You’ve probably never considered there being an “order” to what you should eat on your Thanksgiving plate: If you’re anything like us, you just fling yourself face-first into a pile of food and try to inhale as much of it as possible, maybe pausing to chew every now and again.
But according to Ben Canary, owner of lifestyle and food company Herculean Meal Prep, if you want to get slightly weird — anal, even — about it, there actually is an order in which you could eat this gargantuan feast to provide optimum gut conditions, and possibly even mitigate that post-Thanksgiving food coma. It goes something like this…
Start with veggies
According to Canary, you want to eat soluble fiber (green beans, salad, etc.) before going for the starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, cornbread, etc.) in order to slow down the latter’s digestion and absorption. “Think of digesting carbohydrates like pouring a glass of milk down a waterslide: It goes down pretty fast,” he says. “Soluble fiber is like a bunch of sawdust that you shake up with the milk. Now when you pour it down the slide, it will move much slower. Essentially, the fiber slows down the speed at which you absorb nutrients, so you want to eat these first.” As you’ll soon see, slowing your digestion by starting with the vegetables helps you avoid spiking your blood sugar, so seriously, hit the veggie tray hard during the appetizer round.
Next, the meat
If you want to avoid getting super full while thoroughly absorbing all the nutrients available in your Thanksgiving bounty, take your time with the meat. “Meat is broken down into amino acids and used for a range of processes by the body, including muscle growth and repair,” explains Canary. “One thing many people don’t know is that if you thoroughly chew your meat before eating it, your body will be able to absorb a greater percentage of the amino acids in the food.” By absorbing these amino acids and other nutrients, you set your body up to properly defend against the onslaught of carbs that will gronk your blood sugar into dangerous territory. Speaking of which…
Then the simple carbs and starches
When you save the carbs for after the salad and turkey, you help fend off the food coma. “By slowing down your body’s absorption of the starchier and simple carbohydrates, you’re actually lowering the blood sugar spike (and crash) that comes from those foods,” says Canary. On the flip side, flooding your system with carbs causes your blood sugar to rise above normal levels, which in turn triggers the pancreas to release insulin to level out the blood sugar. This is what makes you tired; it’s also what makes you fat, since all that extra glucose in your body gets stored as fat.
Finishing the Thanksgiving meal with pie is a tradition as old as the holiday itself, and the science agrees that this is the proper place for it. Much like the carbs above, desserts are mostly full of simple carbohydrates and fats that will inevitably lead to a blood sugar spike and crash. To blunt those effects, Canary’s advice is to lessen the portion size: “By limiting the amount that you consume, you can limit the effect on your body.”
But what about wine?
Booze is often a staple of the Thanksgiving meal, but since it goes with everything, it’s a little harder to say where in the digestion track meet it should sit. However, Canary warns not to go overboard on the booze for reasons beyond the usual (alienating your family, etc.): Basically, alcohol wreaks havoc on your digestive system, which isn’t ideal when tackling a giant meal. “Alcohol causes inflammation in your digestive system and creates a more acidic environment, which can lead to indigestion,” says Canary. So if you want to finish Thanksgiving unscathed, take it easy on the booze — no matter at what point in the meal you start drinking it.
In the end, if you follow this advice — go slow with the booze, eat your veggies first, then fill up on meat followed by carbs and dessert — you really might avert the epic turkey-carb-wine crash, and possibly even stay awake long enough to see Grandpa do his famous touchdown dance during the football.