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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Lim Sock Ling and Dr Eki Wari on October 19, 2022

Healthy Swaps To Use In Your Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

Published | 5 min read

These healthy swaps for traditional Thanksgiving recipes taste so good your guests won't know the difference.

Thanksgiving meal min scaled

There is no better way to show your family you love them than by cooking their favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

For many Americans, these recipes have been handed down for generations. Each dish has sentimental value as they remind us of cherished memories.

However, not all Thanksgiving recipes are healthy. Many are made with ingredients that cause immediate digestive upset, such as gluten, dairy, refined sugars, and processed starches.

With a few slight adjustments, you can give your favorite Thanksgiving recipes a healthy makeover without sacrificing taste. You may even enjoy your new recipes better than the original!

Are Traditional Thanksgiving Recipes Healthy?

Adding more vegetables and herbs to your Thanksgiving recipes can boost their nutritional profile.

Every gathering is different, but most Thanksgiving celebrations feature roasted turkey as their main dish. Side dishes include green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, macaroni and cheese, and stuffing.

Although tasty, these foods are made with ingredients that may cause digestive upset, such as gluten, dairy, and refined sugar. Thanksgiving meals are known for being large. Therefore, eating a large portion of these foods could cause an upset stomach and digestive issues quickly.

Healthy Swaps For Your Thanksgiving Recipes

We asked Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Lim Sock Ling to provide tips for healthy swaps to make this Thanksgiving.

Here are Physician Lim’s top recommendations:

Goji berries

Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are high in antioxidants and fiber. They also taste great and pair well with savory roasted turkey.

“Goji berries benefit the Liver and Kidneys. They can be made into a jam or sauce and used as turkey dip. They can also be sprinkled on salad and eaten raw,” Physician Lim stated.

Angelica sinesis

Angelica sinensis is also known as Dong Quai or female ginseng. It can be used to make the sauce for the turkey.

According to Physician Lim, “It helps to nourish blood but note that it should be consumed with caution for pregnant women and those on blood-thinning medicine.” 


Adding almonds to your Thanksgiving salad or green bean casserole will add protein, fiber, and antioxidants, such as vitamin D.

“Consider using almonds to make an almond pie instead of pecans. Almonds nourish the Lungs and relieve cough. It also helps in promoting bowel movements,” stated Physician Lim.

Red dates

Red dates are a great source of natural sugar. They can be used in salads or enjoyed as is for dessert.

Red dates make an excellent natural sweetener. They’re low glycemic and high in fiber, making them a better option for people with diabetes.

Add them to salads, vegetable dishes, desserts, and turkey stuffing. You can also use licorice or Monkfruit (Luo Han Guo) to sweeten your Thanksgiving recipes naturally.

Coix seeds

Coix seeds, also known as Job’s teas, are a gluten-free ancient grain high in protein and fiber. In TCM, they are used to nourish the Spleen and stomach, reduce water retention in the body, alleviate rheumatic pain, aid in detoxification, and relieve swelling.

Consider making job’s tea stuffing with walnuts and red dates for a low-carb alternative to regular stuffing.

“If you wish to cut back on carbohydrates, you may consider using coix seed for the stuffing or replacing potatoes with Chinese yam to strengthen the Spleen,” stated Physician Lim.

How To Use Herbs In Your Thanksgiving Recipes

Add herbs to your Thanksgiving turkey to make it healthier and taste better.

You can boost the nutritional profile of your Thanksgiving turkey and side dishes by adding herbs to them.

According to Physician Lim, “Most TCM herbs should be cooked before eating although every herb may have different requirements. For example, chamomile can be steeped in boiling water and consumed as tea but this method is unable to bring out the taste or benefits of other herbs, such as Angelica sinensis and coix seed.”

“Herbs can be paired to enhance or neutralize their properties. Therefore, the intention of the herbs used should be clear. It is noteworthy that the therapeutic effect of herbs used in dishes is usually not concentrated as the cooking method, dosage, and ingredients used are not optimized as per those in herbal prescriptions. It is generally safe to use herbs when cooking. We should, however, not use the herbs in excessive quantities unless an individual is very certain of its properties, contraindications, and general body constitution of his or her guests,” stated Physician Lim.

The following herbs can be used for roasting turkey: 

Best Teas To Pair With Your Thanksgiving Recipes

If you’re looking to stay away from alcohol or you just ate too much and need some digestive support, consider herbal teas.

Here are some that Physician Lim recommends:

  • Chamomile tea: Helps the mind relax and promotes better sleep quality 
  • Monkfruit (Luo Han Guo) tea: For those who wish to end the dinner on a sweet note, it helps cool and soothe the throat. 
  • Hawthorn fruit tea: Aids in digestion but is not suitable for pregnant ladies or during concurrent consumption of blood-thinning medicine. 
  • American ginseng tea: Invigorates qi and nourishes yin. According to Physician Lim, “This tea would be great for those who may be sleeping late in preparation for the Thanksgiving party.” 

Thanksgiving Recipes Don’t Have To Be Unhealthy!

Your Thanksgiving recipes don’t have to be unhealthy to be enjoyed. There are ways to make your traditional favorites healthier using a few swaps. However, if your plan is to enjoy Thanksgiving as much as possible, then use smaller portions so you can enjoy a little bit of every dish.

“Eat wisely and slowly. Go easy on the dressing to spare yourself some unnecessary calories, sodium, and sugar. Choose fresh fruits and foods over preserved foods and sauces. To enjoy the dinner, go for variety but cut down on the quantity,” concluded Physician Lim.

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