Top 10 Holiday Food Myths Debunked

by  HealthTap

Happy Thanksgiving! Now that we’re fully in the holiday season, it’s time to amp up the festivities by spending quality time with the three Fs: FamilyFriends, and Food! As we reflect on the blessings of the past year and look forward to the next, why not kick off the holidays with some delicious food knowledge? Our doctors weighed in on common Thanksgiving-themed food myths below:

1. True or False: Eating turkey makes you sleepy.

False! This is a pretty common myth around the tryptophan in turkey. Dr. Tracie Leonhardt, a 5-star specialist in Emergency Medicine, says tryptophan is an essential amino acid, which you can only get through diet, that is a precursor to the production of serotonin. While serotonin can make you feel drowsy, Sleep Medicine specialist Dr. Ranji Varghese says many foods besides turkey have tryptophan, so it isn’t just eating turkey that makes you sleepy. In fact, he notes, it’s usually the large, fatty, carb-heavy meals that make you feel tired. Dr. Bennett Machanic, a 5-star neurologist, says the consensus with doctors is that consuming carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, stuffing, etc.) affects your blood sugar (glucose and insulin levels), thus triggering the sleepiness. 5-star internist Dr. Ali Saberi also notes that the body can focus more blood flow to the abdomen to help with digestion, resulting in lowered blood flow to other organs.
cranberry sauce

2. True or False: Cranberry sauce is great for preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs).

False! An American Thanksgiving classic, cranberry sauce is reputed to help prevent UTIs, improve kidney function, and provide antioxidants. However, while 5-star psychiatrist Dr. Heidi Fowler agrees that cranberries have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic effects, she means cranberries, not cranberry sauce—which has added sugar and even preservatives if it’s canned. If you’re looking for antioxidants, you’ll find them in the fruit, not in the sauce. As for the benefit with UTIs and kidney function, doctors are divided. Dr. Fowler says cranberries contain proanthyocyanidins (PACs) which can help to prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women with recurrent UTI’s, and Dr. Lonna Larsh says cranberry juice (unsweetened is best) prevents bacteria from sticking to bladder cells. However, other doctors, such as 5-star urogynecologist Dr. Abraham Morse notes that although some women feel cranberry supplements are helpful, scientific research including randomized trials does not show that cranberry products reduce the risk of UTIs.
If you want to learn more about the effect of cranberries on your personal health, our doctors are available—even on Thanksgiving!
sweet potato souffle

3. True or False: Sweet potatoes are healthier than white potatoes.

True! 5-star general practitioner Dr. Robert Killian says sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate, which is better for  overall diet. Regular potatoes are just simple carbs that turn into simple sugars when digested. Dr. Thomas Namey, a 5-star rheumatologist, also adds that compared to regular white potatoes, sweet potatoes have a modest amount of carbs but more more vitamins, minerals, and fiber—a lower Glycemic Index, which means your blood sugar doesn’t spike as high! Cardiologist Dr. Michael Moran explains the glycemic index comparison between sweet potatoes and white potatoes as this:
Glycemic Index (GI) refers to how simple or complex the carbohydrate is—how quickly it turns into sugar in your body. A GI of 55/100 or less is generally desirable, and it’s particularly important if you are diabetic or insulin-resistant. Sweet potatoes have a GI of 37/100, while white potatoes have a GI of 85/100. High GI foods will also make you put on fat, usually around the midline gut section.

4. True or False: It’s okay to just cook your stuffing with your turkey.

False! Dr. Ira Katz, a 5-star endocrinologist, strongly recommends fully cooking your stuffing and turkey separately. Raw stuffing is mostly bread and egg (which contains salmonella) and can absorb moisture and more bacteria that causes food poisoning from within the turkey. The safest way to ensure your stuffing and turkey are both properly cooked is to cook them each separately, and then stuff the turkey after it’s cooked. However, if you prefer to stuff your turkey before cooking, do it right before you pop it in the oven. Make sure you cook the turkey breast to 165 °F, thigh to 180 °F, and stuffing to 165 °F so no one gets sick. Unfortunately, cooking the stuffing to 165 °F means you’ll probably end up overcooking the turkey, which, as a lean meat, can end up dry and chalky.
If you’re cooking a pre-stuffed, ready made, frozen turkey, make sure you don’t thaw it prior to cookingDr. Fowler says to make sure the pre-stuffed turkey has a USDA or State inspection mark on the package, then cook according to package directions—which include not thawing the bird prior to cooking, as thawing can foster bacterial growth that leads to food poisoning.

