,747 calories, 253.5 grams of fat, and 212 grams of protein. But it’s safe to say your Thanksgiving meal will differ at least somewhat from the list, and most people won’t have both a deep fried and roasted turkey.

That’s good, since both types of turkey are the two most highly caloric items on the menu. Deep fried turkey is highest, at 603 calories per 5.5 ounce serving, but roasted turkey is still 545 calories for the same size. The American Heart Association recommends eating only a 3-ounce serving of meat per meal, but cooks can count on nearly doubling that portion size for the holiday.

In general, meat tends to have more calories because it’s nutrient dense, with lots of protein packed into every ounce. Protein is good for you but still has calories, leaving all three meat dishes in the bottom half of the list due to calorie count.

It may seem strange that pumpkin pie ranks healthier than many dishes. This holiday dessert is 379 calories for a 1/8 slice of a standard pie and has 14 grams of fat, but also offers 6 grams of protein. Contrast that with mashed potatoes, with 33 grams of fat, or deep fried turkey, with nearly 34 grams of fat.

While you may not be eating two types of turkey this year, don’t cut back on the bird because you’re worried about getting sleepy. While it does contain tryptophan, which may cause drowsiness, turkey has no more of the amino acid than chicken, and less than pork and cheese.

So, what causes that sleepy lull after Thanksgiving dinner? That’s just the effect of your body digesting all that food. Blood and oxygen stores are diverted away from your brain, resulting in a sleepy or fatigued feeling.


Rank Dish Calories Fat Protein
1 Dinner Rolls 192 7.5 3.9
2 Cranberry Sauce 95 0.1 0.3
3 Green Bean Casserole 168 10.3 3
4 Gravy 99 8.7 0.8
5 Cornbread 284 12.2 4.8
6 Creamed Corn 253 16.5 5.1
7 Pumpkin Pie 379 14.3 5.9
8 Stuffing/Dressing 254 15.5 4.4
9 Candied Sweet potatoes 294 11.7 2.1
10 Roasted Turkey 545 27.9 68.1
11 Spiral Honey Ham 521 28.3 26.1
12 Mashed Potatoes 498 33.4 8.8
13 Fried Turkey 603 33.7 68.8
14 Creamed Pearl Onions 249 10.8 6.8
15 Pecan Pie 313 22.6 3.1

Methods: Obtained most or second-most popular recipes from for each dish and ranked each according to calories, fat, and protein content. Dishes that had more protein ranked highly for protein, while dishes that ranked highly for fat and calories had lower levels of those respective nutrients. Rankings were then combined to obtain overall list.

Rankings for each metric:

Dish Calories Fat Protein Total Combined
Dinner Rolls 4 2 9 15
Cranberry Sauce 1 1 15 17
Green Bean Casserole 3 4 12 19
Gravy 2 3 14 19
Cornbread 7 6 7 20
Creamed Corn 5 9 6 20
Pumpkin Pie 9 7 5 21
Stuffing/Dressing 6 8 8 22
Candied Sweet Potatoes 8 5 13 26
Roasted Turkey 14 12 2 28
Spiral Honey Ham 13 13 3 29
Mashed Potatoes 12 14 4 30
Fried Turkey 15 15 1 31
Creamed Pearl Onions 11 10 10 31
Pecan Pie 10 11 11 32


Thanksgiving dinner image via Shutterstock.

Infographic by Brian Yee.