10 Facts About Your Favorite Thanksgiving Foods

Use these tips to avoid Thanksgiving Day disasters.
Use these tips to avoid Thanksgiving Day disasters.
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Sure, there may be football and a parade on Thanksgiving, but true fans of the holiday know it's all about the food. A traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of special dishes that celebrate America's history—including some fairly recent developments in the country's cuisine. You may not be thrilled to see a ridged tube of cranberry sauce or marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes any other time of the year, but on Thanksgiving, they're a welcome treat. From side dishes to desserts, here are some facts you should know about your favorite Thanksgiving foods before sitting down to dinner.

1. Green bean casserole was invented by a Campbell Soup employee.

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Campbell’s test kitchen supervisor Dorcas Reilly was responsible for developing recipes for the backs of soup cans in the 1950s. Her most successful dish—green bean bake, or green bean casserole as it later came to be known—featured condensed cream of mushroom as one of its six ingredients. Home cooks are still making her original recipe 60 years later.

2. Cranberry sauce is canned upside down.

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Ocean Spray knows you love the sight of a cylindrical, perfectly ridged mass of cranberry sauce sliding out of the can. To facilitate this process, the company packages the condiment so that the rounded end of the can is up top and the sharper, rimmed end is at the bottom—which is the opposite of what you see in most canned products. This design creates an air bubble vacuum at the top of the can. When you remove the bottom panel and loosen the contents with a knife, the air bubble gently pushes the cranberry sauce out of the can and onto your plate. So when serving jellied cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, remember to open it upside-down for the best results.

3. Some festivals feature mashed potato wrestling.

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Mashed potatoes are extremely versatile. You can eat them, sculpt with them, and at some American festivals, you can wrestle in them. The Potato Blossom Festival in Maine, Potato Day in South Dakota, and the Potato Days festival in Minnesota all include mashed potato wrestling matches as part of the festivities. If it pains you to think of gallons of potatoes going to waste, don’t worry: According to Guinness World Records, these potatoes are made out of "(inedible) floor sweepings from a factory or outdated flakes that are no longer saleable." They usually become feasts for local cattle afterwards.

4. Sweet potatoes aren’t really potatoes.

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True potatoes like russets are members of the nightshade botanical family, while sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family. But that doesn’t make sweet potatoes yams either; though they aren’t actually potatoes, orange sweet potatoes are their own thing. Yams, which are often white or yellowish on the inside, are related to lilies and grasses and mostly grow in tropical environments.

5. The pumpkin pie you have at Thanksgiving likely doesn’t contain pumpkin.

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Any pies baked with canned pumpkin puree are often criticized as not being "pumpkin" pies at all, but the truth is more complicated. There’s no hard and fast rule as to what is or isn’t a pumpkin, but the most iconic pumpkin is a variety of Cucurbita pepo, while most store-bought canned pumpkin is made from Dickinson pumpkin, or Cucurbita moschata. However, many authorities argue pumpkin either has no botanical meaning or consider C. moschata to be a valid type of pumpkin. For their part, the FDA comments that since 1938 they have "consistently advised canners that we would not initiate regulatory action solely because of their using the designation ‘pumpkin’ or ‘canned pumpkin’ on labels for articles prepared from golden-fleshed, sweet squash, or mixtures of such squash with field pumpkins."

6. Turkey probably won’t make you sleepy.

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Many people feel tired at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, which is a natural reaction to gorging on heavy foods and washing it down with alcohol. Despite this logical explanation, people have chosen to blame the amino acid L-tryptophan for their drowsiness instead. It’s true that tryptophan is present in turkey, but the bird doesn’t contain enough of it to put you to sleep. The stuffing, pumpkin pie, and three glasses of merlot are more likely to blame for your post-dinner nap.

7. Whether you call it dressing or stuffing depends on where you’re from.

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Some say that there is a difference between stuffing and dressing: The former is “stuffed” into the turkey and cooked that way while the latter is cooked separately in a pan (to avoid turning what’s arguably the best dish at Thanksgiving into a salmonella bomb, many people prefer cooking their cubed bread mixture outside their turkey). According to others, though, whether you call it dressing or stuffing comes down to where you live. People in the South are more likely to call it dressing, while people from northern and western states tend to stick with stuffing.

8. The largest serving of macaroni and cheese weighed 2469 pounds.

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In 2010, the Cabot Creamery Cooperative and Chef John Folse & Company made every cheese-lover's dream come true by whipping up the world's largest serving of mac and cheese. The gooey monstrosity weighed 2469 pounds—and that's not including the 1902-pound kettle it was cooked in. It earned the title of largest macaroni and cheese ever made from Guinness World Records.