5. True or False? Whole grain and whole wheat bread is better than white bread.

True! Dr. Richard Bensinger, a 5-star ophthalmologist, says unlike white bread made from flour that has been milled so the wheat husks are removed and only the core remains, whole grain and whole wheat bread is made from flour that is more coarsely ground, so the husks partly remain. Because it’s less processed than white bread (which might even be made from bleached flour), 5-star internist Dr. Stevan Cordas notes that whole grain and whole wheat bread (also known as wholemeal and brown bread in the UK) is more nutritious—more vitamins and minerals! Whole grain and whole wheat bread is also made up of more complex carbohydrates, which have a lower GI (Glycemic Index).

6. True or False? White meat with no skin is healthier than dark meat.

True, but not by much! While it’s true that dark meat has more fat and calories, internist Dr. Tinah Canda says moderation is key. It’s not unhealthy to eat dark meat as long as it’s consumed in moderation—which is the case for any food item. Dr. H. Hunter Handsfield, a specialist in Infectious Disease, notes that there’s no significant difference in the nutrition or health effects of eating white or dark meat. Family Medicine specialist Dr. Kevin Bernstein says both white and dark meat offer various vitamin/mineral benefits. They differ in saturated fat content, though both offer protein. In general, if you’re looking for the healthiest option, choose the leaner white meat. However, 5-star internist Dr. David Lipkin recommends you relax and enjoy what you want. Dark meat and skin both contain more fat, which is why they’re more delicious, and eating in moderation (once a year on Thanksgiving, for example) can’t harm you. Bon appetit!
turkey meal

7. True or False? Binge-eating once in a while is okay—it’s the holidays!

False! Plastic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Rosenthal says even if it’s the holidays, be selective about what you eat. Opt to sample and eat small portions rather than piling food on your plate. Avoid going to parties on an empty stomach by eating a bit of food before arriving. Alcohol is also high in calories, so watch out! Dr. Robert Killian says eating a large amount of calories in one sitting can strain your liver, your pancreas, and lead to increased fats circulating in the blood, which can increase one’s heart risk. The most urgent issue in this scenario is the strain on one’s pancreas, which regulates blood sugar by producing insulin. Repeated strain on the pancreas can then lead to adult onset diabetes and significant morbidity.
5-star psychiatrist Dr. Ravi Chand says the best appetite-suppressing foods (pre-party foods) include complex carbs, protein bars, water, fruits, and high-fiber foods—all of which can help you feel fuller for longer. Dr. Thomas Namey also suggests drinking 12 oz of ice water before eating and making sure to serve yourself smaller portions.
carving turkey

8. True or False? It’s fine to use the pop-up timer that comes with the turkey.

False! Dr. Gerardo Guerra Bonilla, a specialist in Family Medicine, strongly recommends buying an instant-read thermometer to accurately determine when your turkey is done. If food isn’t washed or cooked enough, salmonella (commonly found in beef, poultry, and eggs) can cause gastrointestinal infections, a.k.a. food poisoning. Dr. Layne Hermansen says a whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimal internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer—not a pop-up timer that doesn’t track actual temperature. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing as well as the thickest part of the breast.
toasting red wine

9. True or False? Wine, especially red wine, is the only healthy alcoholic drink worth indulging in.

False! 5-star pathologist Dr. Ed Friedlander says that of all alcoholic beverages, beer and wine are less associated with people actually drinking to get drunk, so they’re relatively healthier options than cocktails and liquor. However, internist Dr. Joseph Roosth notes that any alcohol consumed is ethanol—which the body can easily turn into fat. The best way to avoid the caloric impact of alcohol is to avoid alcohol altogether, but Dr. Joseph Eastern has a great recommendation if you’d like to consume a moderate amount in a social setting: Have 1 drink, then ask for a club soda with lime, which most people will probably assume is a gin and tonic. It’s a great way to space out your drinks and calories!

10. True or False? Canned pumpkin is better than fresh.

False! Fall means pumpkins, and Thanksgiving means pumpkin pie! While canned pumpkin and canned pumpkin pie mix might make it easier to make pumpkin pie, it’s not really the healthiest option. Family Medicine specialist Dr. Kevin Bernstein says generally speaking, fresh/single ingredients are better than mixes/processed foods since you can limit the additional sugar and other additives. Dr. Frank Kuitems seconds this, recommending canned plain pumpkin over canned pumpkin pie mix. However, if you have a family recipe that you use once a year and it requires something like canned pie mix, then it’s fine to use. As always, moderation is key.
thanksgiving dinner


About Mark

Hi, I'm Mark Dilworth, Nutritionist, Dietary Strategies Specialist, Nutrition for Metabolic Health Specialist and Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist. Since 2006, I have helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle habit changes which includes body transformation and ideal body weight.