- The repeated parties, the after-parties, the cocktails, the desserts…..that roll the tally higher and higher for negative health consequences.
- Days leading up to the holidays and post-holiday leftovers are bigger impact to your health than the Thanksgiving meal itself.
- Repeated gooey, sticky, decadent white foods are some things we need to watch out for.
Thanksgiving Basics are Healthy
Turkey dinner itself is not that bad. I would even argue Thanksgiving can be good for you. Turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and cranberries can be pretty balanced. If you make the cranberry sauce with all real fruit, there are no added sugars either. The add-ons like the ooey-gooey treats and rolls are what stress the body and expand the waist. If you can’t pass up on all the ooey-gooey treats and decadent rolls. Is there anything you CAN do to protect your body? Sciences says the answer is yes.
Low Antioxidant Meals Harm The Body
High-calorie holiday meals WITHOUT antioxidants can lead to cell damage, according to work done by the Agricultural Research Service (R). This cell damage may lead to diseases like heart disease, cancer, and more. The biggest worry for some may also be true: weight gain. This is because our body’s calorie-burning machines, known as the mitochondria, respond poorly to oxidative stress. Key points: low antioxidant meals cause cell damage.
Healthy Thanksgiving Tips to Protect from Stress
The biggest step you can take to protect your body at Thanksgiving, or any holiday, is to include antioxidants.
How do antioxidants protect from the stress of excess?
Continuous intake of low nutrient and high sugar foods will make the body produce free radicals. These unstable molecules are formed when food is digested. This leads to the oxidative stress that we just mentioned. To combat oxidative stress, increase the antioxidants on your Thanksgiving plate and all plates around the holidays. Antioxidants are substances that help to protect cells from oxidation and improve health. Include antioxidants to alleviate the harms Turkey Day dinner. Antioxidants are found in vitamins and minerals. They include the following: beta-carotene, glutathione, lutein, lycopene, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E (R).
Healthy Thanksgiving Tip 1: Eat Beta Carotene Foods
Beta-carotene is a very important antioxidant. It is distinguished by its orange-yellow pigment found in colorful fruits and vegetables. This pigment is fat-soluble which means it is more readily absorbed when consumed with foods that are fats like avocado or cold-pressed olive oil. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant because it prevents cells and tissues from being damaged by stress. High food intake of beta carotene greatly reduces stomach, lung, prostate, breast, head, and neck cancers. Cancer progression was also shown to slow after people eat at least five servings of green, orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables per day. The combination of beta-carotene along with other antioxidants found in these same fruits and vegetables decrease cancer risks.
How Much Beta Carotene Do We Need?
Just 3 to 6 mg of beta carotene will lower your chances of getting a chronic disease (R).
Where Can You Find the Best Sources of Beta Carotene?
Beta-carotene is highest in orange, yellow, and red colored foods and I’m not talking about Mac & Cheese. Find beta carotene in carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, mango, and apricots (R). The best thing: you only need 1 serving (½ a cup) a day to improve your antioxidant levels. Healthy Thanksgiving Tips: sit down to a plate of vegetables BEFORE the meal to increase your beta-carotene foods. This will both fill you up so you won’t overeat AND give you lots of beta carotene. Enjoy a serving of beta-carotene rich foods like sweet potatoes at your meal too! Have your family and friends bring a side dish of spiced carrots!
Tip 2: Increase your Glutathione
Glutathione is a THE most prominent antioxidant in the body, so it should be biggest focus of getting healthy this Thanksgiving. Glutathione is made in the liver and helps to regulate digestion, immune support, and overall health. Glutathione has tremendous roles in keeping us healthy. Like other antioxidants, it protects cells from stress brought on by environmental and dietary triggers. What does glutathione do?
- Glutathione helps regenerate vitamins C and E (R)
- Helps other antioxidants to work in the body including lutein and zeaxanthin (R)
- Helps the liver to better metabolize toxins and also helps to improve the excretion of these toxins by the kidneys (R).
- Improves mitochondria function, which will make digestion more efficient(R)
- Higher levels of glutathione have been associated with better health in the elderly
What Makes Glutathione Low?
