Warm, happy, relaxed, and connected to family and friends—these are just some of the many feelings that Thanksgiving brings. But it is not just the time off from work, replaced with family time and football, that enhances our mood. The food itself is a concoction of herbs, spices, and nutrients that all combine to make us feel good, sometimes in surprising ways. Many of these foods can be prepared at home to contain less sugar and fat than the store-bought versions, and will still taste just as good or better.
Turkey – Almost everyone knows that turkey contains tryptophan, that amino acid that makes us sleepy. But did you know that it serves as much more than a cure from insomnia? Studies have linked it with everything from preventing cancer to being a mood enhancer and immunity booster. It is one of the most lean types of meat, and the nutrition it provides may be a good choice for adding to your diet more than once a year.
Sweet potatoes – In addition to the high vitamin A, C, and other nutrients, sweet potatoes also strengthen the immune system and are a good food for helping to regulate blood sugar and metabolism. Beta-carotene (found abundantly in sweet potatoes) is an anti-inflammatory, and may help with conditions such as asthma and arthritis. One home remedy even claims that the water from boiling them for dinner can be used externally to treat arthritis. Of course, to keep as many nutrients as possible, baking (or microwaving) rather than boiling will keep all the goodness in the potato rather than moving it to the water.
Nutmeg – This flavorful spice (found often in pumpkin pie and eggnog) does more than spice up your food. It is known to be an aphrodisiac, stress reducer, and digestive aid. I have personally found myself to be much calmer and less stressed when I am eating foods regularly that contain nutmeg. And for that pesky fall cold, a tablespoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of honey, and teaspoon of nutmeg makes a great cough syrup. Too much of a good thing is certainly not good in the case of nutmeg however. Ingesting more than a few teaspoons in a day can be so mood altering that it could lead to hallucinations or even a coma!
Cinnamon – Like nutmeg, cinnamon was almost worth its weight in gold in ancient times, and for good reason. It is a natural food preservative, and is believed to lower cholesterol, aid digestion, improve energy, and control blood sugar. It also is a blood thinner, helping to reduce blood clots. Like nutmeg, the power of this spice should not be taken lightly. Do not consume in large quantities especially in combination with prescription medications.
Cranberries – These unassuming tart little berries pack a powerful nutritional punch. They contain enormous amounts of phytonutrients for such a little fruit, which helps everything from our immune system to our digestive tract. Like many of the other foods on this list, they are packed full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Most of the benefits from cranberries come from the synergy of the whole berry though, so make sure you are eating whole berry dishes (such as homemade cranberry sauce) to get the full benefit.
Sage – Often used in the stuffing for your turkey, you might want to think about what else you could flavor with it after learning everything this herb can do. As are many of the other spices associated with Thanksgiving, this one aids in digestion. It is also full of antioxidants. However, perhaps its biggest claim to fame is its reputation as a brain booster that improves memory and brain function.
Pecans – Pecan pie, pecan crumble on your sweet potato casserole, pecans tossed in the salad—these nuts are versatile and tasty. In addition to containing many vitamins and minerals, pecans are naturally cholesterol free, and even help reduce the bad cholesterol levels in your body. The healthy fats and high antioxidants may even help reduce the risk of some cancers, including breast cancer, according to recent research!
Honey and maple syrup – Of course a big complaint from the health food experts is that whatever good may have come from these foods is drowned in sugar. But did you know that you can add sweetness and health benefits by switching your usual table sugar for honey or maple syrup? First of all, you need less of either of these alternatives, since they are sweeter than their white sugar counterpart. Second, they add a wonderful flavor to everything you include them in (sweet potato pie with maple syrup – yummy!). Third, they also add a whole lot of vitamins: riboflavin, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and copper, just to name a few. White sugar has none of these. Maple syrup even gives you your total daily allowance of manganese in just a few tablespoons of syrup.
Learning more about our food can help formulate our food storage and herbal medicinal plans, give us ideas of ways to boost our health and frame of mind in our daily eating, and provide ample interesting discussion points at the dinner table. By making a couple of small changes to old favorites, you can be eating healthier while you enjoy your big feast.