Tips for Making Your Thanksgiving Dinner as Healthy as Possible
November 19, 2012
By Dr. Mercola
Thanksgiving is here, and shortly thereafter we have the Yuletide season. It's a time of year when family, friends, festivities, and most of all food takes center stage in our lives.
Since there's no shortage of high-calorie, seasonal comfort foods, the holidays often break the resolve of those who usually watch what they eat. However, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, without throwing out the basics of a healthful diet.
Selecting a Healthy Turkey
Turkey is of course the staple food of Thanksgiving, and many a left-over meal in the days after. If you still buy your meat at your local supermarket, you should know that you are most often directly supporting a factory farm food system that promotes widespread contamination and poor health for animals and humans alike.
Previous tests by Consumer Reports have indicated that more than 80 percent of fresh, whole broiler chickens bought at US supermarkets harbor campylobacter or salmonella.
Turkey likely has similar contamination rates, and it seems reasonable that contamination would occur via similar routes in both chicken and turkey. For this, and many other humanitarian and ecological reasons, I highly recommend sourcing pasture-raised turkey from an local (preferably organic) farm whenever possible.
Watch Your Portion Sizes
Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. A 3 1/2-ounce portion of dark turkey meat without skin will contain approximately 8 grams of fat and about 28 grams of protein, whereas the same amount of white breast meat without skin will contain about 4 grams of fat, and 30 grams of protein.
While white meat is typically more popular than dark meat, from a nutrition standpoint the dark meat is preferable, as it's higher in healthful fat and slightly lower in protein.
For most adults this serving of turkey is perfectly adequate to meet your protein needs and if you have much more, you may actually be doing more harm than good. The only exception would be women in their second and third trimester and those aggressively exercising. These individuals would need about 25 percent more or about one more ounce of turkey.
As a general rule, you'll want to limit your protein intake to 1 gram of protein per kilo of lean body fat, or about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. To determine your lean body mass, calculate your body fat percentage and subtract that from 100. So if you are 20 percent body fat you would have 80 percent lean body mass. Then, multiply that times your current weight to get lean body mass in kilos or pounds.
A piece of dark turkey meat equal to the size of a deck of cards is about 3.5-4 ounces, which is an ideal portion size for most people.
This recommendation is based on new information gleaned from Dr. Ron Rosedale, whom I recently interviewed. He is one of the first physicians in the U.S. that started measuring insulin and leptin levels clinically and was far ahead of the curve on this one. In our interview, he helped me understand the major importance that excessive protein intake can have on health, including cancer growth. (When you consume protein in levels higher than one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass you can activate the mTOR pathway, which will radically increase your risk of cancers.)
Vegetarians tend to have their protein levels in line with this recommendation. This is not typically done intentionally but is a result of the lower concentration of protein in most nuts and vegetables relative to animal products. However, I still strongly believe human physiology is best optimized with some high-quality organically-raised and pastured animal protein as long as it does not exceed the limits mentioned above.
It is very easy to consume excess protein and my guess is that most people reading this are. I know I was, and as a result of this new insight I have reduced my protein intake. Remember that regnant women and those working out extensively need about 25 percent more protein though or 1.25 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight.
The Do's and Don'ts of a Healthful Thanksgiving Meal
When you reduce protein, you need to replace it with other calories and not merely eliminate it. The key is to replace the lost calories with high-quality fats such as avocados, butter, coconut oil, nuts and eggs. So don't be afraid to use plenty of butter in your cooking.
Speaking of healthful fats, one of the most important parts of the meal is the bone broth. Simply let the turkey remnants simmer in a pot on very low heat for most of the day. If you have access to the turkey feet that would even be better as that is absolutely loaded with sulfur-containing collagen. Strain, and use as a replacement for gravy. Remember, the gelatin that forms on top contains sulphur and probably THE healthiest and most healing part of the meal, so don't skim this off the top. Instead, just stir to mix it into the broth. Avoid adding in flour as that is an unnecessary source of carbs.
Other items best avoided are stuffing and bread. If you want something starchy with your (ideally organic) meat and vegetables, replace the stuffing with organic potatoes instead.
Cranberries are another Thanksgiving meal staple. While cranberries are high in antioxidants and have proven health benefits1, you won't reap any such rewards if you opt for the sugar-laden canned variety. According to USDA nutritional data2, raw cranberries contain about 4 grams of sugar per cup of berries, while processed canned cranberries can contain upwards of 100 grams of sugar per cup3, depending on the brand and style. For example, Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce4 contains 88 grams of sugar per cup. Your best bet is to opt for whole, fresh cranberries, or make your own cranberry sauce from scratch. Apple and/or orange or even natural sweeteners, like stevia or Lo Han can be used to help sweeten your sauce.
