It may feel like summer is still here*, but it’s already October and (Canadian) Thanksgiving is just around the corner! Like most foods, the ingredients in your Thanksgiving spread have humble, and healthy, beginnings. So why do people tend to gain weight over the holidays? Because a) we eat until we are stuffed and b) we transform these humble ingredients into calorie monsters!
At their core they’re still the same, nutritious foods with lots to offer in the way of health, they just might be hard to unearth on that heaping plate of food!
The centrepiece to most holiday dinners, turkey can take on many forms – from deep-fried to bacon-wrapped to simple and roasted (our favourite). The great debate is white vs. dark meat: white breast meat is still your best bet, even with the skin.
Per 75 g (2.5 oz) serving, breast meat provides 119 kcal / 0.65 g saturated fat and 129 kcal / 1.2 g saturated fat without and with skin, respectively. By comparison, skinless dark meat has 149 kcal and nearly 2 g of saturated fat.
Regardless of whether you are a white or dark meat lover, turkey is rich in lean protein and immune-boosting minerals such as zinc and selenium. Keep some leftover turkey soup in the freezer for those winter colds!
Does turkey actually make you sleepy? Tryptophan, an amino acid important for sleep, is often linked with turkey’s so-called sleep inducing quality, but turkey is actually no higher in tryptophan than most meats; in fact, it’s lower than chicken (1)! So what’s to blame for your post-dinner nap? A whole lot of food, including a hefty dose of carbohydrates: digestion is an energy-intensive process that tires you out. Simple as that.
Rich in the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C, the flesh of sweet potatoes (the orange-coloured ones are often called “yams”) also contain anti-inflammatory cyanidins for a double-whammy of health. Eat the skin too – it is a great source of fibre! Known for its role in eye health and immunity, beta-carotene has also recently been associated with better mood. When looking at blood levels of beta-carotene (an indicator of dietary intake), researchers found that higher levels seem to correlate with reduced risk of depression (2).
Step away from the marshmallows! Sweet potatoes are amazingly sweet on their own, and don’t need loads of sugar to shine. We like them cubed and unpeeled, roasted with a bit of butter and brown sugar, and topped with toasted pecans.
Full of antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, these tart little berries are also excellent sources of fibre and vitamin C. Unfortunately, the most common way people consume cranberries is via cranberry juice or worse, cranberry cocktail – you don’t get any fibre from juice and vitamin C is often lost in processing and has to be added back in.
Cranberries have long been linked to reduced risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), but most cranberry juice blends are not going to do it, even if they are 100%. Look at the ingredients: apple juice is usually #1 and if there is sugar added, that is a fruit drink more akin to pop! For recurrent UTIs it needs to be 100% unsweetened cranberry juice – tart stuff but according to a Cochrane Review in 2008 (3) it may only take ½ cup per day to reduce risk of UTI, though some recent studies are less certain (4).
While homemade gravy is loaded with saturated fat, sugary cranberry sauce is actually higher in calories (1), so use sparingly. Or opt for a homemade version with more flavour and less sugar, like this Cranberry-Onion Relish recipe from Eating Well magazine. Canned cranberries do have a certain nostalgic charm though and, thankfully, contain only trace levels of BPA.
We are unrepentant in our love of Brussels sprouts! Abundant in vitamin C, folate, potassium and carotenoids, cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts also contain glucosinolates, which have been linked to reduced risk of prostate, colon and bladder cancer (5). Low in calories and high in fibre, these veggies will help fill you up so that second-helping is less appealing! See our cruciferous Food Fight! for more information on Brussels sprouts’ nutrient content.
While we think plain, old steamed sprouts are fantastic, we admit that a little bit of bacon (emphasis on little) goes a long way and pairs well. For a great Thanksgiving salad, we love shredded Brussels sprouts (raw), sliced apples and pecans tossed with an apple cider vinaigrette.
Just like sweet potatoes, pumpkin and other squash relatives are rich in beta-carotene, hence their characteristic orange colour. If reduced risk of chronic disease isn’t enough to get you to eat your orange veggies, what about attractiveness? Researchers in the United Kingdom found that eating more beta-carotene-rich foods can actually get you ranked higher on attractiveness (6); they suggest that beta-carotene imparts a lovely, warm hue to your skin that people find irresistible Who needs a tanning bed in the winter when you have pumpkin!
There are few things that compare to pumpkin pie with whipped cream… so, we suggest keeping this one as is, but have a SMALL piece. If you have leftover pumpkin, try our Thanksgiving Pancakes or Pumpkin Smoothie. Unfortunately, canned pumpkin did not fare as well as cranberries in terms of BPA content – try to find BPA-free canned pumpkin if possible.
No Baloney’s advice? Thanksgiving only comes once per year, so enjoy it! Just don’t wear your extra roomy turkey-eating pants…
First and foremost, we recommend restraint and mindful eating – eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed! Next, aim for good plate balance: try to leave some room for veggies! Your plate should not be all beige turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing.
Despite the best of intentions, there might not be room for pie… and you might eat it any way. The “moment on the lips, forever on the hips” is not instantaneous though – take the next few days to strike the calorie balance back in your favour: get outside and go for a long walk, focus on lots of fruits and veggies and be more mindful. Most importantly, don’t let Thanksgiving indulgences continue until 2013!
* though not in Calgary – it’s supposed to snow this week…
- Health Canada. Canadian nutrient file (CNF), 2010. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada. Health Products and Food Branch.
- Beydoun MA, et al. Antioxidant status and its association with elevated depressive symptoms among US adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2005-6. Br J Nutr 2012:1-16. [Epub ahead of print]Jepson RG, Craig JC. Cranberries for preventing urinary tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;(1):CD001321.
- Stapleton AE, et al. Recurrent urinary tract infection and urinary Escherichia coli in women ingesting cranberry juice daily: a randomized controlled trial. Mayo Clin Proc 2012; 87:143-50.
- Bosetti C, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk in a network of case-control studies. Ann Oncol 2012; [Epub ahead of print]
- Whitehead RD, et al. You are what you eat: within-subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoS One 2012; 7(3):e32988.