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If there’s a time to dig into everything and have a totally indulgent meal, it’s Thanksgiving. But your gut might not agree. The rich, sweet, and saucy dishes common at most Thanksgiving celebrations can create some serious stomach woes for anyone with a sensitive digestive system or gut health concerns. That doesn’t mean you have to skip the casseroles, pies, or even turkey, though.
Use these tips to plan a Thanksgiving feast that’s gut-friendly and made with ingredients that are meant to keep your gut happy well after dinner is over – and try the gut-minded recipes as you get your menu ready, too.
Tips to Create a Gut-Friendly Meal
Aim for a Balanced Mix of Mains and Sides
As Beth Lipton, recipe developer and author of Carnivore-ish, says, “Rather than completely skipping dishes, think about balancing the meal. Every dish doesn’t have to be a show-stopping flavor bomb.”
Adjust your usual Thanksgiving menu so you’re including rich staples with a ton of flavor and some simpler alternatives. “Make a few in the super-traditional, indulgent way, and tone down some others,” Lipton explains. “Keep your salad really simple, with fresh baby greens and an herb vinaigrette topped with pomegranate seeds and toasted nuts. Mash sweet potatoes with a little maple syrup instead of tons of sugar and marshmallow. Keep the dishes everyone loves and looks forward to, and simplify the flavors and preparation of others.”
“Not only will this make the meal easier on the stomach, [but] it also streamlines cooking for the host, so it’s a win-win.”
Rely on Bone Broth for Gut-Friendly Flavor
Need to infuse flavor into everything from gravy to stuffing to mashed potatoes? Try bone broth.
“One easy way to make your dishes gut-friendly is to use bone broth. The collagen, gelatin, and other nutrients in bone broth are soothing to the gut,” Lipton notes. “Add it to your stuffing, cook rice or other grains in it, make it the base of your gravy, add a few spoonfuls in place of some of the cream when mashing potatoes.”
Keep an Eye Out for Potentially Inflammatory Ingredients
When you’re living with a sensitive gut, certain ingredients and foods can cause flare-ups and spur inflammation. So, as you’re prepping for Thanksgiving, you’ll want to make sure you limit these potential inflammatory foods as much as possible, and instead lean into more gut-friendly alternatives.
Start with the staples, like cooking oils and fats. “Use healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado oil, and butter. Avoid shortening and vegetable oils like canola or soybean, which are inflammatory,” Lipton explains.
Sugar, which is a common ingredient from Halloween through New Year’s, is another key source of gut woes. “Look for strategic ways to cut back on sugar. You can do that and still make your dishes feel really indulgent,” Lipton says.
Try these tips: “Make your own cranberry sauce instead of buying canned (you can make it up to a week ahead and keep it in the fridge, cut the sugar in desserts by one-fourth, top your salad with pomegranate seeds and lightly salted nuts instead of candied nuts and sugary dried fruit,” Lipton suggests.
When in Doubt, Stick with Simple Recipes and Whole Foods
Lastly, opting for whole foods over processed foods is always a good gut-friendly idea. Preservatives can cause inflammation in some guts, and others may be too sensitive to enjoy prepackaged shortcuts common for Thanksgiving, from canned goods to boxed mixes and meals.
“Use unprocessed foods as much as possible,” Lipton recommends. Need some ideas? “Instead of stuffing mix, which is often full of preservatives, use your own bread cubes (toast them in the oven before using). Instead of cooking your green beans in canned cream of mushroom soup, give them a quick saute in olive oil.”
Gut-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes
Start planning your menu with these salads, side dishes, and mains (including turkey!) that feature good-for-your-gut ingredients. They’re also easy to adapt with gut-friendly swaps.
Need to settle your stomach after the meal? Try these digestifs, which may help aid digestion.