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The biggest calorie bomb at Thanksgiving dinner & 10 fun Thanksgiving food facts

By Hilary Meyer, November 14, 2012 - 11:01am

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There’s a lot that’s changed about Thanksgiving in the years since the Pilgrims gathered for their first meal of thanks. For instance, they weren’t were watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade while they basted their bird (that started in 1924) or rummaging through sale racks for a bargain sweater the day after on Black Friday. Here are a few fun Thanksgiving food facts to mull over while you enjoy your meal.

1. Thanksgiving Hasn't Always Been a National Holiday
What do nursery rhymes and Thanksgiving have in common? Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor who also happened to write “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She lobbied for making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Seventeen years and five presidents later, Abraham Lincoln finally established Thanksgiving as a holiday in 1863. You go, girl.

2. Thanksgiving Hasn’t Always Been on the Same Date
Abraham Lincoln declared in 1863 that Thanksgiving fall on the fourth Thursday of November. But in order to stimulate the economy and extend the holiday shopping season during tough times, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date in 1939 to the third Thursday. It stayed that way for two years until Roosevelt moved it back to the fourth Thursday, where it stands today. (By the way, this year we have five Thursdays in November.)

3. We Consume an Average of 3,000 Calories at Thanksgiving
From the butter volcano in the mashed potatoes to the mishmash of sweet potato casserole and cornbread stuffing slathered in gravy, each American is estimated to consume anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 calories at the average Thanksgiving meal. (Check out this healthier menu: How to Cut 1,273 Calories from Thanksgiving Dinner (And Never Miss Them.)

But the biggest calorie bomb on your Thanksgiving table? [Drum roll, please.] Pecan pie!  It packs a whopping 503 calories a slice (compared to 316 calories for pumpkin pie and 411 calories for apple pie). Where does this seemingly innocent pie get all of its calories? Sugar, mostly, and copious amounts of pecans, which harbor lots of fat. But on the bright side, much of that is “good fat” (including omega-3s) and pecans contain more antioxidants—compounds that sweep up tissue-damaging free radicals—than any other tree nut, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Pecans also provide notable amounts of zinc, a mineral that may help combat colds. In second place for calorie-packed dishes, we have sweet potato casserole at 460 calories a serving, and in third, don’t forget that wine adds up fast: 382 calories for three average-size glasses.

Don’t Miss: 3 Secrets to Perfect, Healthier Pecan Pie

4. The Original Thanksgiving Lacked A Few of Today’s Must-Haves
What wasn’t part of the original Thanksgiving? A fork!  The Pilgrims ate with spoons, knives and their hands. (I hope they had plenty of napkins!)  Forks didn’t become regulars at American tables until years later. Also missing from the settlers’ table: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

5. You’d Have to Run a Marathon (Plus!) to Burn Off Your Thanksgiving Calories
If you want to exercise to “erase” the calories from turkey, gravy and everything else you ate at Thanksgiving dinner, I hope you have a comfortable pair of running shoes. A 150-pound person would have to run an average of 29 miles to burn off 2,800 calories. If you weigh more, congratulations! You get to run less. But whatever you weigh, clear your calendar and get out your reflective running gear because you are going to be busy (and winded).

Don’t Miss: 5 Best & Worst Thanksgiving Foods

6. We Eat (Way More Than) A Ton of Turkey
It’s estimated that Americans consume 736 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving Day alone. That’s 368,000 tons or, put into perspective, the weight equivalent of almost 20 Queen Mary 2 cruise ships. Or about the weight of the Empire State Building.

7. Most of Our Turkeys Come From Minnesota
Which state gives us the most turkeys? Minnesota, at around  46 million birds. North Carolina comes in second at 32 million and then Arkansas at 30.5 million.

8. Turkey Does NOT Make You Tired
Sleepy? Maybe it was the wine. Contrary to popular belief, eating turkey does not make you tired. While turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid which when released into the brain produces serotonin—a serenity-boosting neurotransmitter—“tryptophan-containing foods don’t produce the hypnotic effects pure tryptophan does, because other amino acids in those foods compete to get into the brain,” explains Art Spielman, Ph.D., an insomnia expert and professor of psychology at the City College of New York. So turkey doesn’t make you sleepy but booze, carbohydrates and in-laws do.

9. It’s Okay to Throw Food (Well, Cranberries At Least)
It’s not always a good idea to throw your food, but it might be okay when you’re talking cranberries. How can you tell if cranberries are ripe? Use this age-old growers’ test: throw them on the ground and see if they bounce. If they’re ripe and ready to eat, the air pockets inside allow them to bounce. If a cranberry is old or damaged, it won’t have as much spring.

Don’t Miss: 8 of the Biggest Thanksgiving Cooking Mistakes

10. If You Cook Thanksgiving Dinner, You’ll Burn A Quarter of the Calories You Eat
If you’ve ever pulled off cooking a Thanksgiving dinner yourself, then you already know it’s a workout. How much of a workout? More than you might think! If you make the whole dinner yourself (that’s everything from turkey to gravy, sides and dessert, with about 4½ hours in the kitchen chopping, stuffing and rubbing), you’ll burn about 700 calories! See the breakdown here.

What’s the biggest calorie bomb on your Thanksgiving table? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Hilary Meyer, Food Blog, Dinner, Entertaining, Family meals, Holidays, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Countdown

Hilary Meyer
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

Hilary asks: What’s the biggest calorie bomb on your Thanksgiving table?

Tell us what you think:

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