Green bean casserole is far from the healthiest veggie dish on the Thanksgiving table. Thanks to the cream of mushroom soup and classic fried onion topper, it’s actually calorie-heavy and often packed with fat and sodium. And the green beans add less redeeming nutritional value than one might guess!

The Need-to-Know — Cream of Mush-Doom

The go-to green bean casserole recipe includes green beans, condensed cream of mushroom soup, milk, and fried onions. And all those ingredients add up to a whole lot of calories. Following the classic French’s instructions, a one-cup serving has 142 calories and 8 grams of fat— and that’s without seconds! The problem? Lets start with the soup. Just one ½ cup serving of classic canned cream of mushroom is overloaded with sodium— nearly 1,000 mg and 36 percent of the recommended daily value— which has been linked to high blood pressure when consumed in excess. As for those onions, fried foods have been associated with obesity and higher-than-normal BMI. Intake of fried foods is associated with obesity in the cohort of Spanish adults from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Guallar-Castillón P, Rodríguez-Artalejo F, Fornés NS, et al. Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007 Jul;86(1):198-205. Association of consumption of fried food away from home with body mass index and diet quality in older children and adolescents. Taveras EM, Berkey CS, Rifas-Shiman SL, et al. Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston, MA. Pediatrics, 2005 Oct;116(4):e518-24. .

While they may be healthy on their own, green beans can hardly compensate for the soup and onions. They do have a respectable amount of vitamin K and some vitamin C, but they don’t hold a candle to more nutrient-rich greens like kale. Making matters worse, after cooking, many of green beans’ vitamins are lost, leaving them little nutrition to offer this dish Comparison of vitamin losses in vegetables due to various cooking methods. Rumm-Kreuter D, Demmel I. Alfa Institute Eltville FDG. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 1990;36 Suppl 1:S7-14; discussion S14-5. Vitamin C, total phenolics and antioxidative activity in tip-cut green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) and swede rods (Brassica napus var. napobrassica) processed by methods used in catering. Baardseth P, Bjerke F, Martinsen BK, et al. Nofima Mat AS, Osloveien 1, NO-1430 Aas, Norway. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2010 May;90(7):1245-55. .

Your Action Plan — Mean Bean Casserole

We know, we know, sometimes green bean casserole is simply a necessity. If the traditional dish is the only way to go, there are a few easy fixes to improve the nutritional value. Healthier versions of cream of mushroom soup (think “low sodium,” or “reduced fat”) may cut out up to half of the calories, fat, and sodium. Homemade baked onions, while still not especially healthy, may be a better alternative to fried onions by cutting down on fat. As for those green beans, if using frozen, don’t thaw ‘em before cooking. Vitamins affected by heat (vitamin C, for example) are broken down more easily when cooked after thawing Vitamin C losses in some frozen vegetables due to various cooking methods. Nursal B, Yücecan S. Hacettepe University, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, TR-06100 Sihiye, Ankara, Turkey. Die Nahrung, 2000 Dec;44(6):451-3. . Additional vegetables are another great way to compensate for vitamin-loss during cooking. Fresh mushrooms are rich in B vitamins and onions (not of the fried variety) have been associated with cancer- and bacteria-fighting properties Onions--a global benefit to health. Griffiths G, Trueman L, Crowther T, et al. Department of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology, Horticulture Research International, Wellesbourne CV35 9EF, UK. Phytotherapy Research, 2002 Nov;16(7):603-15. . For those looking to hide a few more vitamins in this casserole, try substituting some of the green beans for other frozen veggies, like asparagus (they’ll blend right in!), carrots, or cauliflower.

Dangerfood Recipe: Healthier Green Bean Casserole

Take a swing at this for the Thanksgiving table. We promise— no one will be able to tell the difference! Serves 8

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 9-ounce bags frozen green beans (or one bag of green beans and one bag of a second vegetable)
  • 1 pint button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 onion (half thinly sliced, half chopped)
  • 1 can healthier cream of mushroom soup (we used Campbell’s Healthy Request)
  • 3/4 cup 1 percent or skim milk
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tbs. flour​

What to Do:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the flour and a pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl. Toss sliced onions in mixture until well coated.

2. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Spread the onion strips on the tray. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until crisp.

3. While the crispy onions are baking, sauté the chopped onion and mushrooms until just soft. Combine in a casserole dish with the frozen veggies, soup, and milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Bake the casserole for about 30 minutes or until warmed through. Five minutes before it’s done, top with the baked onion strips.

Photo by Kelly Fitzpatrick

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