It seems to happen every year. Thanksgiving rolls around, the table is laid out and soon it is time to feast on delicious recipes. But just around the corner is that dreaded feeling of post-feasting guilt. But guess what, Thanksgiving is actually one of the healthiest meals all year! No, really. Just think about it. Traditional foods like cranberries, sweet potatoes, green beans, pumpkin and more all make it to your table and on your plate. These healthy super foods are actually nothing to feel guilty about at all. So this year, learn a few facts and cooking tips for your Thanksgiving foods – figure out what to indulge in and what to limit. Check out these 7 super healthy Thanksgiving foods - and why you should pile them on your plate!..
Seven Foods and Nutrition Facts for your Healthy Thanksgiving!
Below I’ll share with you nutrition highlights about these holiday faves: cranberries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, tangerines, cinnamon, pomegranates and persimmons.
1. Reach for Cranberries! Go for seconds on the cranberry sauce. Super Berry. Cranberries are linked to improved urinary health, reduced Alzheimer’s risk, as well as fighting off certain cancers and even improving HDL (good) cholesterol levels! Cranberries rank first in overall antioxidant capacity per gram! And they may help protect against liver, breast, colon and leukemia cancers. (3)
“New research has linked cranberry juice consumption with an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.” (2)
“Anthocyanins in cranberries and blueberries are thought to inhibit bacteria from adhering to the bladder walls..” (Cranberries help ward off urinary tract infections)(1)
Cranberry Cooking Tip: Try sweetening your homemade cranberry sauce with orange juice instead of refined sugar. Go easy on high-sugar canned sauce.
2. Pumpkin is a healthy food – especially for eye health. Reach for the Pumpkin Pie! Pumpkin may help lower risks of lung and prostate cancer – and improved joint health and reduced inflammation. “In addition to a healthy dose of Vitamin A as beta-carotene, pumpkin also provides the eye-healthy phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin.” (3)
Pumpkin Cooking Tip: If you’ve never made a pumpkin pie from scratch – do it! And if you’d like, you can use a variety of healthy pumpkin/squash varieties. Try acorn, butternut, cushaw, hubbard and traditional sugar pumpkin. (Some of those canned varieties have actually been known to be a unique variety of butternut or other squash varieties – not pumpkin!) You can also add pumpkin puree to a variety of dishes (not just pie!) From Pumpkin Spice Cashew Cheese to Pumpkin Spice Cream of Wheat and even Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
3. Sweet Potatoes are rich in Vitamin A and other healthy nutrients! Scoop up those sweet potatoes!… “Sweet potatoes contain more than 100% of the daily value for vitamin A as beta-carotene – more than any other fruit or vegetable.” Yam Fun Fact: “True Yams can grow up to 7ft long and weigh up to 150 pounds”
“Yams contain a unique combination of heart healthy nutrients: potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.”
Sweet Potato Nutrition Facts: (1 medium, 5″ long) 122-157% VitaA, 25-32% Manganese, 25-30% VitaC, 12% potassium, 10-15% fiber, 7-10% magnesium ORAC score = 2,750 (see below for ORAC info)
4. Tangerines are Filling and Fight Free Radicals! Peel, peel, peel. Tangerines are full of fiber and the pectin in them (mostly associated with apples) may make you feel fuller – that type of soluble fiber may protect your heart by improving blood cholesterol levels. Tangerines, like all citrus fruits, are rich in the antioxidant Vitamin C. Tangerines may also help ward off lung and prostate cancer. (3)
“Tangerines are a top source or beta-cryptoxanthin (linked to lower lung and prostate cancer.”
Tangerine Cooking Tip: Add peeled tangerine sections to any raw salad. Citrus pairs well with hearty nuts like pecans, walnuts, almonds or even seeds like pepitas. Add a splash of EVOO, maple syrup salt and pepper to sliced tangerines for a simple sweet snack. Fresh tangerine juice is a nice switch from the everyday orange juice (although with juice you will be missing some of that healthy tangerine fiber.)
5. Cinnamon is a potent free-radical fighter! Sprinkle it on, and on, and on. Cinnamon, even just a 1/2 tsp a day can aide the health or type 2 diabetes sufferers. And it is an ORAC superstar, er, superspice!
Cinnamon Cooking Tip: Try adding a cinnamon jar to your table side “shaker set”. Instead of sprinkling on salt or pepper – dash on some cinnamon, at the table. It goes great with sweet potatoes, carrots, citrus, certain greens, grains and nuts. And don’t forget cinnamon in apple cider, spiced vegan ‘egg’nog, spicy soy chai tea lattes and any coffee/espresso bevie.
ORAC Fun fact: “the highest antioxidant rating per gram goes to cloves. Orac 3,144 per gram. Cinnamon is 2,675 per gram – which is 43 times higher than blueberries.”
“The journal Diabetes Care reported that cinnamon can lower cholesterol, glucose and triglyceride levels (important for type 2 diabetes sufferers as well as anyone struggling with high cholesterol. As little as 1/2 tsp a day of cinnamon produced results.”(4)
6. Pomegranate Juice for Health! Drink it up. Pomegranate juice is rich in free-radical fighting antioxidants including VitaC, VitaB6, VitaB5 and manganese.
Pomegranate Cooking Tips: Try fresh crushed pomegranate juice – by using a manual citrus juicer!
7. Don’t forget the Persimmons! Or fuyus. Another fall fruit to reach for: fuyus or persimmons! One tiny fuyu persimmon contains 5-6 grams of fiber! More fuyu nutrition facts.
And check out my Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes – 15 recipes to continue your healthy feast planning!
TDNH = The Dole Nutrition Handbook, what to eat and how to live for a longer, healthier life. (c) 2010 Dole Nutrition Institute
1. (TDNI, pg 75) 2. (TDNH, Pg 325) 3. (TDNH, pgs 93-123, superfoods) (any uncited facts were from the superfoods section) 4. (TDNH, pg 73)
More references from direct quotes: “Cranberries rank first overall in antioxidant capacity per gram on the USDA list … Scientists at Cornell University have isolated compounds in cranberries that have extremely potent antiproliferative effects on human liver and breast cancer cells. Scientists at UMass Dartmouth found these compounds to have similar potential for thwarting colon and leukemia cancer cells.”
“One cranberry antioxidant – quercetin – may help reduce Alzheimer’s risk and alleviate prostatitis ( inflammation or infection of the prostate gland).”
“Pumpkin is one of the best sources of beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid linked to lower risks of lung and prostate cancer, as well as improved joint health. A British study found that people with the highest intake of beta-cryptoxanthin had half the risk of developing polyarthritis (inflammation affecting two or more joint groups) than those with lower consumption levels.” (3)
“Sweet potatoes, the nutrient-rich tuber is often classified as a yam, but that’s actually a different vegetable. SP are fairly common in the typical supermarket, while true yams are imported and less widely available.”
“As the top citrus source of pectin, tangerines may make you feel fuller: researchers at the state U of NY Buffalo found that pectin consumption reduces caloric intake in the obese. Studies also show that this soluble fiber benefits your heart by helping blood cholesterol levels.” (3)
“UCLA researchers found that drinking 8oz. of pomegranate juice daily significantly reduces the levels of prostate-specific antigen in men following surgery or radiation treatment for prostate cancer. Another UCLA study suggests that consumption of a pomegranate extract may enhance protection of regular sunscreen up to 23%. And topical application of pomegranate extract has been found to inhibit development of skin cancer..” (3)