How Thanksgiving Promotes Health and Well-Being

Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 11/23/2015

Thanksgiving traditions and well-being

Did you know that Thanksgiving was not an official holiday until nearly 250 years after the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, when Abraham Lincoln issued the 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation? Here are some other interesting facts about common “Turkey Day” traditions, and how they can actually help promote well-being.

Giving Thanks Is Good for Your Health

My family has a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and taking time for each person to name one thing they’re grateful for. Not only does gratefulness exemplify the true meaning of Thanksgiving, it instantly improves well-being. No matter what shape you’re in, a sense of gratitude will make you feel better because expressing and articulating the things you are thankful for in your life has been shown to have a positive effect not only on your mood, but your overall health.

Turkey Is a Good Source of Protein…

Studies show that caloric intake goes down when you eat more protein and less carbohydrate. This is not surprising when you consider protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats). Several other aspects of health and well-being are also dependent on protein and its constituent amino acids, such as the construction of hormones, neurotransmitters, muscles, and nerves, to name a few.

So fill your plate with turkey before anything else. Here’s another tip: If you’re watching your waistline, you can reduce your fat consumption by taking off the skin. Turkey is relatively low in fat to begin with, but removing the skin will cut the amount of fat in half! Furthermore, opting for white meat instead of dark can trim about 100 calories off your Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

…and Can Help Boost Your Mood

Turkey also contains small amounts of tryptophan. A direct precursor to the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin, this amino acid gives your body the raw materials it needs to enhance mood naturally. Tryptophan also increases production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is why many folks feel like napping after their Thanksgiving meal.

Sweet Potatoes: Chock-Full of Benefits

For starters, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic load than white potatoes, making them a better choice. Plus, sweet potatoes are chock-full of vitamins C and E and other antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene—nutrients that promote healthy vision and boost immune function. And like most plant foods, sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber, which provides a wide range of benefits, including healthy bowel function and support for normal blood sugar levels. Just remember, if they’re loaded with brown sugar or maple syrup, this will outweigh any potential benefit.

Cranberries Prevent More Than Just UTIs

Cranberries are renowned for their ability to prevent urinary tract infections in susceptible women because of the proanthocyanidins they contain. But these same compounds have also been shown to prevent other infections, and protect the stomach lining from invasion by H. pylori bacteria, which is the leading cause of ulcers.

Benefits of Pumpkin: Beyond the Seeds

I generally recommend staying away from sugar-laden desserts since sugar can wreak havoc on your health. But, if the temptation to have a slice of pie is too great or this Thanksgiving tradition is too important to pass up, your best bet is pumpkin. Although pumpkin seeds are probably best known for their therapeutic properties, the flesh can also help promote well-being. Why? It is an excellent source of beta cryptoxanthin, a lesser-known carotenoid, as compared to beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, etc., yet just as powerful at maintaining health and well-being. For example, one study found that people with the lowest intake of beta cryptoxanthin [and zeaxanthin] were twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of inflammatory arthritis as those with the highest intake.

Now it’s your turn: What is your favorite Thanksgiving tradition?

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DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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