Is stuffing healthy?
It's a classic accompaniment to a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, but can stuffing be healthy? Registered Nutritionist, Kerry Torrens, reveals all.
What is stuffing?
Typically, what we refer to as ‘stuffing’ is a mix of savoury and sweet ingredients such as breadcrumbs, sausage meat, onion, herbs, nuts and fruit, all bound together with a little egg. Stuffing has traditionally been used when roasting meats to help retain moisture during cooking and to add flavour, and it is served alongside the meat as a classic trimming.
Discover our full range of health benefit guides or check out some of our best stuffing recipes from twists on a traditional stuffing such as our Tuscan sausage, kale and ciabatta stuffing to a tasty vegetarian alternative in our healthy stuffing balls.
A 50g serving of a classic homemade sage and onion stuffing provides approximately:
- 126 Kcals/530KJ
- 2.8g protein
- 6.7g fat
- 2.1g saturated fat
- 14.7g carbohydrates
- 2.7g sugar
Is stuffing healthy?
It probably comes as no surprise that stuffing isn’t the healthiest addition to your Christmas or Thanksgiving plate, but that’s no reason to omit it. Typically high in fat, carbs and salt, stuffing can be made fresh or purchased chilled, frozen or dehydrated.
Traditionally, a stuffing would use the giblets of the bird with the addition of sausage meat, a source of starch, such as bread, with some aromatics such as onion, herbs and spices. Using the giblets has become less commonplace and increasingly stuffing recipes are becoming vegetarian making use of dried fruit, nuts and other ingredients to add texture, flavour and interest. Although lower in fat, being predominantly cereal-based, shop-bought dehydrated products tend to be high in salt so avoid adding any extra by using water rather than stock to rehydrate and unsalted butter or vegetable oil when baking.
How to make a healthier stuffing
There are a number of ways to make your stuffing healthier, first focus on reducing fat and salt levels and secondly choose your ingredients carefully, opting for nutrient-dense choices. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Fill up on fibre – use wholewheat bread instead of white, or opt instead for a rye bread; if you want to avoid bread altogether, soaked oats or cooked quinoa can be useful replacements. Remember, bread contributes salt so by opting for alternative grains, like oats, you’ll not only be increasing fibre you’ll also be keeping salt levels down.
- Fabulous fats – select unsaturated varieties such as olive oil, cold-pressed rapeseed oil and foods rich in beneficial fats like unsalted nuts including walnuts, almonds or pecans
- Add fruit and vegetables – by increasing the fruit and vegetables in your stuffing you’ll be increasing fibre levels, lowering fat levels and adding nutritional value. Fresh, dried or puréed all work well.
- Keep it seasonal – chestnuts are a classic Christmas ingredient and are lower in fat than other nuts; they’re high in starch making them a filling option. When ground to a ‘flour’ they make a useful binding ingredient, allowing you to reduce the amount of bread or grains used.
- Season wisely – to minimise salt levels, add flavour with dried or fresh herbs, spices and citrus zest.
- Bake rather than roast - baking your stuffing as balls or in a loaf tin or tray, will prevent the stuffing absorbing fat from the meat. However, if you enjoy some meat flavours, spoon over a little from the roasting tin before serving or serve nestled alongside the meat on a platter.
Keep it safe
If you do choose to traditionally stuff your bird or joint be aware that this can pose a food safety issue – this is because juices from the uncooked meat will be absorbed by the stuffing. Always stuff the turkey loosely just before cooking, don’t be tempted to over pack, if you have any extra stuffing make some balls and bake separately or consider freezing the stuffing for another day. By adding the stuffing to the cavity of your bird, you’ll increase its density and as a result its roasting time, this can be problematic especially given you are trying to achieve a uniform heat throughout. It’s also worth remembering that a number of factors will influence the temperature of your oven, including what else you are cooking.
Before removing the bird from the oven, check the stuffing has reached a high enough temperature to kill any harmful bacteria – a meat thermometer is key for this. You may find your turkey is cooked, with juices running clear, but the centre of the stuffing hasn’t reached the required 75-80C. When testing with your thermometer, probe several positions and always go by the lowest reading.
This article was last updated in November 2021.
Kerry Torrens is a Registered Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food