Health Corner: Thanksgiving

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It’s November, which means at the end of the month, most of us will be sitting around a dinner table with parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, cousins and that odd, once removed, third cousin you always try to avoid making eye contact with.

Nothing says family and celebration like Thanksgiving. There are so many stories to be told, so many people to be seen and so, so much food to be eaten. Many people see Thanksgiving as a time to splurge and gain a little weight while using the holiday as an excuse, but don’t be scared of the bird on your plate with all the trimmings. Thanksgiving can potentially be one of the healthiest days of the year.

Don’t pass on the green beans-25% of the daily recommended serving of vitamin K can be found in green beans. Vitamin K is key is activating osteocalcin, which supports calcium molecules inside the bone. Without a sufficient amount of Vitamin K, bone deterioration can begin much earlier than normal. Green beans also offer cardiovascular protection with their high levels of vitamins A and C.

Potatoes are widely considered as comfort food. What’s more comfortable than mashed potatoes during Thanksgiving dinner? But there has to be some health benefit to the number one vegetable crop in the world. Phytochemicals in potatoes actually rival those in broccoli. The Agricultural Research Service has found 60 different kinds of vitamins in the skins and flesh of wild and commercially grown potatoes. These vitamins have been found to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure. The problem is that people load the calories onto their potatoes and take them from health-beneficial to heart attack potential in the way we cook them. You’re not going to find many health benefits in oily French fries, greasy potato chips or buttery mashed potatoes. That’s why when I make the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, as is tradition in my family, I replace more than half of the butter called for with skim milk. You still have a little butter for flavor, while the milk allows for the creamy texture.

Turkey is a prime piece of protein. A four oz. serving of turkey provides 65.1 percent of the daily value for protein. That same four oz. piece has 11.9 percent of the daily value for saturated fat, which is about half the saturated fat found in the same serving of red meat.

Turkey is a good source of selenium, a trace mineral that is found most abundantly in soil containing volcanic ash. The University of Arizona conducted a study with 1,700 elderly Americans and found that those with low levels of selenium are 25% more likely to have polyps (small tumors that take shape in the body where mucous membranes exist) in the gastrointestinal tract. Selenium creates selenium superoxide dismutase (SOD). This is your body’s most powerful antioxidant enzyme. If you have enough of it in your early years, it is likely you will have strong organs later in life. Significant portions of selenium are also found in whole grains, sunflower seeds, and garlic.

If you feel like passing out after your thanksgiving feast, don’t worry. It’s not only because you ate too much. Turkey has a natural sedative called tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid, meaning the body doesn’t produce it and we have to get it from food. Tryptophan helps the body produce a B-vitamin called niacin, which then helps the body produce serotonin. Serotonin is a calming agent in the brain that helps sleep.

If you’re thinking on relying on tryptophan for your daily naps, I wouldn’t advise it. In the 1980s, many people began taking tryptophan as a dietary supplement to treat insomnia. The U.S. FDA banned tryptophan supplements in the 1990s due to an outbreak in eosinophilia-myalgia, a disease as creepy as it sounds. It causes muscle pain and, in some cases, death. So save the tryptophan intake for your holiday feast, and you should be in line for a safe, nutritious and stomach-filled Thanksgiving.

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