While many of us over-indulge this time of year, there are lots of traditional holiday foods that won’t throw you off your healthy diet. The trick is to make healthy choices, and not eat too much in general. Here are some foods you can enjoy guilt-free this Thanksgiving:
Turkey. If you are looking for a lean cut of meat, turkey is hard to beat. A 3-ounce serving of skinless white meat contains 25 grams of protein, barely 3 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat. Dark meat has more saturated fat than white meat, and eating the skin adds a hefty wallop of these bad fats. Turkey is also a good source of arginine. As with other amino acids, the body uses this one to make new protein. Arginine is also the raw material for making nitric oxide, a substance that relaxes and opens arteries. Whether foods rich in arginine help keep arteries open has prompted both research and debate.
Cranberries. The fruit that provides the base of this traditional side dish deserves to move from holidays to everyday. Cranberries are packed with dozens of different antioxidants. On a standard test that measures the ability of food to neutralize unstable molecules that can damage DNA, proteins, cell membranes, and cellular machinery, the cranberry is near the top of the list. The natural mix of antioxidants found in cranberries and other foods is what matters, not the high doses of single ones found in supplements. If you make your own cranberry sauce from whole berries, you’ll get a tastier and less sugary sauce than you can get out of a can.
Sweet potatoes. These un-potatoes — they’re related to the morning glory, not the white potato — are an excellent source of vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. And sweet potatoes make a delicious dessert.
Pumpkin. Before this orange squash is made into pie, it’s just plain good for you. Pumpkin is low in fat, low in calories, and loaded with potassium, vitamin A, beta carotene, and vitamin C.
Pecans. Most nuts are great sources of heart-healthy fats. Pecans are no exception. Twenty pecan halves contain about 20 grams of unsaturated fat. Studies from around the globe show that people who routinely eat nuts are less likely to die of heart disease than those who don’t.
Although many of the foods that grace a Thanksgiving table are healthy on their own, they tend to lose their virtue by the company they keep. Brown sugar, butter, and marshmallows ease aside the goodness of sweet potatoes. The benefits of pumpkin and pecans are overwhelmed when these foods are baked into pies with cream, eggs, butter, and sugar. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re set on a traditional dinner, alternative recipes abound for healthier stuffing, vegetables, and desserts. You can also start your own traditions. After all, today’s Thanksgiving dinner bears little resemblance to the original feast.
Harvard Health Publications