While many are familiar with the tradition of roasting the iconic Thanksgiving bird, how much do you really know about the nutritional aspects of turkey?
And lest anyone think Thanksgiving season is the time to throw healthy eating out the window — think again.
"Thanksgiving is actually an ideal time to try and integrate healthy recipes and strategies for healthy eating and portion control. Try using the time with family to share new healthy traditions that involve roasted nuts, herb and fruit-based mocktails without added sugars, and healthier versions of classic favorites like gluten-free veggie-based stuffing and cauliflower mashed potatoes," said Rachael Richardson, RD, LDN, of Nutrolution.com, who is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
"And reflect on the gratitude for each bite of food and the process that transpired in bringing it to your dinner table," she also said.
Here are five lesser-known health facts about turkey, the traditional centerpiece of countless Thanksgiving tables and the subject of endless autumnal obsession.
1. It’s a solid protein choice
Turkey really packs the protein.
"A single serving of turkey can provide about 24 grams of protein, which is essential for muscle growth, repair, and overall bodily functions," said Jamie Hickey, RD, CPT, of TruismFitness.com.
Turkey is a great source of protein, so don't be afraid to fill up on this celebratory centerpiece this holiday season. (iStock)
"Protein also helps to keep you feeling full and satisfied, which can be a boon for those watching their weight during the holiday season."
2. Turkey broth is super nutritious
Roasted turkey may get all the holiday attention, but don’t overlook using turkey bones to make a nutrient-dense broth.
"Turkey is an incredibly healthy protein, especially if it's free-range," said Richardson, who suggests using the clean bones to make a soup broth.
"This broth uses all aspects of the turkey, which shows gratitude and reverence for the animal's life. But also, it is extremely healthy for your gut, bones, and adrenal glands," she said.
3. Gravy isn’t good for your health
What would Thanksgiving turkey be without gravy?
Not as delicious.
The one thing you should try to avoid this Thanksgiving is the turkey gravy, as it's higher in sodium than many people realize. (iStock)
Yet, according to Hickey, a single ladle of gravy can add as much as 300 mg of sodium to your plate.
"High sodium intake is linked to increased blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease, so it's something to be mindful of," he said.
4. Plant-based turkey substitutes aren’t necessarily better for you than turkey
"Don't fall into the trap that ‘plant-based’ means healthy," cautioned Richardson, noting that meat-free foods like Tofurkey and vegan meat patties are often loaded with sodium, processed oils, soy and gluten, "which contribute to mental health problems, cancer and heart disease."
"The plant-based foods that are healthy for you and encouraged are actual plants like mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, arugula, basil, parsley, real olive oil, avocados, berries and the like," Richardson said.
Plant-based does not always mean it is healthier — maybe opt for the roasted broccoli or healthy veggie side. (iStock)
Roasted broccoli soup with peppers and onion for a healthy Thanksgiving side, anyone?
5. The way you cook your bird matters
"How you prepare it can make a significant difference in its nutritional profile," said Hickey about cooking turkey.
"Opting for skinless white meat, and using herbs for flavoring instead of butter or salt, can make your holiday feast both delicious and a bit more health-conscious," he said.