Unlike vegetarian foods, turkey has no fiber. Meals made from sweet potatoes, squash, lentils, beans and whole grains are full of fiber, an important nutrient that helps the body rid itself of cholesterol, potentially cancer-causing hormones, and toxins. Fiber is never found in meat or animal products.
Thanksgiving dinner usually leaves people feeling lethargic and heavy. According to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the average weight gain for adults over the year is 1.4 pounds, 0.8 of which is gained between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
The study also showed that the weight gained over the winter holidays isn't lost during the rest of the year. That's bad news for anyone trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
Anyone who prepares the turkey dinner has probably heard the USDA'a warning not to wash or rinse their turkey because doing so can spread potentially deadly bacteria, including salmonella and campylobacter.
Rinsing a turkey can spread pathogens presumed to be present on the bird to the kitchen sink, counter surfaces or kitchen utensils. But cooking an unwashed turkey is no guarantee that dangerous bacteria will be destroyed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 76 million people in the United States contract illnesses from foodborne pathogens each year. Five thousand of these people die.
Heard enough? Choosing a meatless holiday feast is one way to avoid the risk of foodborne illness as well as the lethargy and weight gain that often accompany a high-fat diet. The vegetarian options are endless, so it's easy to replace the turkey without sacrificing tradition or taste.
For example, a 4-ounce serving of Tofuturkey roast, a popular soy-and wheat-based turkey alternative, has 26 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and no saturated fat or cholesterol. If Tofurkey isn't your thing, try a hearty autumn stew, stuffed squash, lentil stew, or roasted winter root vegetables. Traditional Thanksgiving sides, like stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, can all be made without butter, cream and other fatty animal products.
Franklin, who suffered from gout (a painful condition associated with a high-fat, meat-heavy diet), switched to a mostly vegetarian diet toward the end of his life as a way to manage his health condition.
This year, you can give thanks by choosing vegetarian foods, which are not only kinder and safer but can help prevent disease and promote overall health. It's a tradition worth starting -- and following throughout the year. Delicious and healthy recipes can be found at http://www.pcrm.org/health/recipes/thanksgiving.html.
Dr. Neal Barnard is a nutrition researcher and the president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes vegetarianism. Sarah Farr writes on health topics for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.