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Benefit from nutritious turkey even after Thanksgiving

If turkey is not normally on your lunch or dinner menu, come the holiday season it's bound to show up in abundance. As soon as the weather cools and the crispness of late autumn is in the air, thoughts turn to more hearty meals, and of course, the fall pièce de résistance: Thanksgiving dinner.

Turkey takes center stage on many Thanksgiving dinner tables, even though history suggests it likely wasn't served at the first Thanksgiving. Despite this historical discrepancy, turkey and all the trimmings continue to be traditional fare for big holiday dinners.

Much more than just delicious and filling, turkey boasts many nutritional benefits, making it a worthwhile addition to your diet regardless of the season.

• Protein: Turkey is often overshadowed by other meats in refrigerated display cases, but it remains an excellent source of protein in a low-fat package. A typical 3.4- to four-ounce serving of skinless turkey breast (about the size of a deck of cards) contains around 30 grams of protein, providing about 65 percent of the average person's recommended daily allotment of protein. Protein helps the body feel full and serves many essential functions in the body. Proteins regulate the entry of nutrients through cell walls, help the body grow and help it to generate antibodies that fight against illness.

• Low-fat: A serving of turkey is only 161 calories and contains just four grams of fat, which is low in saturated fat.

• B-vitamin benefits: Turkey is an excellent source of B vitamins, including B3, B6 and B12. Having enough B3, also known as niacin, is important for overall health, and higher levels of niacin can improve cholesterol levels and lower a person's risk for cardiovascular disease. B6 is also called pyridoxine. It's involved in the process of making certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine, which transmit signals in the brain. Important for neurological health, B12 helps decrease levels of homocysteine, which can contribute to cognitive decline.

• Immune system effects: People may not know turkey contains selenium, which is key to healthy thyroid function. It also helps boost the immune system by playing a role in the body's antioxidant defense system. Selenium may help eliminate free radicals in the body that would otherwise contribute to cancer risk.

• Relaxation: Many people are aware of turkey's ability to induce feelings of relaxation, particularly when eaten in abundance at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which plays a role in triggering production of serotonin. Serotonin can induce feelings of relaxation and sleepiness.

Turkey is lean, full of essential nutrients and low in saturated fat, making it a worthy addition to your diet no matter what time of year it happens to be.

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