Wellness Wednesday: Trimming down the trimmings for Thanksgiving

November 20, 2013 | by

If the average recommended calorie intake is around 2,000 calories a day, Americans eat more than twice that amount on Thanksgiving.

Photo credit: Nathan Lyon.This curried butternut squash soup is packed with flavor, and includes superfoods cinnamon and pomegranate. A healthy alternative to fat and calorie-laden Thanksgiving appetizers.

This curried butternut squash soup is packed with flavor, and includes superfoods cinnamon and pomegranate. It's a healthy alternative to fat and calorie-laden Thanksgiving appetizers. Photo credit: Nathan Lyon.

On one hand, bounty is certainly a reason for gratitude. But so is good health – and maintaining a healthy weight and exercising have been linked to a lower risk of cancer and diabetes.

According to the Calorie Council,  the average American eats 3,000 calories during the average holiday dinner – and on top of that, chews through 1,500 calories of appetizers, dips, chips, drinks and other nibbles before and after the main course.

Looking at the day's calorie budget, those 1,500-appetizer calories seem like a good place to start. Consider a delicious alternative from Nathan Lyon, celebrity chef and author of “Great Food Starts Fresh.” His butternut squash soup is an excellent starter; it's packed with vegetables, as well as a pair of superfoods: cinnamon and pomegranate.

City of Hope superfoods research has found that pomegranates appear to contain six potentially breast-cancer fighting compounds, in addition to being packed with antioxidants. Scientists here also are studying the potential for cinnamon extracts to be used to block tumors from creating blood vessels to feed themselves. So far, consuming the foods alone doesn't seem to have specific cancer-fighting benefits, but these flavorful, healthy additions have shown promise in the laboratory to combat tumors – another reason to be grateful.

In addition to choosing a healthier start to your Thanksgiving festivities, consider capping off your meal with a walk.

Here’s Chef Lyon’s soup recipe from his acclaimed cookbook.

Butternut Squash Soup with Sweet Curry and Pomegranate Seeds

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 (3½-4 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, then cut into 1-inch cubes
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
2 large yellow onions, peeled and diced small (3 cups)
⅛ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper (chili flakes), or to taste
1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly (1 tablespoon)
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped roughly, for serving
Crème fraîche, for serving
Pomegranate seeds, for serving

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position, then preheat the oven to 475ºF.

2. Add the squash, salt, a few good cranks of pepper and a healthy drizzle of olive oil (enough to fully coat all the squash) to a large bowl and mix well.

3. Spread the seasoned squash in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and roast, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes, until nicely caramelized and cooked through. Remove from the oven and season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the onions, chili flakes, curry powder and thyme to a small pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent.

5. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.

6. Add the cinnamon, roasted squash and stock to the caramelized onions. Cover, increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

7. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and orange juice and purée with an immersion blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

8. Spoon the soup into bowls and garnish with chopped parsley, a dollop of crème fraîche and some pomegranate seeds.