FOUR FAVORITE FOODS AND THEIR HUGE HEALTH BENEFITS
Welcome to another WHAT’S ON THE #MENU MONDAY everyone — and we’re just in time for THANKSGIVING!
I don’t know about you, but I love this time of year. I love the changing colors of the leaves. I love the morning frost on the windowsill. I love the crackle of a great fire on the hearth. I love the silhouette of honking geese against the icy blue sky. And, I love Thanksgiving. I suppose it’s because this holiday allows us to focus on gifts we have already received — rather than on gifts we hope to receive. It’s a holiday that is centered on family, friends and fabulous food — all prepared in the spirit of sharing and gratitude.
Now, did you know that the holiday feast we know today as Thanksgiving dates back to November 1621? It was a three-day event in which the newly arrived Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth, Massachusetts to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first successful autumn harvest. The feast of Thanksgiving, however, did not become a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln declared its recognition on the last Thursday of November. Yet, it was President Franklin Roosevelt — who in an effort to alleviate the Depression and revitalize the economy — changed the holiday to the third Thursday in November which left more time for holiday retail sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Today, of course, for most of us Thanksgiving is a celebration of gratitude that revolves around food. And, many of the foods we enjoy now were actually thought to have been a part of that first feast in 1621. Culinary historians believe, for example, that wild turkey was certainly a part of the celebration — as well as venison, shellfish, pumpkin and cranberries — all of which were plentiful in North America at the time. But, today we’re going to concentrate on four basic Thanksgiving dishes — and give a little thanks not only for their great taste, but for their health benefits as well!
So, let’s get started with Four Favorite Thanksgiving Foods that are good for our health as well as our taste buds!
1) TURKEY: Well, there’s no surprise here. The centerpiece of modern-day Thanksgiving in the United States is, in most cases, a large roast turkey. To begin, turkey is a low-fat and very rich source of protein — and the skinless white meat of a turkey contains little saturated and total fat. Indeed, it contains just one gram of fat per ounce. It’s a rich source of folic acids and minerals like zinc and potassium, which lower cholesterol levels and guard against heart disease. In fact, overall turkey contains less cholesterol than chicken, pork or beef. Turkey contains niacin, which is important in converting the protein, fats and carbohydrates in the body into usable energy. In addition, turkey also is a rich source of Vitamin B6, which facilitates the process of methylation in forming active molecules important to the body’s proper functioning.
And, that’s not all. Turkey contains anti-cancer properties. It’s packed with the trace mineral selenium, which supports the body’s antioxidant defense systems, the immune system and thyroid metabolism. And, of course, turkey is loaded with tryptophan. Abundant in turkey, this amino acid also plays an important role in strengthening the body’s immune system. It also produces seratonin, which is a neurotransmitter that has mood-enhancing qualities.
Now, people often blame the tryptophan in turkey for that drowsy feeling they sometimes experience after a turkey dinner. Studies, however, suggest that the carbohydrates found in Thanksgiving side dishes and desserts are really to blame for that sluggishness as they allow the tryptophan to enter the brain. On the other hand, turkey has been shown to be effective in treating insomnia. So, perhaps this is the rule to follow: If you don’t want to feel sleepy after your Thanksgiving feast, limit your intake of turkey and eliminate or reduce some of the carbohydrate-rich foods such as mashed potatoes, pies and breads. But, if you do want to sleep soundly, go ahead and eat your turkey and enjoy all the side dishes as well!
2) CRANBERRIES: Along with turkey, cranberries also were probably present at that first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. This berry was plentiful and popular among the Native Americans who not only ate the berries but used them as a natural dye as well. Of course, in 1621 cranberries were not used in sauces or relishes — they were simply enjoyed in their natural state. In fact, cooks didn’t begin boiling cranberries with sugar to create side dishes and condiments until the late 1600s.
But, one thing that hasn’t changed over the centuries is the significant health benefits packed in every berry. First, cranberries contain flavonoid quercetin and proanthocyanidins — two powerful antioxidants that inhibit the growth of cancer cells and help protect against breast, colon and prostate cancer. Cranberries also inhibit LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation and the formation of blood clots. In this way, regularly consumed cranberries can lower high blood pressure and help prevent heart disease.
Cranberries also are a rich source of quinic acid, which acts as a natural treatment for kidney stones by preventing calcium and phosphate chemicals from binding together. Cranberry juice inhibits bacteria from entering the urinary tract and can treat existing Urinary Tract Infections among women. AND, cranberries also kill the H. pylori bacteria, which causes peptic stomach ulcers.