This antioxidant deserves a lot of credit for improving health. If you are low in glutathione chances are will be more likely to get a chronic disease. Low levels have been related to high alcohol consumption and constant exposure to chemical toxins. These include the following:
- Chemicals found in food
- Beauty and household products we use on a daily basis (R)
Alcohol intake over the holidays can get out of hand with all the social engagements. So if you are drinking more than 1 to 2 drinks a day you should be concerned about your glutathione levels.
How Much Glutathione Do We Need?
There is no established recommended daily intake for glutathione. However, maintaining an adequate level is important for the health of all your cells. One study measured a healthy range of glutathione to be between 440 to 654 mcg/dL in the blood. In smokers, glutathione-rich foods increase glutathione blood levels by 16 percent and reduce cell damage by 29 percent (R).
Foods That Increase Glutathione
Foods that are naturally high in glutathione include mushrooms, avocados, spinach, and okra(R) (R). Sulfur foods will naturally increase levels of this antioxidant in the body because glutathione is made up of molecules that contain sulfur (R) . Foods that boost glutathione include eggs, meats, garlic, onions, leeks, chives, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower (R) (R) (R (R). Vitamins C, B6, B12, and folate foods will increase the level of glutathione too (R). Find mushroom powders, mushroom coffees, and mushroom teas that can boost your glutathione here.
5 Healthy Thanksgiving Tips to Increase Glutathione:
- Mix in onions and garlic to all of your savory dishes to prevent some damage from that sugary dessert.
- Chronic stress can severely diminish glutathione levels. Adding stress-reducing activities during the holidays can help prevent this from happening.
- Meditation has been shown to increase the presence of glutathione. Those who practice meditation have been shown to have 20 percent higher levels of glutathione (R).
- Be Grateful: Use the time after dinner to reflect on what you are thankful for. It could help improve your glutathione levels!
- If you are highly deficient it may be beneficial to supplement antioxidants like glutathione. One way to maximize glutathione is by supplementing n-acetylcysteine. However, we recommend getting a micronutrient panel to see what your glutathione levels actually are.
Tip 3: Eat Lutein Foods
Lutein is an important carotene that protects the eye. Its antioxidant abilities may help brain structure and function by serving to potently reduce inflammation (R). High lutein intake is related to reduced rates of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), ocular inflammation, cataract, and more (R). People who eat a lot of foods with lutein and zeaxanthin have a 30% less change of getting AMD R). Sadly, westernized countries are eating less lutein than ever (R). Supplementation of lutein with other carotenes like zeaxanthin have shown improvements in eye health and even improvements in brain function (R).
How Much Lutein Do We Need?
While no established RDI for lutein exists, generally speaking, 5 to 10 mg per day appears to be beneficial (R).
Healthy Holiday Tips to Get More Lutein
Fill your plate with some greens. Some of the best food sources of lutein include kale, spinach, parsley, peas, leafy lettuce, squash, egg yolks, and Brussels sprouts (R).
Tip 4: Eat Lycopene Foods
Like lutein and beta-carotene, lycopene is part of the carotenoid family. The lycopene in these foods is what gives them a reddish hue (R). This antioxidant has an abundance of health properties. Research involving controlled studies indicate high intakes of lycopene may decrease the chances of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx (R). Pesticides are no match for lycopene and they can protect the body from the harm that might come from consuming these toxins (R). Like other carotenoids, lycopene is able to help protect the body from cancer. One analysis showed a lower chance of breast cancer when there were higher levels of lycopene in the blood by reducing oxidative stress (R).
How Much Lycopene Do We Need?
There is no RDA for lycopene but on average, peple get around 6 to 10 mg per day (R). Ideal amounts appear to be around 8 to 21 mg per day for improving health.
Healthy Thanksgiving Tips to Get More Lycopene
Add red foods: Lycopene is found in fruits such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, apricots, red oranges, watermelon, rosehips, shrimp, and guava. Lycopene should be eaten with fat and cooked to enhance its absorption (R). Tomatoes are a fruit contains lycopene, but it is also a nightshade vegetable that may have pro-inflammatory effects in people with autoimmune disease. Always be aware of how food affects you when you eat it.