9. The origins of the turducken go back to the 18th century.

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While the turducken may seem like a modern Thanksgiving monstrosity, its origins actually predate the current version of the holiday. The 1774 book The Art of Cookery contains the earliest known instructions for cooking a bird within a bird. But instead of a chicken and a duck inside a turkey, the recipe calls for a pigeon, partridge, fowl, and goose to all be stuffed inside a turkey.

10. There’s a “Brussels sprout gene.”

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If you’re the only person you know who can’t stand the taste of Brussels sprouts, blame your genes. Some people have a variant gene called TAS2R38 that allows them to taste certain bitter compounds, such as those found in Brussels sprouts. The presence or absence of the so-called “Brussels sprouts gene” may explain why some people hate Brussels sprouts and others can’t get enough of them.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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6 Effective Tips for Coping With Panic Attacks

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

If you suddenly find yourself having an abrupt feeling of fear paired with anxiety or an overwhelming sense that you are losing control, you might be experiencing a panic attack. A panic attack, which can last for minutes or hours, can manifest in physical symptoms that some sufferers compare to a heart attack. And if you've ever had one, you're far from alone.

Each year, up to 11 percent of Americans experience panic attacks—though that percentage could rise in 2020. Using Google Trends, researchers have noted a significant increase in searches related to panic attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it’s not entirely conclusive, it's clear that people need to be paying attention to their mental health right now as much as they are their physical well-being.

“I have seen a huge increase in those experiencing panic attacks and other forms of anxiety during lockdown,” psychotherapist and coach Sarie Taylor tells Mental Floss. She attributes it to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic.

If you're prone to panic attacks, here are several methods you can use to help cope. Keep in mind that these techniques are not mutually exclusive, so you might find that practicing two or three of them at once is the fastest way to alleviate the symptoms brought on by a panic attack. Nor should you become frustrated if they don't always work for you. Every person and every panic attack is different. “Do not be disheartened if they do not always seem to work for you," Taylor says. "Your mind will always eventually settle regardless.”

1. Control your breathing.

Changes in breathing patterns and shortness of breath during panic attacks are common, but it can heighten the feeling of suffocation that some people experience. To address this, try common breathing techniques such as the 4-7-8 exercise [PDF] or roll breathing (also known as abdominal breathing). Deep breathing, or breath focus, is a great strategy to lower your heart rate, stabilize your blood pressure, and lower your stress levels. If you can control your breathing, the panic may subside and you can reduce some of your other symptoms.

2. Connect with your current environment.

To de-escalate the overwhelming emotions that often come with a panic attack and bring your focus to the present, it helps to engage your senses. You may be able to do this through visualization exercises, like imagining yourself sitting by the ocean or wherever you're happiest. Another effective method is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, where you acknowledge five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This can be a great way to distract yourself from intrusive thoughts and focus on the sensations you can physically experience in that moment instead.

3. Grab an ice cube.

If you feel that breathing and relaxation exercises don’t bring enough relief, some people are able to lessen the effects of a panic with ice cubes. Holding an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can, or putting it inside your mouth until it melts, brings enough discomfort to divert your body’s response away from panic. If you put the ice cube in your mouth, it forces your body to produce more saliva, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and halting the fight-or-flight response that panic attacks typically trigger.

According to Taylor, when you hold something stimulating, it appeals to the senses and becomes difficult to ignore. This means that your attention goes to the ice’s temperature and texture. Like all methods, it’s not equally effective for everyone and experiences may vary.

4. Relax your muscles.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an anxiety and stress management technique that relieves tension from the body [PDF]. The practice is done by lying down, tensing a muscle group for up to 10 seconds, relaxing it, then moving on to another muscle group. You can start from head to toe or vice versa, or begin with your hands and then work your way through your body. Concentrating on how your muscles tense and relax helps you let go of the negative feelings a panic attack brings on.

5. Challenge your brain.

It’s not easy to shake off negative thoughts, especially as they increasingly worsen. To force your brain to think of something else, engage in small mental exercises. This includes anything from counting backward from 100 in threes or reciting the alphabet backward to counting how many letters there are in your full name or reciting all the colors you can think of or see. By completing these exercises, even imperfectly, you can distract yourself enough to potentially reduce your symptoms.

The effectiveness of such exercises depends on how invested you are in your anxious thoughts. “The earlier you notice your mind getting busy, the easier these techniques may be,” Taylor says.

6. Take your prescribed medications.

Seeing a doctor and getting treatment for frequent panic attacks is important because they can become worse over time. There are a variety of medications that can help with panic attacks, but according to the Mayo Clinic, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective choice for panic attacks. Take your medication(s) as prescribed, and try to be aware of how well and quickly they work for you, so that you can talk with your doctor to make sure you're taking the best medication for your symptoms.