Thanksgiving: A Life-giving Holiday

The coming of the holidays, for each of us, is symbolized by different events and moments: the first turning of leaves, a bracing snap of cool air, relaxing with a good book, a hot cocoa or a glass of wine in front of a blazing fireplace. For me, it’s Thanksgiving which marks the beginning of regular family
and friend get-togethers, cozy rituals which give us excuses to relax a little, and spend time with the people we care most about and don’t often have time for during the year.

Thanksgiving dinners started as early as the 1600’s by either the pilgrims in 1621 or the Jamestown settlers, as their version of the ancient British “Harvest Home Festival.” But it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Based on this heritage, it isn’t surprising that the foundation of a traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of an amazing variety of health-giving foods.

Turkey: The turkey, a “true original native of America,” according to Benjamin Franklin, has been eaten in America since at least the 1500s by early explorers. It’s an exceptionally lean meat – lower in calories, cholesterol and fat than even chicken.

Sweet Potatoes: A major superfood, sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, low in calories, and full of immune-boosting, cancer- and heart disease-preventing nutrients. Starting with beta-carotene, which provides the deep orange color. Beta-carotene is critical for your immune system, your skin, your vision, bones, reproduction, and more. Studies show that people who eat foods high in beta-carotene and people with high blood levels of beta-carotene have a lower incidence of certain cancers.

Greens: The most powerful food of all, deep green leafies, as we call them – such as spinach, collards, beet greens, kale – have the highest antioxidant score of all vegetables. They are high in many nutrients, including beta-carotene, iron, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, but are uniquely high in a compound called lutein. People who ate greens 2-4 times per week had a 46% decrease in risk of age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of preventable blindness) compared to those who consume these vegetables less than once per month. They also experience a lower incidence of cataracts. This is attributed to lutein, in the carotenoid family. Absorption of carotenoids—yellow/orange-colored phytochemicals found in orange and yellow fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens—is increased by cooking and by the presence of fat (cook in a little healthy olive or canola oil).

Cranberry Sauce: Cranberries, because of their potent flavor and deep color are one of the highest fruits on the antioxidant list, surpassed only by blackberries and blueberries. They contain compounds which act as antioxidants, stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation,
enhance cancer-fighting enzymes, influence hormone metabolism positively, have antibacterial and antiviral effects and may even reverse some aspects of brain aging. The tannins in cranberries may be responsible for helping to prevent urinary tract infections, stomach ulcers, gum disease and even ear infections in children. Cranberries are also effective against antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
and 20 percent of urinary tract infections are resistant to antibiotics. The tannins work by blocking the disease-causing bacteria and preventing it from adhering to human cell walls.

Giving Thanks: Giving thanks for this bounty is an essential part of the Thanksgiving
tradition. Most places of worship have services on Thanksgiving day. And there are many institutions which could use volunteers. Also, to help yourself relax and enjoy the day, start a new tradition and take a walk with your family members and friends – in the morning, after the feast – or both. We live in one of the most beautiful and walkable cities in the world. Walking along the Potomac River, on the National Mall, or in Rock Creek Park is free and open for everyone. Try a yoga class: Down Dog Yoga has a traditional Thanksgiving Day class from 10 am to noon. Both Down Dog Yoga and Spiral Flight Yoga in Georgetown have classes the days before and after Thanksgiving.

Visiting your place of worship to connect spiritually, volunteering for the needy, taking a walk or a yoga class are great ways to relax, center yourself and remind yourself of everything you have to feel grateful for.

Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D. will customize, an easy, enjoyable weight loss, athletic or medical nutrition therapy program for you or your company. She is the author of “Diet Simple: 192 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations,” and National Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Contact her at or 202-833-0353.

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