A Healthy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving dinner is one of the favorite meals of the year for Americans, maybe that's why the average Thanksgiving meal is a staggering 2,000 calories! But today is a great holiday and we're going to focus on the healthy side of a few of the most popular seasonal menu items: cranberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and cinnamon. Throughout this article we'll cite ORAC (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity), a new laboratory test developed by USDA researchers to rate the antioxidant levels of fruits and vegetables. It is useful when comparing antioxidants, and has become the international testing standard for determining an item's antioxidant capacity. The USDA recommends consuming 3,000 to 5,000 ORAC units daily to protect the body from damage cause by free radicals. Cranberries Cranberries are linked to improved urinary health, reduced Alzheimer's risk, and reduced occurrence of liver, breast, colon and leukemia cancers. Recent studies suggest that cranberries can also be an important weapon in the battle against atherosclerosis, or what they used to call "hardening of the arteries," because of their high concentration of flavonoids, which reduce the amount of bad cholesterol while increasing the level of good cholesterol in your system. Cranberries rank first in the ORAC listings for reducing antioxidant capacity per gram! One-quarter cup of cranberries contains 2 mg of calcium, 20 mg of potassium, 1 mg of magnesium and healthy doses of vitamins A, C and E. Pumpkin Pumpkin is brimming with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion process to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. In fact, current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing lung and prostate types of cancer, improves joint health and reduces inflammation. Recent studies also indicate that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may protect against heart disease and some degenerative aspects of aging. One cup of pumpkin contains 49 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and three grams of fiber. It's also a great resource for calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, niacin, selenium, folate, and vitamins A and E! Yams Yams contain more than 100% of the daily value for vitamin A as beta-carotene - more than any other fruit or vegetable. They're a great source of vitamin B6 and offer great protection against heart disease. That's not all!! The complex carbohydrates and fiber found in yams are processed gradually, slowing the rate sugars are released and absorbed into the bloodstream. They're also rich in fiber and will fill you up without filling out waistline! Yams are low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol and high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese with an ORAC score of 2,750. Cinnamon Cinnamon is truly a superspice. Studies have shown that just one-half teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol and that may have a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it especially beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Maryland found that it reduces the proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells, and it has an anti-clotting effect on the blood. Patients in a study at Copenhagen University were given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder with one tablespoon of honey every morning before breakfast and had noticeable relief for arthritis pain after one week and could actually walk without pain within one month!According to researchers at Kansas State University it even fights the E. coli bacteria in unpasteurized juices! Cinnamon is also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium and has an amazing ORAC of 2,675 per gram, 43 times higher than blueberries! We all know the adage about 'too much of a good thing,' follow these tips to help you eat a healthy, balanced holiday meal this Thanksgiving:
  • Don't go to the Thanksgiving dinner hungry. Skipping breakfast or lunch in anticipation of the holiday feast is a recipe for disaster.
  • Eat your vegetables! A good rule of thumb is to fill your plate half with vegetables, one quarter with a lean meat and one quarter with starches of your choice.
  • Skip the skin! Choose a 4-oz. portion of skinless turkey portion, eating skinless will reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol.
  • Go small with the sides. Eat smaller side dishes, that way you can try more.
  • Limit high fat items. Thanksgiving is a feast of plenty, and that means rich, high-fat food. Limit yourself to a smaller helping of the cauliflower in cheese or green beans in cream sauce and pick up a couple celery sticks.
  • Drink plenty of water! Alcohol and coffee dehydrate your body.
Eat well, enjoy the company of your loved ones and have a terrific Thanksgiving!

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