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Thanksgiving dinner

By Barbara Beltrami

I read someplace (don’t ask me where) some tips for this Thanksgiving when, if we follow the advice of experts on the pandemic, we should by all means celebrate the holiday but avoid large gatherings indoors and do a small intimate dinner with our immediate families and, in some cases, close friends or neighbors who we are sure are not contagious.

Difficult as it may be to forgo the usual groaning board feast, safety should be our primary consideration so that next year we can comfortably gather as we’ve always done. To make the day more celebratory and enjoyable we should first set a festive table. Even the smallest turkey may be too large so roasting a turkey breast or even a chicken might make more sense. The plethora of side dishes should be down-scaled so that it includes everyone’s favorite, of course, and dessert, rather than being an assortment of pies, could be individual tarts.

I’m taking a guess at what are likely to be everyone’s favorite dishes and giving you a little twist on each one. The rest is up to you.

Have a happy healthy and thankful holiday!

Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Chives

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, pared and quartered

Salt to taste

1/2 -2/3 cup half and half, heated

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter

Freshly ground white pepper to taste

1/2 cup snipped chives

DIRECTIONS:

Place potatoes in a large saucepan; cover with cold water; add salt and over high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until fork tender but not mushy, about 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and return to pan, then reduce heat to low and cook, tossing frequently, another two minutes to dry the potatoes out. Place them in a large bowl and using a ricer, food mill or masher, puree them. (Do not use a food processor or you will end up with a gluey mess!) Gradually stir in half and half and butter; add pepper and chives and stir again. Set aside to keep warm. Serve with turkey gravy and all the fixings.

Sausage and Walnut Cornbread Stuffing

YIELD: Makes about 5 cups

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups cornbread stuffing mix

1 pound sausage meat, crumbled and browned

1 large onion, diced and browned

1 sprig fresh sage, finely chopped

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup-1 cup hot chicken broth

1 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss thoroughly to combine. When mixture is at room temperature, place in a greased casserole or cavity of turkey which is also at room temperature, just before cooking, no sooner. Bake in 375 F oven for 45 minutes or until top is crispy if in casserole; if in turkey cavity, remove and serve with turkey and fixings.

Candied Sweet Potatoes with Apples and Pears

YIELD: Makes 4 to 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 small-medium sweet potatoes, pared and quartered, lengthwise

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 large Granny Smith apples, pared, cored and quartered lengthwise

2 medium Bosc pears, pared, cored and quartered lengthwise

3/4 cup brown sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place and space sweet potatoes in large shallow baking pan; season with salt and pepper. Place apples and pears in between sweet potatoes; sprinkle evenly with brown sugar and dot with butter. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until tender and brown on top. Serve with turkey and fixings.

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Simple strategies can improve health for everyone around the table

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Many of us give thanks for good health on Thanksgiving. This is especially relevant this year. While eating healthy may be furthest from our minds during the holidays, it is so important.

Instead of making Thanksgiving a holiday of regret, eating foods that cause weight gain, fatigue and that increase your risk for chronic diseases, you can reverse this trend while maintaining the traditional theme of a festive meal.

What can we do to turn Thanksgiving into a bonanza of good health? Phytochemicals (plant nutrients) called carotenoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and are found mostly in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids make up a family of more than 600 different substances, such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin (1).

Carotenoids help to prevent and potentially reverse diseases, such as breast cancer; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; age-related macular degeneration; and cardiovascular disease — heart disease and stroke. Foods that contain these substances are orange, yellow and red vegetables and fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables. Examples include sweet potato, acorn squash, summer squash, spaghetti squash, green beans, carrots, cooked pumpkin, spinach, kale, papayas, tangerines, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Breast cancer

We know that breast cancer risk is high among U.S.-born women, where the average lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is 12.8 percent (2). In a meta-analysis (a group of eighteen prospective studies), results show that women who consumed higher levels of carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein and zeaxanthin, had significantly reduced risk of developing estrogen-negative breast cancer (3).

Lou Gehrig’s disease

ALS is a disabling and feared disease. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments for reversing this disease. Therefore, we need to work double time in trying to prevent its occurrence. In a meta-analysis of five prestigious observational studies, including The Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, results showed that people with the greatest amount of carotenoids in their blood from foods like spinach, kale and carrots had a decreased risk of developing ALS and/or delaying the onset of the disease (4). This study involved over 1 million people with more than 1,000 who developed ALS.

Those who were in the highest carotenoid level quintile had a 25 percent reduction in risk, compared to those in the lowest quintile. According to the authors, the beneficial effects may be due to antioxidant activity and more efficient function of the power source of the cell: the mitochondrion.

Strategies for healthy holiday eating

METRO photo

Despite the knowledge that healthy eating has long-term positive effects, there are obstacles to healthy eating. Two critical factors are presentation and perception.

Vegetables are often prepared in either an unappetizing way — steamed to the point of no return – or smothered in cheese, negating their benefits, but clearing our consciences.

Many consider Thanksgiving a time to indulge and not think about the repercussions. Plant-based foods like whole grains, leafy greens and fruits are relegated to side dishes or afterthoughts. Why is it so important to change our mindsets? There are significant short-term consequences of gorging ourselves.

Not surprisingly, people tend to gain weight from Thanksgiving to New Year. This is when most gain the predominant amount of weight for the entire year. However, most do not lose the weight they gain during this time (5). If you can fend off weight gain during the holidays, think of the possibilities for the rest of the year.

Also, if you are obese and sedentary, you may already have heart disease. Overeating at a single meal increases your risk of heart attack over the near term, according to the American Heart Association (6). However, with a little Thanksgiving planning, you can reap significant benefits:

Make healthy, plant-based dishes part of the main course. You don’t have to forgo signature dishes, but add to tradition by adding mouthwatering vegetable-based dishes.

Improve vegetable options. Most people don’t like grilled chicken without any seasoning. Why should vegetables be different? In my family, we season vegetables and make sauces to drizzle over them. Good resources for appealing dishes can be found at PCRM.org, DrFuhrman.com, mouthwateringvegan.com, and many other resources.

Replace refined grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that replacing wheat or refined grains with whole wheat and whole grains significantly reduced central fat, or fat around the belly (7). Not only did participants lose subcutaneous fat found just below the skin, but also visceral adipose tissue, the fat that lines organs and causes chronic diseases such as cancer. For even better results, consider substituting riced or mashed cauliflower for rice or potatoes.

Create a healthy environment. Instead of putting out creamy dips, cheese platters and candies as snacks, choose whole grain brown rice crackers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and healthy dips like hummus and salsa. Help people choose wisely.

Offer healthy dessert options. Options might include dairy-free pumpkin pudding and fruit salad.

The goal should be to increase your nutrient-dense choices and decrease your empty-calorie foods. You don’t have to be perfect, but improvements during this time period have a tremendous impact — they set the tone for the coming year and put you on a path to success. Why not turn this holiday into an opportunity to de-stress, rest, and reverse or prevent chronic disease?

References:

(1) Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010;50(8):728–760. (2) SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975–2016, National Cancer Institute. (3) Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Mar; 95(3): 713–725. (4) Ann Neurol 2013;73:236–245. (5) N Engl J Med 2000; 342:861-867. (6) www.heart.org. (7) Am J Clin Nutr 2010 Nov;92(5):1165-71.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.