The table is set with the good china, cornucopia centerpiece, and Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings. There may be fewer loved ones around it this year, but with grateful hearts, we look forward. Eating the traditional Thanksgiving meal with small twists can be beneficial for our overall health, boost our brainpower, and mental health. Ending this year with a healthy note can help us get 2021 off to a great start.
Registered Dietician, Monica Smith from the Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD), provides ideas on how to turn the traditional Thanksgiving dinner we love to eat into a delicious, nutritious meal. Monica Smith When thinking of Thanksgiving dinner, turkey is an absolute. This Thanksgiving staple is on top of the good for you list. It is a great protein, being lean, not high in saturated fats, says Smith.
Most have heard of tryptophan in turkey, an amino acid that makes us sleepy, but it also influences our mood.
“It helps increase the neurotransmitter serotonin which is a feel-good hormone in our bodies,” Smith says. Research shows that our attention, memory, and mood are all positively affected by tryptophan, she says.
Proteins are the building blocks of the body. All cells contain proteins that are needed to help repair cells and make new cells. Smith stresses the importance of lean proteins that have less processing and nitrates. These along, with the higher saturated fats, cause health problems.
Turkey is a good protein to have year-round. Deli turkey provides almost the same benefits. Smith says to look for turkey that has less processing and fewer nitrates.
A Thanksgiving Salmon could be a fun, healthy alternative this year. After all, the Pilgrims had access to an abundant amount of seafood, which would have been an important food source. Salmon is a fatty fish, good as an anti-inflammatory, and is a great source of Omega 3, says Smith. She found a Thanksgiving Salmon recipe which includes another Thanksgiving favorite, cranberries.
Eating more fruits and vegetables is something most need to do daily.
“They are rich in numerous protective antioxidants (help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases), have numerous vitamins/minerals, and help increase immunity and our cognitive function,” says Smith. These are easy to incorporate into Thanksgiving dinner. Smith says to think dark leafy greens. Sauteed spinach, kale, or swiss chard in olive oil, with a little garlic, is tasty and healthy. Must have turkey (Wikimedia Commons) “All of your orange veggies like butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, and carrots,” are all good Thanksgiving vegetables, Smith says. “You can make roasted pumpkin the same as you would butternut squash. Just coat it with a little bit of olive oil or avocado oil, a heart-healthy oil, and salt and pepper or you could add a little cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s really good,” she says. If roasting pumpkin, roast the seeds too! Pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein and Omega 3.
Skip the green bean and other casseroles this year.
“This is kind of a problem with Thanksgiving, all of the casseroles and all the extra things,” says Smith. Having just the green beans, sauteing them like the other leafy vegetables, would be fine but swapping out the green beans for leafy greens is best, she says.
Enjoying cranberries is a perfect complement with Thanksgiving and keeps it traditional. Cranberries have a lot of antioxidants in them and are anti-inflammatory. Antioxidants are important because they prevent and help slow down damage to cells. A lot of berries, cranberries, and cherries are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. The canned cranberry is fine; however, it has added sugars, Smith says. If making a cranberry dish, be careful about adding too much sugar. “The cranberries themselves are pretty tart without adding some sort of sugar to them, but yes they are still good, the whole berries are best though,” she says. Smith says that when thinking about eating sweet potatoes and cranberries, add walnuts or pecans to it. Nuts are a good source of Omega 3s and are a healthier option than the marshmallow topping.
No Thanksgiving dinner is finished until dessert is eaten. Desserts can be delicious, sweet, and healthy. Enjoy a pumpkin pie or berry cobbler, Smith says. The berries and pumpkin are sources of those, anti-inflammatories, just try to eat less crust and more of the filling.
A baked turkey, sauteed leafy greens, roasted squash, cranberries, and a pumpkin pie or berry cobbler make a well-rounded and hearty Thanksgiving dinner.
To keep from overeating all this delicious food, Smith says to eat breakfast. Smith likes a green smoothie. It is an easy way to get in leafy greens. She uses kale, apple cider, a frozen banana, and some vanilla yogurt.
“It’s really tasty and the apple cider covers up the taste of the kale,” she says.
“Those are good foods to try to incorporate every day,” says Smith. Eating healthy means improved mood, less brain fog, and better cognitive functions, she says. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and eating less sugar and saturated fats goes a long way to improve body and mind health. In this season of giving thanks, let us give thanks for a healthy year to come.