Although Thanksgiving dinner is often criticized for its unhealthy calorie and fat content, it can be one of the healthiest meals you eat all year. Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and even pumpkin pie are packed with vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly. Each of these foods contains surprising health benefits that can make Thanksgiving extra special and reduce some of the guilt of eating them.

Turkey

The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving dinners, turkey is loaded with protein, an amino acid essential to growth and energy. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the recommended daily allowance of protein in the U.S. is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. Just three ounces of roast turkey breast provides 24 grams of protein—more than half of what a woman needs each day. Many studies have shown that replacing red meat with poultry or fish may lower the death rate from any cause, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as reduce the risk of stroke and prevent a number of chronic diseases.

Mashed Potatoes

Although not generally considered a healthy food, mashed potatoes contain a huge amount of vitamin C, an antioxidant that has been shown to slow the spread of several types of cancer and may even block tumor growth when administered in high doses. Research indicates that vitamin C is associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Since the human body does not make or store vitamin C, it is essential you get enough of this nutrient through your diet or by supplementation.

Sweet Potatoes

This orange spud is very nutritious. One sweet potato contains 400 percent of your body’s daily requirement of vitamin A. This vitamin is not only essential to the health of the eyes, but it also plays a role in cell reproduction, bone formation and wound healing.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin is not only loaded with vitamin A, but it also provides plenty of fiber. Dietary fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels, which can minimize hunger and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies have also indicated that fiber may lower the risk of coronary artery disease and other illnesses.

Having turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner is a great way to get the nutrition you need. Just don’t over do it—skip the additional toppings such as butter, gravy, mashmellows, and maple syrup. Using smaller plates will also help keep your portion sizes small. And lastly, be aware of your salt intake on all the servings and you’re on your way to a healthy and enjoyable meal!

Sources:

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-eat-healthy/art-20046590

http://www.aicr.org/assets/docs/pdf/reports/Second_Expert_Report.pdf

http://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/Chicken_Turkey_Nutrition_Facts.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22412075

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22207512

http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/vitamin-c-pdq

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C

http://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/03/white-potatoes-vs-sweet-potatoes-which-is-healthier/

https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-a-retinol

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/

http://content.onlinejacc.org/article.aspx?articleid=1127665