How Thanksgiving Foods Are Good for Your Brain

favorite Thanksgiving foods

Forget the guilt over your Thanksgiving feast! It turns out that some of our Thanksgiving foods are great for your brain. Check out how some of your favorite dishes boost your brain health.

A Positive Spin On Our Favorite Thanksgiving Foods

Full disclosure: The idea for this post came to me while I was standing in line at Starbucks waiting for a hot chocolate for my daughter. The sign on the counter had a question posted:

“What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?”

People feel so guilty about what they eat on Thanksgiving. I hear patients talk about it every year. So, I wondered how I could put a positive spin on things.

It turns out, that some Thanksgiving foods are really good for our brain and nervous system. They can reduce inflammation, help us sleep, improve our ability to learn, and reduce our risk of different diseases.


How some of your holiday favorites are good for your brain

Turkey: Turkey is packed with Tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you fall asleep faster. Tryptophan also plays a role in helping your brain and nervous system make and use Serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for your good mood.

Cranberries: Cranberries are a superfood. They are powerful anti-oxidants that help the body and brain fight off cancer. They also help delay the aging process in the brain and protect memory, concentration, and coordination.

Yams: The Potassium, Folate, and other minerals in yams help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and slow down the brain’s aging process. They also help improve problem solving and how different parts of the brain work together.

Sweet potatoes: Another superfood, sweet potatoes are an ideal source of energy for the brain. They convert to sugar slowly which prevents a sugar high, followed by the inevitable crash and brain drain that follow. They also protect memory and reduce the risk of cancer.

Pumpkin: Pumpkins are really high in fiber which helps keep your gut healthy and gut health has been linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety. Research shows that about 90% of your serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters involved in keeping you calm and happy, is made in your gut. So, a healthy gut equals a happier you.

Pumpkin seeds:  These are loaded with Magnesium which has been linked to helping people feel calmer. They also have tons of Tryptophan, the same amino acid in turkey that helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Apples: One of these a day really could keep the doctor away…Filled with anti-oxidants, they help your memory stay in tact longer and reduce your risk of having a stroke.

Chocolate: Dark chocolate, labeled as containing at least 70% ground cacao, has been linked to improved mood and overall brain performance. The primary compounds in chocolate bind to areas of the brain in charge of making you feel happy. As a result, some people experience a mood that feels almost like a runner’s high after eating dark chocolate.

These compounds also protect nerve development and growth making it easier for you to learn, remember, and retrieve information. Note that this is for dark chocolate. I’m not sure I can help you out with the chocolate cream pie.


Remember to Enjoy Your Day and Give Thanks

Eating these foods once a year isn’t going to have a huge impact on your brain and nervous system. On the other hand, indulging in holiday treats for one or two days isn’t going to wreck your health.

Mental and physical health are a function of choices we make all year.

Go into this big eating day with a plan:

First, give yourself permission to enjoy your meal.

Second, acknowledge that you’ll have seconds, or thirds, of certain dishes.

Third, make yourself another plate and take it home. That way your brain doesn’t focus on, “I have to eat all of this now or I won’t ever see it again!” It’s awful to not be able to close your pants, feel like you’re going to be sick, and beat yourself up for overeating.

Finally, remember to give thanks for all the blessings in your life.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Levy

Clinical Director

Bucks County Anxiety Center