It’s the fourth Thursday in November and the aroma of Thanksgiving dinner wafts through the air. You loosen your belt and prepare your stomach for the meal of the year. Over the past 400 years, Thanksgiving tradition has completely transformed. In 1621, the “first Thanksgiving” was an autumn harvest celebration between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians that probably consisted of shellfish, wild fowl, deer and cornmeal. The first “official Thanksgiving” was celebrated on Nov. 26, 1863, when Abe Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. Today, Thanksgiving is synonymous with family, football, parades and feasts.
Thanksgiving is one of the largest food holidays in the United States. A holiday doused in delicious food options inevitably results in eating everything in sight. According to a study conducted by Calorie Control Council, the average American consumes around 3,000 calories at the Thanksgiving dinner table (not including pre-meal snacks). Eating more than a day’s worth of calories in one sitting is excessive, but with all that eating, you are also getting a day’s worth of nutrients. Turkey provides half of the recommended amount of folic acid and 32g of protein in just 5oz. The same quantity of mashed potatoes provides 45 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, and one half-cup serving of sweet potatoes provides 330 percent of your daily recommended vitamin A. Green beans offer vitamins A, C, K and B6, while cranberries (not the jelly-version) are a great source of vitamin C and manganese. Even the pumpkin in your pie is full of fiber and vitamin A. Although the health benefits of these foods do not “cancel out” the incredibly high levels of sodium, fat and calories, you are still enjoying a nutrient-dense meal.
If there is ever a time to stuff yourself to maximum capacity, then Thanksgiving is that time. However, if you want to avoid the post-meal food coma, then practice the following strategies.
First, eat slowly and listen to your body. By eating slowly, you give your brain time to process what your stomach is feeling. Once you feel full, there is no need to continue to stuff yourself. Leftovers will be inescapable for the next few days, so you are not missing out on anything.
Second, be conscious of what you are eating. Before you fill up your plate, look at the buffet and decide what you are going to choose. Once you make your decisions, serve yourself reasonable portion sizes. One good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with vegetables, then leave a quarter for meats and a quarter for starches like sweet potatoes. Once again, listening to your body and stopping when you are full are essential.
Although the words “feast” and “Thanksgiving” are often interchangeable, it is important to remember what you are celebrating. Don’t show up for a big meal and fall directly into a food coma. Be grateful and show thanks for the food, family and traditions. Sharing in the tradition of Thanksgiving dinner is a big part of American culture, so be sure to slow down and enjoy it. Remember your portion sizes, listen to your body, and remember to save some room for that special slice of vitamin A-rich pie.