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This Is the Best Time to Eat Your Thanksgiving Meal, According to a Dietitian

Emily Laurence

Emily LaurenceNovember 27, 2019

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Photo: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

A lot of debating goes down on Thanksgiving day: Should everyone watch football or the Macy’s Day Parade? Is light or dark turkey meat healthier? What outerwear works best for the Turkey Trot? But without a doubt the biggest question that comes up in most households is about what time dinner should be on the table.

Some families have Thanksgiving as a lunchtime meal in the middle of the day. After all the dishes are done, you can go for a nice outdoor walk or play a family game of football; a little activity helps all that food digest. Others scratch their heads, wondering how getting all the cooking done that early is even possible and are lucky if they have it all on the table by 7 p.m. Besides, their side of the debate goes, turkey helps you sleep.

To help settle the debate on what time of day it’s really best to have the Thanksgiving meal—as far as digestion goes, at least—I reached out to registered dietitian and The Full Helping blogger Gena Hamshaw, RD. “There’s no ‘official’ verdict on the best time to eat your Thanksgiving meal,” she says. “It often depends on family traditions, which is fine: food should be a source of pleasure and an opportunity to connect.”

Okay, okay, but if you had to pick, I pressed. “From a digestive standpoint, it’s helpful to be upright for at least two to three hours after eating and before sleep,” Hamshaw says. “This is especially true if you’re prone to acid reflux or indigestion: reclining right after a meal can exacerbate those common digestive complaints.” With this in mind, what matters more is when you plan on going to bed, not when you’re eating.

“So, feel free to enjoy your feast in the afternoon or in the evening, but give yourself some time to digest before heading to bed,” Hamshaw says, driving this point home. “And if you do eat earlier in the day, consider a light evening meal so that you don’t go to bed hungry. Consistent mealtimes benefit digestion, too, and they help to keep metabolism steady.”

It looks like no family traditions are getting disrupted this year—at least when it comes to meal timing. It looks like the biggest controversy will be telling your grandpa that the mashed potatoes are actually made of cauliflower.

Here’s how to build your Thanksgiving plate like a registered dietitian:

These are the golden rules of gut health, according to G.I. docs. Plus, how sugar affects the gut.

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