Don’t Feel Guilty!

Some holiday menu items are stuffed with nutrients
The average Thanksgiving dinner can mean up to 4,500 calories are consumed in one sitting, and while you may be feeling like a plump turkey yourself during the days following the feast, the binge wasn’t a complete nutritional waste.

Several Thanksgiving menu items, including corn, pumpkin pie and cranberries are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, which in the long run can help prevent cancer and heart disease, according to studies conducted by the American Chemical Society.

Kathleen Sweeney, a registered dietitian and public health educator for Santa Clara County, said that although a number of nutrients can be found in Thanksgiving Day foods, people should always remember that it’s the calories that count.

“What people should really look at is their calorie intake,” she said. “Thanksgiving is not the day to say, ‘I’m going to eat this or that,’ but ultimately that’s what will affect your weight.”

If you piled on the cranberry sauce on Thursday, you also took in several antioxidants. Sweeney said all berries, especially blueberries and cranberries, are also a great source of fiber.

“They’re great for you, but you have to watch the amount of sugar you put in (the sauce),” she said.

Along with being good for the body, cranberries are one of the oldest holiday dishes in American culture. Introduced to the pilgrims by the Native Americans, Sweeney said the tart berries have been growing in the United States for an estimated 10,000 years.

Pumpkin pie is another Thanksgiving staple that has been around for centuries. Although the dessert isn’t thought of as a healthy food, its main ingredient may improve eyesight.

Frederick Khanchik, a researcher at the University of Maryland, said sweet potato pies and pumpkin pies are rich in alpha and beta-carotene, the chemical precursors of vitamin A that are known to promote healthier vision.

Holiday foods, however, are not the best way to get such nutrients because the foods often are packed with fat and calories, too. When people pack on a few pounds during the Thanksgiving meal, Sweeney said, they often fall off track with efforts to eat healthy and continue to eat goodies until New Year’s Day.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty about what you ate,” she said. “You should just put on your tennis shoes and go for a long walk with your family who are around. The important part is to get right back to eating healthy and getting good exercise the day after. It’s important to include lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise in your daily routine.”

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