By Ekaterina Morrissey
Every year, thousands of American families gather together, to enjoy a day full of football and feasting. This national holiday may mean nothing more than a four day weekend for some, or the beginning of a month long holiday shopping spree. But, it started out as the act of giving thanks, for the kindness and favor of God Almighty (and it still remains true for many).
Unlike the Pilgrims, when the dinner menu would have consisted of lobster and duck, today more than 90% of American households will be feasting on turkey.
Since many of us have turkey only once or twice a year, choosing a bird can be overwhelming.
First, you need to consider your needs, such as the size of the group you are feeding (plan on 1/2 pound per person). Convenience/preparation is another consideration.
What you don’t know can hurt you!
Frozen birds that we find in our local supermarket are usually the cheapest option (averaging about $2 per pound), but they may not be the highest quality of meat. Many of the birds sold in everyday markets are mass farmed and injected with a saline solution and/or GMO canola or soybean oil, to improve the texture and taste of the meat. But that’s not all… You may be getting an extra side dish with your Thanksgiving turkey that you didn’t bargain for: a nasty drug called Ractopamine.
Ractopamine is a growth enhancing drug that’s added to turkey feed, as well as the feed of conventionally raised pigs and cattle – to increase their muscle mass – making big turkeys even bigger for your holiday table. But does bigger means better when it comes to your health? Nope.
Ractopamine mimics stress hormone causing turkeys, pigs and cattle that eat it to convert feed to muscle faster. It is connected to “downed” animals, muscular tremors, cardiovascular dysfunctions and increased aggressive behavior in animals.
Human health studies that exist raise serious health concerns. One of the drug’s human health study, conducted on six healthy men, caused heart pounding in three of the men so severe that one had to be removed from the study.
Ractopamine was found in meat samples, and the reason for this is because there is no mandatory withdrawal period for the drug. Ractopamine can be fed to turkeys right up to the point they are slaughtered!
Here are few alternatives to a drug-abused turkeys and the differences that affects quality:
Fresh Turkeys, by law, cannot be chilled below 26 degrees, and unlike the frozen variety, they cannot be injected with additives.
Free Range Birds will cost you double what store-brand birds cost, but the quality may not be any higher. “Free Range”, by law, means that the animals should have been given an area to freely move around. It does not mean that the bird has been fed an organic or natural diet, or even that she freed out in the open.
Kosher Turkeys are usually in the same price range as “free range” birds, but they are fed antibiotic-free grain, and are allowed to freely roam. Kosher turkeys are inspected and processed (which includes salt brine soaking) under the strict supervision of a rabbi.
Local Farm Raised Turkeys would be my 1st choice, since it’s always better if your meat or produce doesn’t need to travel. Asking questions about the feed and taking a tour of the farm will give you an excellent idea about the quality of what you are buying.
But even if there is no poultry farm near you, finding one whose turkeys didn’t do drugs and ordering online, is another healthy option that requires a bit of planning ahead.
Pasture-fed, Organic Chicken has been my choice many times so far, either because it was easier to find or because I didn’t have to entertain a big group of people, but it was definitely a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.
Stuff the bird, not yourself!
Turkey in general is a healthy food choice, but when added to a plate overflowing with yams, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffed mushrooms, green bean casseroles, cranberries, and a slice of homemade pie on the side, Thanksgiving becomes a nightmare for the digestive system and your weight.
Ultimately, we should eat when we are hungry, and stop when we feel comfortable (not stuffed), but this is not always easy, especially on Thanksgiving, when we are presented with delicacies that may only appear once a year.
Tips to help you enjoy the Thanksgiving meal, without overeating:
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before Thanksgiving. Sleep deprivation is closely related to cravings and making poor food choices the next day.
- Eat a light breakfast/lunch, but don’t skip a meal just because it is Thanksgiving, as this will encourage overindulgence.
- Take small portions of your favorite homemade dishes. Use a smaller plate, as this will make the food you take look like a mound.
- Honor the food, and give thanks for the nutrition and energy it provides your body. Consider the efforts of the people who helped get the food on your plate (from the farmers to the chefs) and give thanks.
- Chew small bites slowly. It takes an average of 15 minutes before the brain registers that our bellies are full.
- Place fork on the table after each bite for better chewing which leads to easier digestion, and you will feel full with less food.
- To avoid picking at extra food, remove yourself from the table and play football, walk the dog, entertain a child, or help clean up.
- The brighter the lipstick and the more body conscious the dress is, the less the ladies go for an indulging – that is a fact!
Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving.