by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.
Does turkey really make you sleepy? Is pumpkin pie more nutritious than other desserts? Can cranberries ward off infections? Since Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, I thought I’d take a closer look at some of the nutritional lore that often surrounds the holidays.
Does Turkey Really Make You Drowsy?
True or false? Turkey makes you drowsy because it’s high in tryptophan.
False. Turkey does contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid—one of the building blocks that make up proteins. It’s a pretty common amino acid, found in everything from pumpkin seeds to parmesan cheese.
It’s also true that tryptophan can be converted into serotonin and other neurotransmitters that have a relaxing effect on the brain. But that only happens if there are no other amino acids present. Turkey, of course, contains lots of other amino acids in addition to tryptophan.
So, if you feel sluggish after Thanksgiving dinner, don’t blame the turkey. It’s probably just that you’ve had a big meal, maybe some wine. A nice walk is just the thing to aid digestion and wake you up a bit.
Is Pumpkin Pie a Healthy Dessert?
True or false? Pumpkin pie is good for you.
As desserts go, pumpkin pie has several things going for it. I mean, this is a dessert made out of vegetables…and you know how I feel about vegetables. Pumpkin is high in beta carotene and fiber and there’s enough pumpkin in a piece of pie to count as about half a serving of vegetables.
Secondly, while many pies have both a top and a bottom crust, pumpkin pie usually only has a bottom crust. The crust accounts for a big proportion of the calories in pie—so having just one limits the damage.
The crust accounts for a big propoprtion of the calories in pie--so having just one limits the damage.
Compared with a piece of apple pie, a piece of pumpkin pie has 100 fewer calories and lots more antioxidants and other essential nutrients. That said, it does have a significant amount of sugar so best to keep it to one piece.
Should You Use Baking Soda as an Antacid?
But moderation isn’t usually on the menu for Thanksgiving. Most of us end up just as stuffed as the turkey, which brings me to our next question. True or false? Using baking soda as an antacid can blow a hole in your stomach.
This one is true. Baking soda in water is an old-fashioned home remedy for indigestion. Alka-seltzer is simply baking soda and aspirin compressed into a fizzy tablet. But if you’re uncomfortable as a result of eating too much, it’s probably best not to reach for one of these remedies. There have been cases where people have suffered from stomach ruptures after taking baking soda on a very full stomach.
Obviously, it’s best to stop before you get to that point but if you do find yourself with an over-filled stomach, your best bet is to walk it off.
OK, this next one isn’t really Thanksgiving lore, per se, but I’ve included because it involves cranberries.
Does Cranberry Juice Help Urinary Tract Infections?
True or false? Cranberry juice is an effective remedy for urinary tract infections.
This one’s partially true. Cranberry juice does reduce the ability of bacteria to stick the lining of the urinary tract, making it harder for bacteria to become established there and cause an infection. If bacteria already have a good hold, cranberry juice probably won’t help much. But for people who are prone to UTIs, a daily dose of cranberry juice or a powdered cranberry supplement can help prevent repeated infections. Drinking more water helps, too.
How Many Calories are in Thanksgiving Dinner?
True or false? The average person eats close to 5,000 calories on Thanksgiving.
That’s true. The average Thanksgiving dinner runs about 3,000 calories but when you add in all the other meals and snacks throughout the day, the average person ends up eating about 4500 calories. That’s about two day’s worth of calories.
But, if the scale reads several pounds higher on Friday morning than it did on Thursday morning, take it with a grain of salt. The excess calories are the equivalent of less than a pound of stored fat. Most of that weight gain is temporary. Getting back to your normal eating and exercise patterns will probably bring your weight back to normal in relatively short order.
How Much Weight Do People Gain During the Holidays?
True or false? The average person gains seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
False. Actually, the average weight increase over the holidays is just one pound. If you’re coming out of the holidays overweight, chances are you probably went into the holidays overweight. Which brings me to one of my favorite little pieces of wisdom.
A big holiday dinner isn’t going to make you fat any more than a day or two eating cabbage soup is going to make you thin. When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, or even just trying to eat a healthy diet, I suggest that you not focus too much on your best days or your worst days.In the long run, what really matters is how you eat most days.
So, enjoy your holiday. And I’ll see you back here next week, with more quick and dirty tips for eating well and feeling fabulous.
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Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!
Why tryptophan makes you sleepy (but turkey doesn’t)
Examining the Evidence on Cranberry Juice
Perils of Baking Soda for Indigestion
Average holiday weight gain less than thought
Some Non-nutritional Thanksgiving myths