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Six Foods to Feel Thankful For on Thanksgiving

Six Foods to Feel Thankful For on Thanksgiving

Dietitian Dialogues

November 26, 2014

by Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, CDN

Each year on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with friends and family to share more than a meal. The Thanksgiving holiday is a time when we celebrate the bounty of food placed before us as well as the people that surround us. When I began hosting this holiday many years ago, I asked my guests to go around the table and say something that they are thankful for. Although my idea was met with more resistance than I anticipated, at this point, some family members actually initiate that discussion when we're only on the appetizers! 

While we all show gratitude for the meals on our plates, we rarely highlight the specific benefits of these foods that help to keep us healthy throughout year. Here I salute 6 favorite foods that share my holiday table: 

Potatoes. Move over colorful veggies... white is a color, too and there are many reasons to welcome the white powerhouse potato to your plate. One medium baked potato has more potassium than two bananas, which is important because 97% of us don’t consume enough of this mineral. Additionally, potatoes contain fiber, another shortfall nutrient, and magnesium. Quercetin, a flavonoid in potato skin, has protective anti-inflammatory properties. Orange varieties of potatoes contain beta-carotene and vitamin B6, which are important for our eye health. And if you have any leftover sweet potatoes, try my in-season sweet potato smoothie

Fish. I remember a time when I didn’t eat turkey, so fish was my Thanksgiving main dish and it's still served for practicing pescatarians. Fatty types of fish, like wild salmon, tuna, sardines, and cod, are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote heart health, reduce inflammation, and may lower cholesterol. Eating two 3.5 oz servings each week will allow you to reap the most benefits from this lean protein source. Try my tangy mustard horseradish sauce for salmon!

Cranberries. As a kid I thought cranberry sauce came in a can and looked like jelly. My cranberry creation now is not my grandmother's sauce! I start with fresh cranberries and add chopped apples, chopped dried apricots, sliced almonds, chopped pecans, and honey. Cranberries, often deemed a super food, only contain 25 calories for a half cup and have been associated with a lowered risk of urinary tract infections, improved immune function, decreased blood pressure and prevention of certain types of cancer. I'm always glad when some cranberry sauce is left over since it pairs beautifully with a dollop of cottage cheese or atop my morning oatmeal. 

Mushrooms. A whole cup of mushrooms provides a meager 15 calories along with protein, fiber and terrific taste and texture. Rich in nutrients like riboflavin, folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and niacin, mushrooms are also the only vegan, non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D. My Thanksgiving stuffing wouldn't be the same without a sautéed medley of mushrooms with portobellas playing a starring role.

Wine. Wine may help to take the edge off after a hectic day of shopping, preparing and serving food for a crowd, and it's comforting to know that a moderate consumption provides health benefits, too. Resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of grapes, has been shown to promote heart health, reduce insulin resistance, and ward off Alzheimer’s disease. It's best to keep portions in mind and limit yourself to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks daily for men. But since liquid calories on holidays can add up quickly, if you're watching your weight you can avoid alcohol-related calories by making yourself the designated driver! 

Tea. The soothing steamy mug of tea that greets me on a chilly morning, acts as a speed bump to unnecessary snacking in the late afternoon, and lets me know that dinner is done in the evening, also provides numerous health benefits. Tea can provide a hefty punch of antioxidants, in the form of flavonoids, which act as anti-inflammatory compounds reducing our risk of developing many chronic diseases. Tea can also boost bone strength, curb colds, cut cravings, and keep us hydrated. For a sweet and savory snack, add a cored, sliced apple to a mug of chai tea. When you’re done sipping, you’ll have a baked apple to enjoy.

So for this Thanksgiving, pay attention to the flavor, texture, temperature and colors of the array of foods placed before you and be sure to add a heaping side dish of appreciation to your menu. 

Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, CDN, is owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, and author of Read It Before You Eat It. Follow her on twitter @eatsmartbd and visit her website, www.BetterThanDieting.com.