Tip 5: Increase Selenium
Selenium is not only a mineral but it is also an antioxidant. It is needed for several body processes to keep our bodies healthy and thriving. Selenium is needed for reproduction, thyroid function, DNA production, and immune support. It functions as an antioxidant to prevent cell damage (R). Selenium helps glutathione activate and work in the body (R). So if you want to pump up your glutathione pump up your selenium intake.
How Much Selenium Do We Need?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of selenium is set by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) at 55 micrograms per day for adolescents and adults of all ages (R). People with thyroid conditions or those with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s are often deficient in selenium due to poor absorption or increased needs (R). Those who are highly stressed are also at risk for deficiency (R)
Healthy Thanksgiving Tips To Get More Selenium
The best sources of selenium include grass-fed organ meats, fish, and seafood. Muscle meats are also an excellent way to get selenium in your diet. If you can, include turkey organ meats, crab, tuna, halibut, shrimp, salmon, clams, or oysters this Thanksgiving. Add some Brazil nuts to your breakfast oatmeal or crack some Brazil nuts between meals as a healthy snack. Selenium content found in soil varies widely. For example, Brazil nuts are very high in selenium, but its content of selenium depends on how and where it is harvested. Another example is broccoli; it can have 10 times less selenium if soil content is low (R). Worried you may have a selenium deficiency? The best way to know is to get a micronutrient panel. Some companies that test for this are Science Based Nutrition, Vibrant, and Spectracell.
Tip 6: Add Vitamin A Foods
The active form of vitamin A is called retinol or retinyl palmitate. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant in the body. New research is showing us that some people need both plant and animal forms of vitamin A for best health. The RDA for retinol is 800-1200 mcg per day.
Why Do We Need Vitamin A?
A huge percentage of the population, up to 40%, can’t effectively convert carrots (or carotenoids) into retinol inside the body. The message the public gets is to eat a carrot for vitamin A. However, this isn’t effective for everyone. New research finds these gene variations in vitamin A metabolism are quite common (R). Consider this fact: about 70-90% of retinol, or active vitamin A, is absorbed, but even under optimal circumstances, only 3% or less of carotenes are absorbed. This is an average (R).
Healthy Holiday Tips to Get More Vitamin A
Enjoy organ meats and giblets from your turkey. They are the best sources of active vitamin A at the table on Thanksgiving (R). Carotenes, like beta-carotene, have vitamin A potential but aren’t active vitamin A.
Precautions with Vitamin A
Since vitamin A is such a bio-active compound, toxicity can occur at high doses, so is best from naturally sourced types of foods like organ meats and eggs. But if you cringe at the thought of this, you can always get gene tested, blood level tested, and supplement accordingly under careful observation of your practitioner.
7. Get More Vitamin C
Vitamin C: it’s trendy again, but for good reason. Vitamin C is required for making collagen. It also helps make L-carnitine, a substance important in energy production, and neurotransmitters. Vitamin C is involved in making protein in the body. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant. The RDI for vitamin C is 75-120 mg (R). However, new research is shedding light on conditions that benefit from much more vitamin C than the RDI, such as in cancer in clinical trials (R). Exposure to toxins, being overweight, smoking, alcohol, and poor diets may increase the amount of vitamin C your body needs.
How to Get More Vitamin C this Thanksgiving
Add some fresh fruits and vegetables to the Thanksgiving table or serve a tray of vegetables and fruits to snack on before the meal. You can include citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe are all great sources of vitamin C in the diet.
8. Healthy Thanksgiving Tips to Increase Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin that is becoming increasingly low in people’s diets. This Thanksgiving, make sure to get enough vitamin E. Vitamin E may reduce eye damage from the oxidative stress of diabetes, cataracts, and more (R). Vitamin E in its natural forms also help regulate genes, and by doing so, is able to help control abnormal cell growth. When people have a high intake of vitamin E-rich foods, they have a reduced risk of heart diseases consistently over time. Vitamin E-rich foods also reduce risks of most chronic diseases (R). At least ninety percent of men and women fail to get enough vitamin E in their diet, even at the paultry RDI levels of 20 mg per day. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that as many as 1 in 3 adults with diabetes or metabolic syndrome have vitamin E deficiency (R).
