In just a few days, we will gather with family and friends to count our blessings during the year’s biggest feast.
But before you prepare the turkey and the fixings, take a second look at five key myths that surround Thanksgiving dinner.
Myth No. 1: Turkey makes you sleepy
Who hasn’t felt a wave of sleepiness soon after gobbling down turkey, stuffing themselves with stuffing and cramming down cranberry sauce?
For years, people have blamed this sudden lethargy on the tryptophan found in turkey. This amino acid is known to have sedative effects.
However, experts say turkey does not contain a larger amount of tryptophan than most other meats, and that foods such as cheddar cheese actually contain higher levels of the amino acid.
So, what does make you so sleepy? Theories abound, including the notion that eating carbohydrate-rich traditional Thanksgiving food and ingesting alcohol leaves you dreamy.
Myth No. 2: Canned pumpkin is not healthy
Everyone assumes that “fresh” is more nutritious than “canned,” but this isn’t always true. And one example is canned pumpkin.
“Both fresh pumpkin or plain canned pumpkin puree are loaded with nutrition,” says Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Center for Musculoskeletal Care.
Heller says pumpkin is high in fiber, calcium, vitamins C and A, and potassium. And using canned pumpkin at Thanksgiving has advantages.
“Canned plain pumpkin puree requires no prep time except opening the can,” she says.
Jennifer Bruning, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says canned pumpkin has another big advantage – because it’s concentrated, it actually provides more nutrients than fresh pumpkin.
“It’s also all ready to be used in all kinds of recipes, so it can be easily kept on hand all year round,” she says.
Myth No. 3: All cranberries are created equal
Cranberries offer many health benefits. “Cranberries are packed with vitamin C, flavonoids and polyphenolic compounds that help fight heart disease and cancer,” Heller says.
But that doesn’t mean all cranberries are created equal. Cranberry sauce typically has added sugar that sweetens the taste.
For example, Dr. Timothy Harlan – a diet expert who has appeared on the Food Network — estimates that while 100 grams of fresh cranberries has just 46 calories, 100 grams of cranberry sauce can have 151 calories. That is about 6 additional teaspoons of sugar.
It’s fine to enjoy some cranberry sauce as a special treat at Thanksgiving. But if you really want more healthful cranberry sauce, skip sugar-loaded canned cranberries and use fresh cranberries to create a homemade sauce that allows you to control sugar content.
Myth No. 4: It’s safe to cook stuffing inside the turkey
Thanksgiving chefs in search of a little extra flavor long have cooked stuffing inside the turkey. But that’s not a wise decision, Bruning says.
“Your turkey may cook to a safe 165 Fahrenheit, but the stuffing may not,” she says.
The turkey juices that seep into the stuffing can be a breeding ground for salmonella and other bacteria that make people sick. So, it’s much safer to cook your stuffing separately.
If you do insist on stuffing the turkey, don’t pack it tightly, and be sure to take the temperature of both the turkey and the stuffing, Bruning says.
“Both need to hold a 165 Fahrenheit temperature for at least 15 seconds to be considered safe,” she says.
Myth No. 5: Cooking two birds takes longer than cooking one
Contrary to popular belief, cooking two birds does not mean extra oven time. In fact, the formula for preparing your two turkeys is simple, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“The cooking time is determined by the weight of one bird — not the combined weight,” the department says on its website. “Use the weight of the smaller bird to determine cooking time.”
Just make sure your oven has enough space for heat to circulate properly and check both turkeys – at the innermost part of the thigh and wing, and the thickest part of the breast – to be sure the meat has reached an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.