When we think about Thanksgiving dinner there’s almost always one food that comes to mind: Turkey. This is the glorified centerpiece of the table as our families gather around it, so it is without a doubt a very important part of our traditional holiday experience. However, when it comes to eating healthy there are some things you should consider before overdoing it with the turkey.

White vs. Dark Meat

Drumstick or breast? You may have a preference for flavor, but how does eating white meat versus dark meat impact your health? If you are looking to cut back on calories, opt for the white meat, as it has fewer calories than dark. In addition to fewer calories, white meat contains more protein and less fat than dark meat. While calories and protein might be your priority for getting lean, it is still important to note other nutritional aspects of the different cuts of meat. By comparison, dark meat contains more vitamins and minerals, specifically zinc, iron, selenium and B vitamins, while white meat is rich in magnesium, niacin.

Tryptophan Makes You Sleepy: Myth or Fact?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes the secretion of serotonin making you feel sleepy and sluggish. Against many beliefs, tryptophan is no more present in turkey than it is in any other meats. Because it’s so high in protein, turkey actually stabilizes insulin levels and diminishes any tired feelings. That sleepiness you feel after a big Thanksgiving meal is not from the turkey, but rather the carbohydrate-rich side dishes filling the other half of your plate. Myth busted.

Skip the Skin

If you are watching calories, here is your biggest enemy: turkey skin. Turkey is naturally very low in saturated fat so, when including that crispy, fried skin into your bite you are only adding extra calories and fat. People trying to lose weight should avoid eating the skin in addition to, those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure as this could increase your risk for more health complications.

Healthy Baking Methods

As mentioned before, turkey is naturally low in fat but also high in protein. With the proper ingredients and cooking methods, you can enjoy the holiday flavors of your turkey while still getting its health benefits. Coating your turkey in butter only adds unnecessary, unhealthy fats. Instead, try using heart-healthy olive oil to oven bake your bird. For extra flavor, add your favorite herbs and spices–thyme, rosemary, sage, coriander, oregano. These ingredients come at a low-calorie cost and provide extra vitamins and minerals. After preparing your turkey with the right ingredients it is important to consider some of the healthier cooking methods. We encourage you to stray from frying or smoking your turkey and instead consider baking or roasting.

The choices you make when cooking influence the total calories in the meal and the nutritional benefits and these choices can affect your health.

Read next:

Walker’s Tips for Portion Control at Social Gatherings

Four ways to Find Joy this Holiday Season by Todd Bello, Member Ambassador and founder of OvercomingPsoriasis.com

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