5 Myths About Thanksgiving Food—Debunked

5 minute read

If only the turkey on your Thanksgiving table could talk. That bird would like a word about how “exhausting” it is.

The idea that turkey makes us tired has been passed around holiday celebrations for a long time—and it’s not the only myth shared year after year. Is canned pumpkin really less nutritious than fresh? Is dousing the cranberries in sugar an absolute must?

Here, we debunk these and other myths about Thanksgiving food—so you can serve up the facts at this year’s feast.

Myth: Turkey makes you tired.

Truth: Turkey meat contains L-tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid that helps produce serotonin—often described as the “feel-good” hormone—and melatonin, which promotes sleep. “But you’d have to eat a lot of turkey—actually about 4 pounds of it—by yourself, in one sitting, for it to make you sleepy,” says Roxana Ehsani, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Miami.

So why do we get drowsy after inhaling a big holiday feast? “Likely because you’re consuming high amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods—like stuffing or mashed potatoes, rolls, cornbread, all the desserts, maybe even a few alcoholic beverages,” Ehsani says. “All those things will cause a rise in blood sugar and then a crash, which will lead to fatigue.” Research indicates that high-carb, high-fat meals—hello, Thanksgiving dinner—lead to sleepiness that usually hits the hardest about 60 to 90 minutes after eating.

If you’re hoping to remain energetic for that flag-football game, opt for small portions, take breaks and then get seconds if you’re still hungry after 20 minutes, and stop eating after you’re full. Turkey, vindicated.

Myth: Canned pumpkin is less nutritious than fresh.

Truth: Canned foods tend to get a bad rap. But both fresh pumpkin and canned pumpkin are full of nutrients—including potassium, vitamin A, and iron—and suitable for your pumpkin pie.

“One should feel totally OK about having canned pumpkin,” says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in New York City. “A lot of times, vegetables are canned at peak ripeness,” when they have the most vitamins and nutrients they’ll ever have. Research indicates that in addition to being nutritious, canned vegetables are cost-effective and often have a conveniently long shelf-life.

But don’t just grab the first can of pumpkin you see: It’s important to check out the labels first, Gans says. Look for a brand that’s 100% pure pumpkin and doesn’t contain any other ingredients, such as added sugars.

Myth: Cranberries require a ton of added sugar to taste good.

Truth: Cranberries are a Thanksgiving staple—and because they’re tart, they’re usually made with copious amounts of sugar in dishes like cobblers or cranberry sauce.

But here’s some sweet news: They don’t have to be sugar minefields. “A lot of people don’t know this, but you can eat them raw, without sugar,” Ehsani says. Yes, they’ll taste bitter, but consider the health benefits: Cranberries are full of nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, and magnesium.

Still, there’s no need to snack on raw cranberries like they’re peanuts. Instead, use them as garnishes, tossing them into salads or dropping them into cocktails. That can add a delicious, savory twist to your meal, Ehsani says.

You can also simply cut back on the amount of sugar you use in your cranberry sauce, and it’ll still taste great.

Myth: Dark turkey meat is worse for you than breast meat.

Truth: There’s some truth to the idea that white meat is healthier, Gans says: It contains less saturated fat and calories than dark meat. However, the differences are negligible.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 3 ounces of roasted turkey dark meat contain 175 calories, 2.49 grams of saturated fat, and 114 mg of cholesterol. Roasted light meat, meanwhile, has 150 calories, 1.36 grams of saturated fat, and 75.6 mg of cholesterol.

Dark meat actually tops white meat when it comes to several nutrients: A 3-ounce serving contains a little more iron, zinc, and selenium. So nutritionally, it’s pretty much a wash.

“If you prefer the dark meat over the white meat, go for it,” Gans says. “Let’s be honest—the dark meat has more flavor.”

Myth: Post-meal is the best time to take a Thanksgiving nap.

Truth: The couch develops an almost magnetic pull after you’ve satiated yourself with mashed potatoes, doughy pies, and butter-soaked rolls. But it’s actually “the worst time” to take a nap, Gans says. Lying down could lead to digestive issues like heartburn and acid reflux—which you can better avoid by staying upright for 45 to 60 minutes after eating.

Plus, there are benefits to being active post-meal. According to research published earlier this year, a short walk—even just 2 to 5 minutes will do—can lower blood sugar levels after a meal. “If you’re able to move a little, that’s definitely preferred,” Ehsani says. “Get up, maybe clean the dishes, put some food away, and get a little active,” perhaps whisking a dining companion outside for a lap around the block.

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