Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for family, friends, good health, and of course food. Lots of food! Most families have mastered the preparation of the main dishes, whether it’s through sacred family recipes, or certain family members preparing their signature dishes. The traditional Thanksgiving staples of turkey, stuffing (a.k.a. dressing), and pie, while tasty and healthy in their own rights, are normally the main focus of the evening. As a change of pace, this year you might want to consider giving added attention to some of the traditional ingredients from the most important sections of the food pyramid: Fruits and Vegetables!
Adding numerous fruit and vegetable dishes to the Thanksgiving menu will make your plates more colorful and will add additional servings of water, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients from fruits and vegetables are essential during this time of the year as they will help you stay healthy and fight off colds and infections that come with the cold fall and winter weather. Also, fruits and vegetables are low in calories, which will help “balance” all of the tasty sweets and heavier dishes you may indulge in throughout Thanksgiving Day.
Below is a list of a few common fruit and vegetable sides at the Thanksgiving table in addition to information related to the health benefits and quality of each offering:
Cranberries are wildly popular around Thanksgiving; however, they should be enjoyed year round for the extensive amount of health benefits they deliver. Cranberries outrank nearly every fruit and vegetable when it comes to disease-fighting antioxidant content, contain high levels of vitamin C, manganese and fiber, and are only around 45 calories per cup. Cranberries contribute to digestive tract support and cardiovascular health along with urinary tract support through their proanthocyanidin (PAC) content which acts as a barrier to bacteria that otherwise might latch on to the urinary tract lining. Cranberries maintain their highest nutrient content and maximum taste in their raw state, and are also high in acidity (low pH), making them relatively free from pathogenic bacteria contamination issues.
Healthy Holiday Cooking Tip: Instead of a cooked, sweetened cranberry sauce, consider grinding fresh raw cranberries with sweeter fruits such as an orange or apple and mix a little sugar, or sugar substitute, to taste. Take advantage of cranberries’ raw tartness by using them to replace vinegar or lemon as a dressing, or simply mix dried cranberries with lightly roasted nuts and add a dash of sugar to enjoy as a holiday snack.
Another extremely healthy and common Thanksgiving side is green beans and/or green bean casserole. Green beans are a great source of vitamin K, vitamin C, manganese, folate, vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, dietary fiber, and even omega-3 fatty acids! A cup of green beans is also around 45 calories and health benefits include antioxidant support, cardiovascular support, and anti-inflammatory benefits. Green beans, since primarily stored at ambient temperature, are at more risk for microbial contamination. Always be sure to thoroughly wash green beans with running water and, when possible, purchase them loose so you can sort through them, looking for beans with a smooth feel and a vibrant green color, and that are free from brown spots or bruises. They should have a firm texture and “snap” when broken.
Healthy Holiday Cooking Tip: To enjoy green beans in their healthiest, tastiest state, steam them whole for 5 minutes.Try a healthier version of the popular green bean casserole by skipping over the canned soup with its high fat and sodium content. Instead, use freshly sliced mushrooms, sweet onions, sliced almonds, and low fat-milk to a make a rich, creamy, and healthy green bean casserole.
Sweet potatoes round out our list as the final nutrient packed holiday offering. It is widely thought that sweet potatoes are nothing more than plain old potatoes with added sweetness; however, they provide a surprising amount of unique health benefits over regular potatoes. Not to be confused with the less nutritious yams, these tuberous root vegetables are packed with vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and potassium and contain around 95 calories per cup in a raw state. Health benefits from consuming this vegetable include antioxidant support, anti-inflammatory support, and help with blood sugar regulation. It is also interesting to note that sweet potatoes contain two groups of glycosides (batatins and batatosids) which are associated with antibacterial and antifungal abilities. Further studies are being performed to research the extent of health benefits provided by these glycosides.
Healthy Holiday Cooking Tip: The nutritive benefits of sweet potatoes are enjoyed at their peak when steamed or boiled. When cooking sweet potatoes, it is helpful to add 3-5g of fat per meal in order to increase the body’s uptake of the elevated beta-carotene (Vitamin A) levels in the vegetable. To add this suggested fare, consider creating a healthy version of mashed sweet potatoes using a small amount of extra virgin olive oil instead of butter or cream.
Mérieux NutriSciences works with the produce industry to help develop programs and conduct analysis designed to help manufacturers and growers ensure healthy, quality fruits and vegetables are enjoyed, but especially over the holiday. If you are interested in learning more about our new service offerings to the industry, and how we can assist you with your food safety programs, please contact us.
Wishing you and your family a blessed holiday!