Special Report

How to Avoid a Post-Thanksgiving Food Hangover

Hristina Byrnes

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1. To eat or not to eat during the day

Health experts are unanimous: The single worst thing you can do on Thanksgiving is not eat all day so you have room for dinner. Depriving your body of the food it needs will backfire on you, resulting in overeating, blood sugar spikes, lethargy, and ultimately a food hangover. Instead, have a highly alkaline breakfast — think vegetables and green smoothies — and a lunch rich in healthy fats, Gioffre said. “These will provide the necessary minerals the body needs to neutralize the acid that’s about to come from all the meat,” he added.

Have a protein snack about three hours before dinner time, Pidich said. You will consume fewer calories and will be full for longer. That way, when it’s time for the main course, you won’t rush to go all in, she added. Cox recommended a high protein snack – nuts, peanut butter and whole grain crackers an hour to two hours prior to the main event.

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2. Avoid the worst foods

“The stuffing is basically bread and butter; the gravy is just sauce of fat; and the cranberry sauce, when coming from a can, has too much added sugar,” said Dr. Alyson Pidich, medical director of New York City’s Ash Center.

“Simple carbs are the worst,” Gioffre said. “They are basically sugar.” (When digested they are converted into glucose, or blood sugar.) Sugar lowers the pH of your blood, making it more acidic, and thus more inflammatory. Simple carbs on the Thanksgiving table are found in desserts and anything with white flour (including flour-thickened gravy).

Desserts are the worst culprits as they are high in both fat and sugar, Fitzgerald said. “A standard slice of pecan pie has about a third of the average person’s calories and half the amount of fat recommended per day.”

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3. If you’re going for seconds, don’t go for the potatoes

Cox recommended that Thanksgiving diners fill up on steamed or roasted vegetables rather than casseroles. If you must have something more than vegetables, it’s better to increase your protein intake than to eat more carbs, Pidich added. “Turkey is exceptionally lean meat, so it’s OK to have two servings of it.” (A 100 grams — 3.5 ounces — of turkey breast without the skin has 30 grams of protein and 2 grams of fat.)

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4. The “turkey makes you sleepy” myth

Many people believe they get tired after the Thanksgiving meal because turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the brain make serotonin, which in turn controls mood and induces sleep. “The truth is that the high-fat and high-carbs foods are causing the sleepiness,” Pidich said. Chicken, which people eat a lot more often than turkey, has roughly the same amount of tryptophan. Do you feel tired after eating chicken?

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5. Food and math go hand in hand

Pidich recommended dividing your plate mentally into three parts, halving it and then splitting one half in two again. Fill the largest section with vegetables — Brussels sprouts, green beans, and greens in general are ideal options. They are low in calories but rich in vitamins and minerals, which the body needs in order to function, Pidich said. Lack of those nutrients make it more difficult for the body to recover from overeating.

One quarter of the plate should be filled with starch — preferably sweet potatoes or yams, Pidich said. “They have more complex carbs and are more alkaline, which means no big spike in blood sugar.” Tiredness and headaches are common side effects of glucose buildup in the blood. The worst carbs that lead to big spikes in blood sugar are in the mashed potatoes and stuffing, Pidich added. The remaining quarter of the plate, of course, is for the turkey.