Well, by some amazing turn of events, it has fallen to me to host my family's Thanksgiving feast this year. As I really love to host dinner parties, I'm looking forward to it--though I'm a bit worried about how I'll fit all the cooks into my 2 (okay, maybe 3) butt kitchen! This past weekend Chef Brett and I (and about a dozen of our closest friends) had a preview of the Big Day at our annual Slap Some Gravy On It. A great time with great friends heralded in for me my favorite things about the coming holiday season: sharing food and spending time with those I love.
So, for our second go-round here on our blog, we decided it was very timely to talk about the foods we love to chow on at our Thanksgiving feast each year and, rather than pay attention to the fact that we're going to eat way more than we should, we'll talk about all the healthy nutrients we're shoveling in instead!
So of course what would Thanksgiving be without a glorious bird! Turkey, similar to chicken, is high in easy-to-absorb protein, zinc, selenium and iron. Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system and also helps with wound healing and normal cell division. Selenium is important in thyroid hormone metabolism, immunity, and is an antioxidant. Turkey is also a great source of B Vitamins--especially B6, B12, and niacin. B Vitamins are used, among other things, to help our bodies make energy; they are essential to healthy brain function, heart health, blood building, and immunity. Turkey is also some of the leanest poultry (especially if you don't eat the skin--but remember, we're not counting calories today!), containing only 2.7 grams of total fat (less than 0.3 grams of saturated fat in skinless turkey breast!) per 3 1/2 oz serving.
Ah, every one's favorite gravy receptacle: mashed potatoes! The info I'm going to give you is for potatoes alone--please remember that mashing potatoes with tons of butter, cream, cheese, etc. tips the scales away from the health benefits a bit! ;) Potatoes have somehow gotten a bad reputation for those of us trying to watch our waistlines--most likely due to the fact that our favorite way to eat them seems to be deep fried! However, when baked or boiled in a little water, and even more so when you leave the skins on, potatoes are actually really good for you! Potatoes (when not smothered in oil) contain less than 100 calories per 3 1/2 ounce serving. Being a root vegetable, nutritional value is highly determined by the quality of the soil in which they are grown, but even taking that into account the potato is a better supplier of energy and protein than almost any other crop! In fact, the protein in potatoes is equivalent to that found in soy beans (without the genetic modifications and potential for hormone modification--you'll have to wait for a future post for more on that...) and one large baked potato provides 1/4 of your daily protein requirement! Potatoes also are high in fiber, B Vitamins, potassium (especially the peel), and enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy. If you suffer from osteoarthritis or stomach ulcers, you might try taking 3 ounces or so of fresh potato juice (mix it with apple or carrot juice or add it to soup just before eating) 4 times a day for a month!
Yes, there is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams--however in your average U.S. grocery store, we just have sweet potatoes. "Red skinned sweet potatoes" are often called yams or garnet yams. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, are from an entirely different plant family, and don't taste anything like sweet potatoes. So, we're going to talk about sweet potatoes! As you can tell from their orange color, sweet potatoes are high in carotenoids, especially beta carotene which is antioxidant, boosts immunity, maintains healthy skin, and improves night vision. They are also high in starch which provides energy and contain some Vitamins C and E. The lighter fleshed sweet potatoes are lower in sugar and are much lower on the glycemic index than red skinned sweet potatoes or regular potatoes making them a better choice for diabetics and those with blood sugar regulation issues. Remember, the overall nutritional value of your sweet potatoes depends largely on how you prepare them: sorry grandma, but bubbling in brown sugar and butter with marshmallow topping just isn't going to cut it! Hopefully Chef Brett can give us a better alternative!
My love affair with Brussels sprouts is relatively new--so the romance is still there! I used to cringe away from these humble veggies but they are one of my new favorites! This weekend we had steamed Brussels sprouts wrapped in prosciutto and skewered with a toothpick as one of the appetizers--yum! Brussels sprouts are in the cabbage (Brassica) family which makes them highly protective against cancer--research indicates especially lung, colon, uterine, and breast cancer. The anti-cancer effects are due to phytochemicals called sulforaphanes and glucosinolates which are converted to indoles by chopping, crushing, juicing, or cooking. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) helps rid the body of excess estrogens (which contribute to the growth of some cancers). Brussels sprouts are also high in beta carotene, Vitamin C, folate, and fiber (which prevents constipation, reduces risk of hemorrhoids, prevents cancer, protects your heart, and lowers cholesterol. Brussels sprouts are best prepared steamed (cut a deep X in the base to help it cook faster) which preserves their Vitamin C and folic acid content; you may also want to consider adding caraway or dill seeds when cooking to help prevent flatulence (which is an unfortunate side effect of brassica veggies). Also, if you are preparing the Brussels sprouts for your Thanksgiving feast, you might want to consider wearing rubber gloves as a compound in brassicas can cause contact dermatitis.
Last post, I mentioned some of the health benefits of green beans: they are high in potassium and low in sodium, a good source of fiber, protein, and Vitamins A & C. For me, Thanksgiving just isn't Thanksgiving without green bean casserole on the table! Now, I know that canned beans smothered in cream of mushroom soup and fried onions isn't even close to a healthy way to enjoy green beans, but I've gotta have it! Fortunately, green beans are wonderful cooked just about any way! My new favorite: buy a big bag of fresh French beans at Costco, steam until crisp tender, toss with lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt & cracked black pepper, minced garlic, thinly sliced red onion, and, if you want, some crisp cooked bacon crumbles--so tasty!
Cranberries have always earned a small spoonful next to my turkey on my Thanksgiving plate (usually I'm trying to save room for more green bean casserole!), but these powerhouse berries deserve more. And please people, making cranberry sauce from fresh berries is so easy so please pass on the formed jelly in a can! Cranberries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and have antimicrobial properties. Most specifically, cranberries both treat and help prevent urinary tract infections. Proanthocyanadins in cranberries actually prevent E. coli bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder, ureters, and urethra. Drinking a small glass of unsweetened cranberry juice (sorry, not cranberry juice cocktail) daily may be significantly more effective at removing E. coli than antibiotics.
What would Thanksgiving be without pumpkin pie? And more importantly, what would we have for breakfast the day after?! So, if you have been paying attention, you probably already have an idea that pumpkin's strongest health benefit has something to do with it's bright orange color... Yes, pumpkin is extremely high in carotenoids (orange pigment) and beta carotene! In fact, a half cup of canned pumpkin has more than 16 milligrams of the stuff as well as some other important carotenoids. Pumpkin is also a great source of fiber (a half cup has 3 times more fiber than a bowl of cornflakes) and iron. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of iron and zinc which can boost male fertility and is protective of the prostate.
So go and enjoy your Thanksgiving feast and try this year to think about all the healthy things you are doing for your body instead of worrying about calories! Remember, everything in moderation--if you eat well the majority of the time, indulging a bit on Thanksgiving won't matter so much! Celebrate with your families and take time to tell each other what you are thankful for. I'm thankful for my children, my husband, my family and friends, the roof over my head, good health, and finding joy in the small stuff every day.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!