On Thanksgiving, most Americans will sit down with family and friends to enjoy a big turkey feast with all the trimmings.
But are you familiar with HOW turkey became a mainstay at Thanksgiving tables in America?
I find it quite fascinating—so I thought I’d give you the FULL story here today.
Then, I’ll share some of the nutritional benefits of enjoying turkey year-round. (Including why it’s highly unlikely that turkey’s the real culprit for your after-dinner snooze!)
Let’s dive right in…
Turkey is an all-American bird
The first English settlers in both Plymouth, Massachusetts and Berkley Plantation, Virginia (the likely site of the “first” Thanksgiving in America) probably came across wild turkeys. But we don’t know for sure whether they actually served the bird at their first Thanksgiving feasts in America…
In fact, the best, first-person account of the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving in Plymouth—written by Edward Winslow—doesn’t even mention turkey. Winslow did, however, mention that the pilgrims gathered wild fowl for the meal.
Although, serving roasted, wild turkey—instead of duck or quail, for example—certainly makes sense…as it serves a big crowd. Plus, since early Americans didn’t typically keep turkeys on their property (as they did chickens), serving it probably felt extra special.
Of course, turkeys are also native to the Americas.
In fact, in the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin suggested making the turkey—not the bald eagle—America’s national bird. And Alexander Hamilton once said, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”
Then, the bird gained more traction as the main dish of choice when President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863.
And finally, turkey’s role at the very center of this quintessential American holiday was perhaps settled for good in the middle of WW II. In 1943, Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting called Freedom From Want—which depicts a grandmother placing a large turkey down in front of her family at Thanksgiving—ran on the front cover of The Saturday Evening Post.
Now, let’s move on to some of the nutritional benefits of turkey…
Eating turkey supports your health and well-being
In our family, we always try to raise our own, organic, free-range turkey. That way, we know it wasn’t raised eating harmful pesticides.
We also enjoy serving up both the white and dark meat from the bird—as they’re both very good sources of healthy fats, B vitamins, magnesium, protein, selenium, and zinc.
Of course, turkey also contains a healthy dose of tryptophan—an essential amino acid that helps build muscle.
Tryptophan also serves as a precursor to the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin. Which means eating foods with tryptophan, like turkey, can help naturally boost your mood, improve sleep, and help nerve cells communicate with each other!
Plus, new lab research suggests that tryptophan even helps support your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome…
In fact, lab animals given a low-tryptophan diet for just eight weeks experienced positive changes to their GI microbiome, a decrease in systemic inflammation, and regulated serotonin levels.
And that finding makes sense, as we know the microbiome is a key part of the mind-body-immune axis. It’s really the front-line of your overall health. So, you should always aim to fill your diet with natural, whole foods—like turkey—that support your microbiome.
In Mexico, people often combine turkey with lots of dark chocolate (which also supports your microbiome and contains tryptophan) to make “turkey mole.” (On Friday, I’ll share with you my recipe for turkey mole tacos. Be sure to tune back in!)
Of course, on Thanksgiving, people love to blame the tryptophan-rich turkey for their after-dinner nap on the couch.
But it’s highly unlikely that turkey causes that big snooze after dinner.
Instead, it’s probably all the heavy carbs many people eat on Thanksgiving that make them want to nod off after the dishes are done and put away.
Not to mention, turkey isn’t even the highest natural source of tryptophan! Milk and even tuna contain much more of it.
Now—before I go, one final note…
Strive to make new, happy memories
I know Thanksgiving may still feel a bit different this year, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So, to keep your mood up, go ahead and enjoy lots of tryptophan-rich turkey with all the trimmings. (Including some delicious, healthier, homemade pie!)
Plus, you can get a mental boost from taking a nice walk outside in the brisk air this weekend. Indeed, science shows spending time in Nature, especially at this time of year, benefits the body, mind, and spirit.
You can learn more about the health benefits of hiking in Nature in the October 2021 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“Take a hike [in a good way] this fall”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one!
“Why We Eat What We Eat on Thanksgiving.” Mental Floss, 11/18/20. (mentalfloss.com/article/20218/why-we-eat-what-we-eat-thanksgiving)
“A Tryptophan-Deficient Diet Induces Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis and Increases Systemic Inflammation in Aged Mice.” Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(9):5005. Published 2021 May 8. doi:10.3390/ijms22095005