The Nutrition Benefits of the Thanksgiving Meal

The holiday season is upon us. With all the information of how to curb the weight gain over the holidays, let’s take a look at some of the nutrition benefits of the actual meal. Start off with a little of each and then sit back and wait a while before you have seconds (or thirds!).

First off, there’s the turkey. Turkey is an excellent, lean source of protein. Contrary to what many think, it is not the tryptophan in the turkey that makes us sleepy (protein actually interferes with the release of serotonin and tryptophan)—it’s the meal itself and likely the quantity. Turkey contains vitamins such as B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12, along with minerals such as potassium, iron, zinc and selenium. Aim for a 4 ounce serving.

Next is the stuffing. Stuffing can be a vehicle for all types of nutritious additions. Onion and garlic are great for digestive and immune health, celery contains the antioxidant quercetin, bread (most people use white bread for stuffing) contains some B vitamins, along with minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, calcium, iron, manganese and selenium. Use whole wheat bread and you get a little more fiber. Adding some herbs and spices can pack on some more nutrients as well. Examples include thyme, sage, basil and oregano. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves and turmeric are also wonderful additions.  Aim for a ½ cup serving on your plate.

Sweet potatoes or pumpkin are great sources of vitamin A and beta carotene. Instead of the sweet potato version with marshmallows which add extra sugar, go for the baked and add a teaspoon of butter or olive oil or a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream. Top with a sprinkle of some cinnamon which will sweeten them up. Save the calories from all the butter and marshmallows for dessert. Or if you want the serving with the marshmallows, forgo the bread or rolls or the crust on the pumpkin pie. Aim for a medium sweet potato.

Green beans contain vitamin C, potassium, manganese, vitamin K and carotenoids such as beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Many people enjoy a green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. The “casserole” is where the calories and quite a bit of sodium is added. If you must indulge, try a few small spoonfuls. Or, enjoy some fresh green beans with some chopped nuts and onion or chives, along with a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy a ½ cup of fresh green beans.

Cranberry sauce-Cranberries are a source of vitamin C, K and manganese. They have also been linked with helping to reduce urinary tract infections, along with maintaining oral and gastrointestinal health. Fresh cranberries can be too tart to eat, so many enjoy dried cranberries, cranberry juice and at Thanksgiving, cranberry sauce. Aim for a starting point of a 2 Tablespoon serving of cranberry sauce, as it has quite a bit of added sugar.

Pumpkin pie-A true Thanksgiving tradition. As mentioned above, pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A and beta carotene. What’s a Thanksgiving meal without it? Enjoy 1/8 of a pie and gauge how you feel. You may just be satisfied with one serving…

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the nutrition aspects, it’s a meal to be enjoyed. Portion sizes can be gauged if one has interest, but enjoy the benefits of the meal and the purpose for the occasion. We have much to be thankful for if we can eat such a meal.

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