Healthy Thanksgiving Tips for Vitamin E:
Two categories of vitamin E are crucial for health: Tocotrienols and Tocopherols. Tocotrienol-rich foods include paprika, annatto seed, rice bran, palm oil (sustainably harvested) and coconut oil. Tocopherol-rich foods include peanut butter, chili powder, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, almonds, and poppy seeds. Add in some paprika or annatto seed to your Thanksgiving dishes for extra color and flavor. Mix in some almonds or sunflower seeds into your salads or sweet potato dishes.
Tip 9: Add Zeaxanthin Foods
Zeaxanthin is a yellow antioxidant that improves eye health. This substance has been shown to have similar effects in the body to vitamin E. Zeaxanthin also improves the availability of another antioxidant called glutathione (R). Like lutein, zeaxanthin helps increase beneficial pigment in the eye lens (R). Lower levels of zeaxanthin put individuals at risk for vision loss (R). Zeaxanthin prevents AMD by prohibiting blue light from damaging the eye. This compound has been shown to neutralize free radicals found in the retina thus lowering the risk of AMD (R).
How Much Zeaxanthin Do You Need?
There is no established RDA, but the research suggests that about 6 mg/day of zeaxanthin from fruit and vegetables (compared with less than 2 mg/day) may decrease the risk of advanced AMD (R).
Healthy Thanksgiving Tips to Get More Zeaxanthin
Corn gets a bad rap, but consider this: ground corn is the BEST source of zeaxanthin of all. Add a corn pudding or a tasty corn salad as a side to your turkey dinner. A quarter pound of corn tortilla contains over 10 grams of zeaxanthin [R]! Also add in some paprika or saffron (R). Eggs, orange pepper, honeydew, or mango also boost up the zeaxanthin on your Thanksgiving plate (R). Similar to lycopene, zeaxanthin absorbs better when it is chopped and cooked (R). Pairing zeaxanthin with a fat food also will help to improve its absorption (R).
Healthy Thanksgiving Tip 10: Spice it Up
Spices are very rich in antioxidants. Spices not only flavor your food but can pump up your antioxidant intake. Here are some spice ideas to add to your Turkey day dinner:
- Cinnamon can be added to more than just fruit and baked goods. Add it to your veggies like sweet potatoes and squash to give it a natural sweetness without all the sugar.
- Ginger helps support digestion and keeps you healthy by pumping up your immune system. Ginger has a great taste and makes vegetables yummy. Add it to Thanksgiving sauces, stir-fries, sauté’s, dressings, and baking.
- Garlic can be used in everything from soups and stews, to dressings sautés, and salads.
- Cumin is typically used in curry and taco seasoning. I like to add it to everything from eggs to salad dressings at holiday meals.
- Basil is a great herb to cook with. Healthy Thanksgiving tip: Add basil to sauces, stews, bakes, and sautes.
Tip 11: Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas to Increase Antioxidants:
Try this Crustless Pumpkin Pie recipe for a dairy free, gluten free desert with no added sugar. It features pumpkin which is a high source beta-carotene. Butternut squash is a holiday favorite. Try this easy recipe that combines cauliflower, and the antioxidant power of garlic. Cauliflower is rich in glutathione and butternut squash contains beta-carotene so you’re getting a double dose of nutrients that will help your body thrive. This cauliflower recipe contains a antioxidant rich cauliflower with the health promoting benefits of parsley and garlic. Try it as a side in your holiday feast. Broccoli Rabe is a bitter tasting green that is not traditionally associated with the holidays. You can start a new tradition adding this veggie for optimal nutrition since it is rich in vitamin A and C as well as glutathione. The recipe features lemon, onion, and chili flakes. If you are not into spice you can hold the chili.
Add colorful vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and spices as well as some turkey giblets and fish to your Thanksgiving meals and Thanksgiving snacks for a healthier mind and body this season. While anyone can benefit from using some of these tips, this is not medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only. Make sure to check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet and lifestyle. This article was a collaboration written by Jeanette Kimszal, RDN, NLC & Heidi Moretti, RDN, MS.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 20 years, has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. Has researched supplements and plants as medicine throughout her career. Loves helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.