By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
As we gear up for Thanksgiving, you may be wondering if it’s possible to serve up a healthy, yet festive, feast this year. Absolutely! The traditional foods of the season also happen to be ultra healthy – if you make them the right way.
Most of the foods typically served are packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. They can also offer up a cornucopia of antioxidants to keep disease at bay. And what better way to show your family and friends just how much they mean to you than by helping them stay healthy during the holidays?
So, let’s get cooking!
Let’s Talk Turkey
A perfectly roasted turkey is the centerpiece of a memorable Thanksgiving feast. It can also be a wonderfully healthy source of lean protein and tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays an important role in the synthesis of serotonin – the brain chemical that helps to regulate sleep and appetite, mediates moods, and inhibits pain. Tryptophan is also a precursor in the creation of niacin.
Turkey is a terrific source of iron, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and vitamin B6. Best of all, a three-and-a-half ounce serving of white meat (about the size of a deck of cards) is less than 200 calories! No wonder Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird!
Unless you’re feeding an army, forget roasting a whole turkey. Instead, look for a nice meaty breast – preferably grown without hormones or antibiotics. And don’t even think about deep frying your bird! Instead, set it on a rack in a roasting pan so the fat drains away. Brush the turkey with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Add some white wine or chicken stock to the pan for basting.
To add even more flavor, gently slip your fingers under the skin, creating a pocket. You can then rub crushed garlic or dried thyme or tarragon underneath the skin, directly on the meat. If you do cook a whole turkey, add cut oranges, onions and sprigs of fresh herbs inside instead of the same old stuffing. Not only will you boost the flavor, you’ll add important nutrients to the meal.
If you want to boost the nutritional value of stuffing, toss out the bread! Instead, create a savory stuffing using a mixture of barley and dried fruits – especially apricots – for a real taste treat. Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains and provides lots of soluble fiber. This earthy grain also boasts antioxidants, vitamin E and selenium.
Eaten regularly, barley – like other whole grains – can help reduce blood pressure. In one study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 25 people experienced lower blood pressure after eating barley for five weeks. Barley can also help you manage blood sugar levels and reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels.
Not thrilled with barley? Try quinoa. Although not a common item in most kitchens, quinoa is an amino acid-rich seed that has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a lovely nutty flavor when cooked. Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. It’s also an ancient “grain” once considered “the gold of the Incas.”
Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete, which means that it includes all nine essential amino acids. In addition to protein, quinoa features a host of other health-building nutrients. Because quinoa is a very good source of manganese, as well as a good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, this “grain” may be especially valuable if you suffer from migraine headaches, diabetes or atherosclerosis.
And All the Trimmings
At our house, Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without a variety of side dishes. And what better place to sneak in some good nutrition?
Broccoli: Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains sulforaphane and indoles – phytonutrients that have significant anti-cancer effects. It’s also packed with vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate and fiber. Steam with some crushed garlic and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan cheese before serving.
Brussels Sprouts: Another member of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts also boast sulforaphane, as well as a hefty amount of vitamins C and K. In one trial, researchers in the Netherlands investigated the effect of a diet high in Brussels sprouts on DNA damage. They compared two groups of healthy male volunteers. Five men ate a diet that included about 10 ounces of cooked Brussels sprouts daily, while the other five men ate a diet free of cruciferous vegetables. After three weeks, the group that ate Brussels sprouts had 28 percent less DNA damage. Reduced DNA damage may translate to a reduced risk of cancer, since mutations in DNA allow cancer cells to develop.
Cranberries: For hundreds of years, cranberries have been valued for their ability to reduce the risk of urinary tract infections. In a placebo-controlled study of 153 elderly women, drinking cranberry juice cut the chances of developing a UTI by 50 percent. Cranberries prevent UTIs by acidifying the urine and by preventing bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. But forget sweetened cranberry juice or the jellied stuff in the can. To get the true benefits from this festive fruit, make your own cranberry relish with fresh, whole cranberries.
Sweet Potatoes: A standby during the holidays, sweet potatoes are one of the more nutritious vegetables around. Fiber-rich sweet potatoes contain unique root storage proteins that offer significant antioxidant capacities. In one study, these proteins had about one-third the antioxidant activity of glutathione – one of the body’s most impressive internally produced antioxidants. They are also one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, potassium and iron.
One Last Thing …
There’s an easy way to help your guests practice portion control during Thanksgiving dinner. While you’re busy in the kitchen, serve up a raw vegetable platter with a low-fat dip. Not only will you prevent having a bunch of ravenous guests around your dinner table, you’ll also sneak in some extra nutrition.
If you happen to be the guest instead of the cook, you can dampen your appetite with a wholesome snack an hour or two before you leave for the festivities. Opt for a snack containing both protein and complex carbs – cheese and whole-grain crackers or an apple with peanut butter.
Whether you’re the host or the guest, take a few minutes to remind yourself of everything you have to be thankful for – family, friends and especially your health.
This Just In …
During the holidays, my aunt used to dig out the nut cracker and get busy. Cookies and breads were studded with almonds, pecans and walnuts. And, of course, a bowl filled with unshelled nuts always graced the coffee table. I’m sure my aunt didn’t know how healthy nuts were, but she was definitely on to something.
Nuts are still a good idea, and a new study is shining the light on one nut in particular – pistachios. According to research from Penn State University, pistachios are a heart-healthy superstar – significantly reducing inflammation at a cellular level. These tasty nuts also lower blood pressure and reduce total cholesterol by 8.4 percent and LDL cholesterol by 11.2 percent. If that weren’t enough, pistachios also provide more lutein than any other nut, making them an eye-friendly addition to your festivities.
So grab a handful of pistachios for a satisfying and healthy snack. In the meantime, I wish you all a safe and bountiful Thanksgiving.
Behall KM, Scholfield DJ, Hallfrisch J. “Whole-grain diets reduce blood pressure in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106:1445-1449.
Fleet JC. “New support for a folk remedy: cranberry juice reduces bacteriuria and pyuria in elderly women.” Nutrition Reviews. 1994;52:168-170.
Scott-Thomas Caroline. “Could heart-healthy pistachios be the new pomegranate?” NutraIngredients.com Oct 2008 29.
Verhagen H, Poulsen HE, Loft S, et al. Reduction of oxidative DNA-damage in humans by Brussels sprouts. Carcinogenesis. 1995;16:969-970.