Healthy Kitchen Tips
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently posted some healthy kitchen tips5 in time for Thanksgiving, which in addition to choosing foods low in pollutants and additives include:
- Using non-toxic cookware
- Safely storing and reheating leftovers
About 70 percent of cookware sold in the United States contains a non-stick coating that contains PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and other perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). For information on the toxic effects of PFCs, read the Environmental Working Group's report6 on these global contaminants. It's based on a review of 50,000 pages of regulatory studies and government documents, internal documents from PFC manufacturers, and an examination of independent studies on PFCs. Among the health concerns noted in the report are:
|Immune system problems
To avoid exposure to these toxic chemicals, which are released when the pot or pan is heated, replace all non-stick cookware with either cast iron, stainless steel, oven-safe glass, or my personal favorite, ceramic. To avoid chemical exposures from storing and reheating foods, follow the following recommendations:
- Store leftovers in glass or ceramic containers, as harmful chemicals found in plastic containers can migrate into the food
- Don't microwave food in a plastic containers or under plastic wrap
- Reheat leftovers on the stove or in the oven instead of using your microwave, as microwaving food can demolish nutrients to a greater extent than stove-top cooking will
What about Dessert?
While your healthiest option is to skip dessert altogether, I realize this may put a damper on the festivities, so what are the alternatives? A homemade pumpkin pie might do the trick; just go easy on the sugar. Many dessert recipes use far more sugar than is really necessary for optimal taste. If you do choose the pumpkin pie you could top it with organic raw whipping cream, or better yet, because it has more fat, organic raw pastured butter. I personally consume between one and two pounds a week of this type of butter.
However, like most of you, I also enjoy having a treat now and then, especially something chocolate, so I set out to create the healthiest chocolate treat possible, to satisfy those occasions when I want to indulge.
After more than one year of trial and error, I do believe I finally succeeded, and most of the people that I have shared this recipe with have really enjoyed it. Interestingly, I think it also helps to indirectly reduce sweet cravings by providing a solid source of calories in the form of healthful fats, which helps normalize your insulin and leptin sensitivity, and also improve your mTOR pathways. Once this occurs, almost magically, your hunger and sweet cravings seem to disappear. I've revised it dozens of times. Here is the current version that I'm using. Feel free to tweak it to your personal preferences. The only changes I would advise against are using sugar or artificial sweeteners as that would radically diminish the health benefits.
List of Ingredients:
- 4-5 ounces raw cacao butter. It can typically be obtained on Amazon. I purchase organic and fair traded. Adding the raw cacao butter will make the candy more solid at room temperature and it will easily crack, just like chocolate. You can leave it out but the candy will be softer at room temperature
- 4-5 ounces of raw organic pastured butter. If you don't have a source contact your local Weston Price Chapter leader for recommendations of where you can find this in your area7
- Organic coconut oil: Obviously I use the one we sell as it is one of the finest in the world
Sweeteners (pick one)
- LoHan (monk fruit): about 1-2 teaspoons, or
- Stevia: I used one of the liquid versions that has a chocolate flavor and use one dropperful, or
- 1/8 cup organic raw cacao nibs. All chocolate is derived from the cacao bean, however most commercial chocolate is highly processed and has loads of added sugar. I use organic raw cacao nibs that are also fair traded. They can be purchased on Amazon. I typically take one eighth of a cup and grind them fresh in a coffee grinder
- Cinnamon: Add to taste if you like this spice
- Shredded organic coconut: I add this to the liquid mixture. I use 5 ounces but you could use more or less depending on your preferences, or none at all
- Vanilla: One dropperful
Melt all the fats over a very low heat. Since you are going to pour this liquid onto a plate, I have found it easiest to use a quart glass Pyrex measuring cup. I put the fats into the cup and the cup into a slightly larger pot that is partially filled with water. This essentially creates a double boiler.
The raw cacao butter melts at 122 degrees Fahrenheit so you don't need to go much higher than that. I typically add the raw butter last as that is the most damaged by the heat. I add it after the heat has been turned off and the mixture is cooled off.
Once all the fats have been melted, you can mix the other ingredients into the liquid. Stir it well and then pour the mixture onto a plate and refrigerate the plate. I find it is easiest to put the plate into the fridge before you pour the mixture as it eliminates the risk of spilling when you transfer it to the fridge.
You could also get fancy and purchase silicone candy molds on Amazon, and they will be far more presentable for friends. The mixture takes about an hour or less to harden. Once it hardens you can crack it with a knife and enjoy. I find it needs to be kept refrigerated and should be considered like ice cream. It is not as fragile but will turn to a paste that you need to eat with a fork or spoon if you leave it at room temperature for awhile.
What are You Thankful for?
Besides sharing time with family and friends over food, the primary ingredient not to be overlooked is, of course, gratitude. Take a moment to consider what you're truly thankful for, and share it with those you love. For inspiration, I will leave you with this short story:
"A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet. He held up a sign which said: 'I am blind, please help.' There were only a few coins in the hat. A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat. He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see it.
Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were now giving money to the blind boy. That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were going. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, 'Were you the one who changed my sign this morning? What did you write?' The man said, 'I only wrote the truth. I said what you said but in a different way. I wrote: Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it.'"
Both signs told people that the boy was blind. But while the first simply stated the obvious, the second reminded people how lucky they were that they were not blind... Moral of the story?
Be thankful for what you have. Be creative. Be innovative. Think differently and positively. When life gives you a 100 reasons to cry, show life you have 1,000 reasons to smile. Face your past without regret. Handle your present with confidence. Prepare for the future without fear. Keep the faith and drop the fear. The most beautiful thing is to see a person smiling. And even more beautiful, is knowing that you are the reason behind it! And with that, I wish you all a Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving!