Of course, everyone knows that we set aside Thanksgiving Day as a day of gratitude. We are and should be thankful for so many things. But, did you know that being thankful can benefit your health?
• Journaling for five minutes a day about what we are grateful for can enhance our long-term happiness by over 10%. It turns out that noticing what we already have can make us feel more positive in our lives.
• A high level of gratitude has a strong impact on our psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression.
• Being thankful every day keeps envy at bay.
• You can have more friends when you have a thankful heart. Others will have a positive feeling about us.
• Showing gratitude to our significant others will improve the quality of your relationship.
• Those who are more grateful have access to more social support to get through difficult times.
• Showing gratitude helps us be more positive.
• Being grateful will help you in your spiritual life.
• Gratitude can increase our self-centeredness.
• Those who are more grateful are also less materialistic. Grateful people appreciate what they have rather than dwell on what they don’t have.
• Practicing gratitude can increase our physical health.
• People who count their blessings at least once a week will have a lower blood pressure.
• Being grateful can improve your sleep.
• Those who practice being grateful everyday are more likely to exercise.
With all these benefits, why wouldn’t you want to practice being grateful. People around you will notice. Your grateful attitude will be a positive factor not only in your life, but others also. But don’t wait until Thanksgiving Day to be grateful, count your blessings and be grateful every day of your life.
Over the years, I have heard from many of our seniors that they are going to cheat on their diet at Thanksgiving. Most think that the food that is served is just not good for you and will make you gain weight. But the reality is that Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to eat nutritious food. It’s just about finding the right way to prepare it and not going overboard when you eat.
I thought it would be interesting for you to know that Thanksgiving foods can be very healthy. The following is a list of traditional Thanksgiving foods and why they are good for you. You will also learn how to tweak some of the more caloric dishes to make them healthier.
• Turkey. What is Thanksgiving without turkey? Turkey is rich in protein and can be very lean. Turkey provides iron, zinc, and potassium. Turkey also contains selenium which is important in thyroid hormone production. Four ounces of turkey provides 60% of your selenium requirements. Even the dark meat is good for you, but you may want to pass on the fatty skin. A turkey can be roasted without adding a lot of calories. A healthy turkey doesn’t mean it will be dry and tasteless. Add fresh herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper to the breast. Stuff with a variety of aromatics such as lemons, apples, onions, garlic, rosemary and sage.
• Sweet Potatoes. Sweet potatoes are the healthiest baked, roasted, mashed or boiled. It is best to forgo the traditional casserole with the brown sugar and marshmallow topping. Sweet potatoes are a wonderful source of fiber, potassium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin C. Limit the butter and keep added sweeteners to a minimum. A bit of maple syrup and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves would be a good choice to spice up your sweet potato.
• Brussel sprouts. Brussel sprouts are rich in vitamin C, fiber, and glucosinolates, a compound that may fight cancer. Roasted or sautéed Brussel sprouts can add a nice contrast of color, texture and balance to your Thanksgiving meal. They are still good for you even if you add a little bacon or cheese to make them more appealing.
• Potatoes. White potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, B6, fiber, and magnesium. If you want to add more nutrients, use purple potatoes. The pigmented purple skin contains antioxidants, which is very similar to the antioxidants in blueberries.
• Cranberries. Fresh or dried, cranberries are packed with fiber, cell-protecting anthocyanins, and vitamin C. If you make cranberry sauce, just be sure to watch the amount of sugar you add. Using fresh is always better than canned because you are not able to control the sugar in the canned cranberry sauce
• Pumpkin. It is my belief that any Thanksgiving meal must end with pumpkin pie. If you use canned pumpkin for your pies, be sure to use 100% pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which contains quite a bit of sugar. Use a natural sweetener such as Stevia to control the amount of sugar in your pies. Pumpkin is rich in beta-carotene, which is important in making vitamin A. It also contains omega 3’s and lutein.
• Green beans. I really hate to talk bad about green bean casserole, but there isn’t much to brag about when it comes to being nutritious. Between the butter, cream of mushroom soup, and crunchy fried onions, you’re scooping a heaping spoonful of fat, calories and salt. Simple is the best choice when it comes to green beans. Traditional green beans have only around 35 calories per cup and contain a wide variety of nutrients.
• Cinnamon. Cinnamon brings out the flavor of fall favorites such as apples, pears, and pumpkin. You may not think that adding cinnamon to a dish is good for you, but cinnamon contains fiber, calcium, and iron. Regular consumption of this spice can help keep blood sugar and cholesterol in check.
• Bread. Homemade rolls are almost always found at Thanksgiving. The traditional white dinner rolls are not much to talk about when it comes to nutrition because they are carb-heavy. A smarter pick other than the white rolls would be those made from whole grains. The fiber from whole grains can help reduce cholesterol levels and may lower the risk for heart disease. Fiber is also important for healthy bowel function and helps reduce constipation. Whole grains also contain vitamins and minerals that can improve your health.
• Apples. It is a good chance you will see apple pies at Thanksgiving. Apples contain vitamin A and C and inflammation fighting phytochemical called quercetin. Just remember to keep the peels on when making pies, tarts, and applesauce so that you will benefit from all the nutrients that the peals contain.
• Dressing. No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without dressing or stuffing. It would be the best if your base for your dressing was made from whole wheat bread. Or you can make cornbread dressing, which has many nutrients from the cornmeal. Try to avoid the boxed stuffings because they are extremely high in sodium. They are also made with white bread, which offers very little nutrients and flavor.
• Peppermint. Let’s say you ate a little too much for your Thanksgiving meal. Just pop a peppermint in your mouth. Peppermint can loosen muscles and help your food move along. It has an anti-inflammatory effect and can relieve mild stomach pain. (I always wondered why restaurants offer peppermints when you leave).
• Vinegar. Now let’s say you are feeling guilty about eating too many carbs. Taking one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar after your meal can disrupt enzymes in the small intestine that breaks apart sugar molecules and make a carb-rich meal make a lesser impact on your blood sugar.
All of us at the senior center wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. Now we hope that you will not feel so guilty about eating your Thanksgiving meal. Just remember to choose your ingredients wisely to reap the most nutrition possible.
We are looking forward to some special days upcoming. You are welcome to join us if you are at least 50 years of age. Please call for more information.
• Nov. 20: 9:30 a.m. — Exercise; 10 a.m. — Bingo with Hospice of Chattanooga; 11 a.m. — Bird Club
• Nov. 21: 9:30 a.m. — Exercise; 10 a.m. — Bingo with Etowah Health Care; 11 a.m. — Common Sense Test
Sue Walker is the executive director of the Etowah Area Senior Citizens Center. She may be reached by calling 423-781-7632.