The Health Benefits of Your Favorite Thanksgiving Foods

November 11, 2022

Think traditional Thanksgiving foods are just empty calories? Think again. The Thanksgiving table is full of nutritious foods that you can savor, enjoy and even use to enhance your performance. 


The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving tables, turkey is a nutrition powerhouse. In every ounce, you’ll get approximately­ 8 grams of protein and an abundance of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, which the body uses for energy production, and the immune-boosting minerals zinc and selenium. Turkey is also a good source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid for making proteins and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that impacts mood.

White and dark meats are equally nutritious choices. While white meat has been touted as the healthier choice because it has slightly less fat and calories than dark meat, the differences are minimal—it’s more a matter of which you enjoy more. White meat provides slightly more protein but less B vitamins per ounce; dark meat provides more essential minerals, including zinc, selenium, calcium and iron, which are nutrients lacking in many dancers’ diets.


Potatoes get a bad rap, but they don’t deserve it. White potatoes are a fantastic source of carbohydrates, fiber and resistant starch. Resistant starch feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut and increases the production of short-chain fatty acids, which play a role in gut health and blood-sugar management. In addition, a medium potato provides around 25 percent of the RDA for vitamin C and potassium. 

Different potato preparations have additional benefits: Mashed potatoes include fat from milk and butter that increases satiety; boiled and baked potatoes are easy to digest and provide quick energy; and adding salt to your potatoes helps replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat.


Judging by the nutrition label, cranberries aren’t very impressive; they’re 90 percent water, and the rest is primarily fiber and some carbohydrates. But they’re secret nutrition powerhouses, rich in potent plant compounds like myricetin and peonidin. Myricetin is a strong antioxidant that scavenges free radicals—unstable molecules that can build up in cells and damage DNA and proteins—to provide anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, immunity-boosting and even pain-relieving properties. Peonidin is a member of the group of antioxidants called anthocyanins, which may control inflammation and improve metabolism. Want to pick up choreography faster? Peonidin promotes neuroplasticity, allowing learning and memory to work properly. 


Pumpkin is packed with nutrients that support your immune­ system, which is especially important during the winter performance season. One cup of cooked pumpkin has just 50 calories but provides 245 percent of the RDA for vitamin A, plus vitamins C and E, iron and folate. Pumpkin also has 11 percent of RDA for copper and manganese, which are required for bone health. It’s also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which may promote eye health. Pumpkin is versatile and can be baked from scratch or used from a can—it’s equally nutritious. Add it to overnight oats, smoothies, soups, stews and baked goods like muffins and energy bars. 

A Slice of Joy

Pumpkin pie is synonymous with Thanksgiving and can fit into any dancer’s meal plan. An average slice of pumpkin pie is around 250 calories and, in addition to the array of vitamins and minerals in the pumpkin, it provides protein, calcium and joy. 

Kristin’s Easy Cranberry Sauce

For tart-sweet flavor and a nutrient boost, add this cranberry sauce to roast turkey or chicken, sandwiches, mashed or baked potatoes, toast and more.

Makes eight 1/4-cup servings

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  1. Combine water and maple syrup in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Add cranberries and cook until they burst and soften, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.