Thanksgiving is just a week away! As you know from my last blog post, I will not tell you to change or swap any of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes. However, I will provide a few tips you can incorporate next Thursday to help you stay energized for all of the day’s activities such as Black Friday shopping, putting up holiday decorations, or cheering on the Dallas Cowboys.
Stress can cause indigestion and increased blood pressure. If you took on the responsibility of providing Thanksgiving dinner to twenty loved ones, there are a few ways to reduce your stress. Play your favorite music or movie in the background, take intermittent breaks for a few deep breaths, delegate tasks such as cleaning, dinner table setup, trash takeout, and dishwashing, and ask for help in the kitchen! If you’re traveling, pack snacks and water, take turns driving, wear comfortable clothes, and bring noise-canceling headphones onto the plane.
Add Fiber to Your Plate
While I find no need to replace your favorite Thanksgiving dishes, I do recommend adding sides rich in fiber to your plate. Fiber helps move food along your digestive tract, and soluble fibers in foods such as beans, oats, and Brussels sprouts can decrease cholesterol absorption. For an extra bonus, fruits and vegetables also provide potassium and water which are beneficial for blood pressure management.
Here are some easy ideas for fiber-rich sides:
Drink water between and during meals for hydration. Water breaks down your food, lessens bloating from excess sodium, carries nutrients to your cells, and moves waste away. Pair water with your fiber-rich sides to soften and move the foods easily through your digestive tract.
The current Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for water per day is 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women. This can include water from other drinks and food sources like coffee, soups, vegetables, and fruits. Dehydration can cause fatigue and weakness, so drink up!
Take your time, eat slowly, and enjoy the food. Many hormones in your body are working while you’re eating to regulate your appetite by signaling hunger, giving you fullness cues, and releasing the necessary hormones to use up the new nutrients coming in. Because of this process, it takes your body some time to tell your brain that it’s full. Have you ever eaten so much and then a food coma hits you out of nowhere? By the time your brain received the signal, you already consumed too much! A food coma zaps your energy and can slow you down for hours. Take your time eating, and your body will let you know when it’s done. Remember, you can always have leftovers later!
Go for a Pre- and Post-Meal Walk
Just 15 minutes makes a difference! Not only will you burn some calories, but you will also enjoy the cooler weather, boost your mood, lessen stress, lower your blood pressure, and bond with family and friends as you walk together. If the weather is not cooperative outside, get some physical activity by doing work around the house or following a short workout or dance video on YouTube.
By following these tips, you will feel energized throughout the day, and your body will thank you for providing everything it needs for easy digestion. My husband and I will be completing a 5K Turkey Trot in the morning with friends, enjoying our favorite dishes with a side of roasted broccoli and fresh fruit, and catching up on movies. Tell me below how you plan on incorporating these tips!
Kevin Fredericks of Kevonstage, a social media comedian, stole the spotlight last year when he protested the addition of Brussels sprouts and butternut squash to macaroni and cheese. The vegetable tip was aired on The Kitchen, a cooking show on the Food Network, to introduce a new mac and cheese recipe for Thanksgiving. The comedian made a plea to leave the vegetables out! People who commented on his video made their message clear: DO NOT alter this traditional Thanksgiving dish.
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I am an advocate for adding vegetables to macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving, but there is a missing piece to the puzzle. Macaroni and cheese was not on my family’s dinner table on Thanksgiving, so I have no emotional connection to it. On the other hand, if someone wanted to replace my favorite stuffing, I would probably fight back!
Video from Kevonstage regarding macaroni and cheese
The smell of turkey and the taste of stuffing and mashed potatoes takes me back to my parent’s kitchen. It was the one time of the year I had a full American meal at home. I remember waking up early each year to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as I waited for my mom to finish cooking. My parents were Vietnamese immigrants and never assimilated to cooking American food at home. Therefore, Thanksgiving consisted of frozen, pre-cooked turkey, instant mashed potatoes, packaged gravy, boxed stuffing, canned corn and peas, and a side of iceberg lettuce with bottled Italian dressing. I loved it, and I still do!
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I prefer to eat it exactly the same way I did growing up. As a dietitian and a self-taught cook, I can probably cook each dish from scratch and make a healthy version for each of them. But it would not taste like Thanksgiving, and there is a scientific reason behind it.
Taste, Smell, and Flavor
Together, taste and smell contribute to taste perception. You may think you “taste” your food with your tongue but, the truth is, the tongue is limited to identifying notes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, known as the primary sensations of taste. To determine a flavor, you need your nose! About 80% of flavor comes from the smell of your food.
Your sense of smell is called olfaction. Aromas from the food travel to your olfactory receptors which are located at the back of your nasal cavity. There are two pathways to these receptors: orthonasal (smelling) and retronasal (from the back of your throat as you chew, swallow, and exhale). Once the odors reach the receptors, signals are sent to your olfactory bulb and the brain for flavor identification.
Flavor occurs once you combine all of the senses of taste, smell, touch, sound, and sight. Flavor is highly individualized which makes it a subjective critique in the food critic world. To me, the perfect apple is tart, firm, crunchy, and green while the perfect apple to someone else may be red, sweet, and slightly soft.
The Olfaction Food Memory Connection
The olfactory receptors end at the limbic system of the brain, specifically associated with emotions and memories. So by smelling and identifying flavors through olfaction, we can trigger specific feelings and memories that we previously associated those smells and flavors with. The more stimulated you were when you ate the food, the more vivid the food memories become. If you make pumpkin pie every year for your family, the memories of cooking on a cold fall day, eating, and sharing your pie will be more prominent every time you smell pumpkin pie. However, you may have little to no food memory attached to the chicken sandwich you mindlessly ate during a conference call last year.
Thanksgiving is a special holiday that happens once a year. Your family probably cooks the same traditional dishes, perhaps replicating recipes carried down from generations ago. These dishes may be expected every year by family and friends! To Kevin, it was offensive to see Brussels sprouts and butternut squash added to the macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving but, if it were presented to him on any other day, perhaps he would try it.
As a dietitian, there is an empathetic side to me that understands how sacred family meals and traditions are on this delightful holiday. I will not tell you to replace your turkey with a tofurkey or to swap out macaroni pasta with cauliflower. Just enjoy the food with your loved ones, and embrace both the old and new food memories to come!
Jane Pelcher, RDN
I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist focused on helping everyone love nutrition through cooking! My blogs provide new home cooks with basic cooking skills and grocery shopping tips. Most importantly, I strive to teach the nutrition behind the foods you cook to help you understand how specific foods can better your health and prevent chronic diseases. I hope you embark on this journey with me!