Thanksgiving menu stuffed with healthy choices

November 11, 2002

There's more than just a bountiful feast to be thankful for at Thanksgiving. From the main course to dessert, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is stuffed with healthy food choices, particularly those rich in disease-fighting antioxidants. Here is a sampling of recent research findings about the health benefits of some favorite foods featured on many Thanksgiving menus. The highlights are gathered from recent research publications and conferences of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society. Bon appetit!

Honey-baked meats may help fight heart disease -- That honey in your honey-baked ham and turkey does more than offer sweet taste: It may be good for your heart. In a recent study presented at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in Boston, Nicki Engeseth, Ph.D., a chemist with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reported that honey contains antioxidants that may help protect against heart disease. Honey also helps prolong the freshness of meat, protects against off flavors, and guards against harmful byproducts of meat oxidation that may increase the risk of heart disease, the researcher says. The range of antioxidants in honey is comparable to that in apples, bananas, oranges and strawberries.

Bread crust and stuffing contain cancer-fighting compounds -- Bread crust is a rich source of cancer-fighting antioxidants and may provide a much stronger health benefit than the rest of the bread. This is good news for those who like to complement their holiday meals with bread stuffing, which is rich in crust. The discovery of a cancer-fighting compound that is concentrated in the crust was made by German chemist Thomas Hofmann, Ph.D. The study was reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Cranberries rank number one in antioxidants -- Cranberry lovers can give heartfelt thanks to their favorite fruit. An antioxidant comparison of some of the most common fruits found that the little red berry -- in its pure form -- contained the highest quantity of disease-fighting phenols, a type of antioxidant that is thought to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke and heart disease. The study is the most comprehensive to date of the quantity and quality of antioxidants in fruits, says chemist Joe Vinson, Ph.D., of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. The study was reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Canned corn is a disease-fighter -- Canned corn may be healthier for you than corn on the cob, according to a study by Cornell University scientists. The researchers say that heat processing of sweet corn significantly raises the level of naturally occurring compounds that help fight disease, including cancer and heart disease. The study was reported by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Eat your greens: They're good for the eyes -- If you've never had collard greens, considered a Southern delicacy, then you might want to try them. Collards are a rich source of lutein -- an antioxidant that studies show may reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness. The finding that lutein is present in greens is based in part on research by University of Maryland chemist Frederick Khachik, Ph.D., whose work was described in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The disease-fighting antioxidants are also found in abundance in other dark-green, leafy vegetables, including kale and spinach.

Heavy on the herbs, please -- Herbs can do more for your holiday meal than simply spicing it up. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that herbs, in addition to making food tastier, are an abundant source of antioxidants and could provide potential cancer-fighting benefits when incorporated into a balanced diet. Of 39 herbs tested, oregano had the highest antioxidant activity. Dill, thyme and rosemary also had significant activity. The study was reported by USDA biochemist Shiow Y. Wang, Ph.D., in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

For dessert, try sweet potato or pumpkin pie -- Sweet potato and pumpkin pie are rich in alpha- and beta-carotene, chemical precursors of vitamin A, which is known to promote healthy vision, according to Frederick Khachik, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland. Squash, especially butternut, is also a rich source of beta-carotene. Khachik's work on the beta-carotene content of vegetables has been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

American Chemical Society

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