Health Matters – How Healthy is Your Thanksgiving?

This article originally appeared October 8, 2010, in issue 1840.

It’s October, and Thanksgiving celebrations are right around the corner. Many of us are planning an ample Thanksgiving harvest meal, attempting to balance healthy eating with a feast-like menu. But what is the health rating of a typical Thanksgiving spread?

Red, Red Cranberries

Make sure you don’t forget to include a bowl of cranberries on your Thanksgiving table! Cranberries are significantly high in antioxidants, substances that reduce cellular damage by neutralizing harmful free radicals. In fact, on the ORAC scale, a scale used to compare different foods? antioxidant values, cranberries are listed high at 1750 ORAC per 100 g serving (compare this to oranges, at 750 ORAC, and peaches, at 168 ORAC). In fact, cranberries possess higher antioxidant levels than 19 commonly consumed fruits.

The antioxidants in those red cranberries can also help prevent heart disease. And don’t forget that antioxidants also work toward anti-aging, since decreased cellular damage in the body means a healthier-functioning system.

Of course, the majority of the health benefits associated with cranberries come from raw, or possibly lightly cooked, berries. This Thanksgiving, blend raw cranberries with oranges, water, and sugar to create a delicious, healthy cranberry jelly substitute. And feel free to take a second helping; your body will love it.

Spices and Onions

Cranberries can’t claim to be the sole antioxidant on your Thanksgiving table; many spices are antioxidant-rich as well. Those typical ?Thanksgiving? spices, like cloves, cinnamon, and sage, pack an antioxidant punch. Be sure to add generous amounts to your pumpkin pie, squash medley, or turkey stuffing.

And while You’re preparing that turkey stuffing, make it an onion bonanza. The World Health Organization acknowledges many positive health benefits from onion consumption. Onions can help picky eaters to improve their appetites?but this doesn’t mean those with ?normal? appetites will be able to eat more turkey! And onion consumption is also beneficial for heart health: namely, they help prevent atherosclerosis (plaque deposits in the arteries) and provide a mild reduction in blood pressure. These benefits are due to the onions? sulfide content (which is in turn partially responsible for onions? characteristic scent).

With your Thanksgiving onions and cranberries, your heart will be all set!

Further, onions are also a source of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), a compound that encourages beneficial intestinal bacteria to multiply. The more good bacteria in your intestines, the less chance for pathogenic bacteria to colonize there and cause negative health concerns like flatulence, bloating, constipation, or fatigue.

And use a small amount of butter, not vegetable oil, in your stuffing. Your skin will appreciate the vitamin A that a pinch of butter will give it.

Turkey

If You’re planning on a typical turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner’s main course, you may be interested to find that turkey is a highly nutritious meat. Turkey contains several B-vitamins, including thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, as well as potassium and zinc. Additionally, It’s extremely low in fat, with only one gram of fat per ounce of white meat.

What about the alleged ?turkey drowsiness,? which refers to the idea that eating your Thanksgiving turkey will make you sleepy? The theory is based on the fact that turkey contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which in turn can convert to the neurohormone melatonin, helping promote healthy sleep patterns. However, keep in mind that this theory may not be necessarily true; the levels of tryptophan in turkey are similar to those found in other meats, which do not claim to induce drowsiness.

Your Thanksgiving feast is all set. This year, take advantage of its antioxidant, anti-aging, heart-healthy, and vitamin-friendly benefits!

Katie D’Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.

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