The calcium in the berries is great for our bones and teeth — and helps prevent plaque, cavities and bad breath as the chemicals in cranberries keep bacteria from sticking to our teeth. And, finally, the berries help protect our eyes from cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and muscular degeneration. So, enjoy them fresh, dried or juiced not only at Thanksgiving, but throughout the entire year.
3) PUMPKIN: We have discussed the health benefits of the amazing pumpkin before. And, this is the perfect time of year to do it again. Now, both the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe ate pumpkins back in the 1600s and, according to culinary historians, the fruit was probably a part of the first Thanksgiving feast. At that time, English settlers would hollow out the pumpkin, fill the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard and then roast the gourds in hot ashes.
Today we typically enjoy the pumpkin in pie — but, we don’t need pie to enjoy all of the health benefits found in this fruit. First, pumpkins owe their brilliant orange color to an ample supply of beta-carotene, which may lower our risk for certain cancers, including that of the prostate and lung. Additionally, beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A in the body. One cup of pumpkin contains more than 200% of one’s recommended daily requirement of Vitamin A, which is essential for healthy eyes as it aids the retina in absorbing and processing light. Beta-carotene also protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and can help us to look younger longer!
In addition, pumpkin contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may inhibit the development of macular degeneration and help prevent cataracts. The large amounts of Vitamin A in pumpkin also improve our immune systems. It helps our body to fight infections and viruses — and pumpkin oil is used to treat certain bacterial and fungal infections as well. And, of course, the Vitamin C found in pumpkin may help prevent the common cold and help us to recover faster when we do have a cold.
Pumpkin appears to improve glucose tolerance and increase the amount of insulin in the body. Studies indicate that pumpkin can reduce blood glucose levels and, therefore, it may help treat diabetes. And another thing that’s on everyone’s mind this time of year — pumpkin is a low-calorie superstar! Canned pumpkin, for example, has less than 50 calories per serving. It’s rich in fiber with 7 grams in every cup so it helps us feel full and slows digestion — and it’s nearly 90% water so it helps us stay hydrated as well.
4) SWEET POTATOES: Now, onto the sweet potato. Actually, this incredibly healthy veggie was not a part of the first Thanksgiving feast. You see, potatoes in general were only available in the southern part of North America at that time. So, sweet potatoes didn’t become a part of American feasting tradition until about 150 years later.
First, sweet potatoes contain no saturated fats or cholesterol and they are richer in dietary fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals than ordinary potatoes. With about 7 grams of fiber per serving, this veggie is a “slow burner” that will fill us up and provide us with energy for hours. And similar to the pumpkin, the orange-colored sweet potato is packed with beta-carotene or Vitamin A, which helps protect us from several different types of cancer, protects our skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and helps prevent macular degeneration and vision loss.
In addition, sweet potatoes are abundant in Vitamin B6. This vitamin is important in breaking down homocysteine, which is a substance that contributes to the hardening of the blood vessels and arteries. B6 keeps the walls of the circulatory system flexible and free from plaque build-up so that our blood passageways flow freely. Sweet potatoes also contain large amounts of potassium — an important electrolyte that rids the body of excess sodium, regulates the natural rhythm of the heart and maintains normal brain and central nervous system function.
Not to be overlooked, this veggie is also a great source of manganese — a trace mineral that supports healthy blood sugar levels. It also plays an important role in generating energy and utilizing antioxidants. In this way, manganese can be useful in treating anemia and premenstrual symptoms in women. Finally, the sweet potato is loaded with Vitamins C and E both of which contribute to disease prevention and longevity. And as we know, this powerful combination of beta-carotene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E not only promotes good health but acts as a big beauty boost that contributes to a glowing complexion and vibrant, healthy hair.
So, this Thanksgiving there’s no need to feel guilty about eating too much. Just pick the right foods — eat them in moderation — and enjoy the significant health benefits each has to offer along with their wonderful flavors.
Thanks for joining me everyone. As always, it’s been a pleasure. It’s a wonderful time of year to reflect on and rejoice in all the good things life has to offer. I wish you all a very HEALTHY and HAPPY THANKSGIVING with all those for whom you are thankful. Until next time,
TAKE THE COURSE AND TAKE CHARGE!
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