“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” ~ Tecumseh
It’s that time of the year when we gather with our family and friends and eat until we can’t move. At least, that used to be the case with me. Now, I’m more mindful of how I eat and that includes all holidays. There is always the day after Thanksgiving to eat more, right?
Here are a few fun facts about the traditional Thanksgiving meal in the United States and some tips to make it as nutritious as possible.
The centerpiece of the table for most families is the turkey. I remember mom getting up at the crack of dawn to make sure the huge bird went into the oven on time. The house would smell amazing all day. The recommended serving size of turkey is 3.5 ounces. That’s about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. This size serving of breast meat without the skin provides 161 calories, only 4 grams of fat and a whopping 30 grams of protein. Woohoo! Go protein! It’s a good and inexpensive source of zinc, phosphorus, B vitamins and potassium, not to mention tryptophan.
Did you know that tryptophan is an essential amino acid for the metabolism of protein? It is also is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is important for proper nerve and brain function. For more about the turkey, here’s a great link from The University of Illinois. And no – turkey was not on the Pilgrim table in the 1620s.
No one really knows how the sweet potato made it onto the U.S. Thanksgiving table, as the vegetable is native to South America (we have the pumpkin). We do; however, know how the sweet potato casserole came about with all that sweet marshmallow piled on top. That was the brainchild of Janet McKenzie Hill, founder of the Boston Cooking School Magazine, in 1917. She was hired by the Angelus Marshmallow company to create recipes that centered around their candy creation with the intent of convincing Americans to eat more of them in their everyday meals. It apparently worked, at least for the holidays. Now, I’m all for a bit of sweetness in life, but the marshmallow thing is a bit much (I loved it as a child). Add some sweetness with real maple syrup and cinnamon, and some crunch with pecans on top. This is super easy to make in a slow-cooker too.
Now, this fruit IS native to North America and was likely part of the Pilgrim diet soon after they arrived. Cranberries are part of the heather family and are related to blueberries, bilberries, and lingonberries (my favorite!). Canned cranberries were first produced in 1912 but it wasn’t until Ocean Spray started their wet harvesting (think bogs full of water with berries floating on top) and their collective that cranberries became popular. Wet harvesting caused some berries to be blemished, so those all went into a masher and voila – we have what we know today as a can of cranberries. According to Ocean Spray, Americans eat about 5,062,500 gallons of cranberries each year during the holidays. Excuse my language, but that is a shit-load of berries!
Cranberries are considered by some to be one of the world’s healthiest foods for their antioxidant powers They provide a good amount of vitamin C, E, and K1, as well as manganese, copper and dietary fiber (4.6 grams in a 1cup). There are mixed results in research when it comes to the effect of cranberries in preventing and treating urinary tract infections; however, it never hurts to add this super fruit to your diet just in case. Fresh cranberries can be frozen for 6-12 months without losing their nutritious punch. Boil them down with water, maple syrup (or coconut sugar) and some orange zest. They are done when the berries pop and the liquid thickens.
Now, I’m not a fan at all of the green-bean casseroles you see on many tables at Thanksgiving. It sort of gives me the heeby-jebbies. To me, it is one big pile of processed sodium. (For those who do like it – click here to read about how the phenomenon got started.)
Fresh from the vine green beans is another story. They are packed with vitamins and minerals, have a high fiber content, and are low in calories and fat. And there is research showing that these wonderful beans lower the risk of colon cancer, heart disease and help the regulation of diabetes. What’s not to like about that? I could go on for days about this veg, but here’s a great article you can check out when you have some time. If you want to enjoy green beans for Thanksgiving a simple saute in a little bacon grease (yes, I said bacon grease – fat is not the enemy) with slivered almonds on top will do the trick.
So, there you have it. Some nutrition fun facts and ideas to get more nutritional punch out of your Thanksgiving table. Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving dish that is a bit unconventional? Let me know in the comments.
Corrie Ann Gray is a writer, researcher, coach, and cookie enthusiast who lives in Los Angeles, CA. She started the Clean Body Project to share all of her knowledge and resources with others who are interested in running their own experiment into clean holistic living. She is the CEO and founder of Gray Ink Media.