Answers to Every Possible Thanksgiving Health Question, 2013

This is going to be the best Thanksgiving ever. Prepare your body and mind accordingly.
Balloon terrifies children, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, 1938 (via Designrelated, Flavorwire)

Why are pecans, for my pies, 30 percent more expensive this year?

They got a disease called scab, they got eaten by feral pigs, and China started to love them.

Is turkey sleep different from normal sleep?

Yes, turkey sleep is a stress response.

Tryptophan is what makes us sleepy though?

No, turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, but not more than chicken or beef.

I understand that if I try to deep fry a frozen turkey, it can explode my house. We just had our cabinets done, and the last thing we need is an explosion. Just how frozen is too frozen?

Don't put a turkey in a deep fryer if it's even slightly frozen. Thaw it all the way, which supposedly takes one day for every five pounds (sounds like a lot). Why are you frying it inside?

How bad is it that I stuff our turkey a few days in advance?

Bad! Disgusting actually, don't do that.


I read it's healthier to stuff the turkey with bacon. It's a healthier alternative.

Alternative to what? Are you thinking of turkey bacon? That's this whole other thing.

Is quinoa stuffing healthier than regular stuffing?

Yes, but if white-bread stuffing is what's on the table, that's fine.

Is it true that most people gain five pounds over the holidays?


Do we really eat 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving?

The New York Times measured it closer to 2,500. But that didn't include any alcohol at all—or reheating later, or breakfast before. So essentially yes, a lot of us do.

If I'm in my in-laws' kitchen, and I don't know how to help, or it's just generally awkward, what should I do?

Stir something.

Several of my pies have gone missing. I suspect the neighbor boy.

It was the neighbor boy. Teach him not to mess with you.

I've heard that eating turkey without the skin is better for me. Is that true?

Yes, it is. The skin is mostly saturated fat.

How can I avoid talking to my family and just focus on what I really want: the f-o-o-d!

Please try to be more sincere. Some day you will spend the holidays alone against your will, and even with all the food you could want, you will feel sad.

Really I only enjoy the turkey skins. Is that okay?

I mean I wouldn't make an entire meal of it.

It's my first vegetarian Thanksgiving. Should I make Tofurky?

Last year my answer to this was, "Tofurky is offensive, linguistically and culturally. If you want to eat turkey, eat turkey. Tofu doesn't look or taste or smell like turkey at all. If you make tofu, own it and treat it like tofu and call it tofu." In response, the makers of Tofurky sent me some Tofurky to try. I no longer consider it offensive as a food, only as a word.

Should I do a juicegiving? (All the Thanksgiving foods in juice form)

No, as much as that is a word I like and can't get out of my head, juice cleanses are never a good idea, and at Thanksgiving it would be particularly isolating. Especially if you're spending the holiday with people you don't know well, surreptitiously blending everything under the table and sucking it through a giant straw.

It seems like we leave gravy sitting out most of the day and still eat it. Is that bad?

Yes. Put it in the refrigerator, and if it sits out you're supposed to bring it to a rolling boil before you serve it again.

What if I forget about the giblets?

Yeah, so, backing up for a minute, giblets are the visceral organs of the turkey. If you buy a turkey from the butcher, they might come in a bag inside of it, which you have to reach in and take out before you cook it. We use giblets to make dog food, but fancy and rural people eat them, too, in various ways. If you forget to take out the bag of giblets, and it melts "or changes shape in any way," the FDA says you shouldn't eat the turkey.

Cranberries are good for your heart and help prevent cancer. I read.

Maybe, but then we boil them in sugar, so I wouldn't look at cranberry sauce as healthy. Paula Deen puts mayonnaise in hers, though, so most of our cranberry sauces are austere in a relative way.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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