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Science and nutrition may not be the first things you associate with Thanksgiving, but the holiday does provide an opportunity to learn about the biochemistry of food. I worked with two chemists from the University of Richmond, Julie Pollock and Kristine Nolin, to explain some of the chemical quirks behind holiday favorites.

The way you prepare your veggie-rich side dishes can influence how your body absorbs the important nutrients in them, Pollock writes. For example, greens, such as collard greens, spinach and green beans, contain vitamin K, which improves your bone health and immune system function. But if you really want to reap the benefits of these micronutrients, you can prepare them certain ways to help them get distributed throughout your body – usually, only 3% to 10% of micronutrients make it to where they need to be.

Nolin, meanwhile, explains the chemistry of gluten, which allows bread, rolls and baked goods to rise and become deliciously fluffy. She teaches a food chemistry class, and most of her students don’t initially know what gluten really is – a sugar, carbohydrate or protein. As she explains, the answer’s actually none of the above.

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Mary Magnuson

Assistant Science Editor

Side dishes made with colorful vegetables are a holiday staple for many. VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Thanksgiving sides are delicious and can be nutritious − here’s the biochemistry of how to maximize the benefits

Julie Pollock, University of Richmond

The turkey doesn’t have to be the star this Thanksgiving. Vegetable side dishes are packed with nutrients − depending on how you prepare them, they can help keep you energized this holiday season.

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