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By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD   Date: 11/24/09

With just a few days away from Thanksgiving, what better time to look at some of the benefits that are served up in some of the traditional and non-traditional Thanksgiving foods that may be served at a house near you.

Growing up, my mom and dad always put the utmost care in preparing our family’s traditional Thanksgiving meal. We always had sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, turkey and gravy, ambrosia, and green bean casserole. While my home is in Washington, DC, I have been spending the past few Thanksgivings in Long Island, New York with my husband and his Persian family. The turkey and sweet potatoes still make an appearance at their Thanksgiving table, but the side dishes, which are prepared and served with love and care, are something of another world.

If you are anything like me, certain traditional foods are staples at the Thanksgiving table, but other vegetable and side dishes are great to experiment with from year to year. Here are some healthful Thanksgiving dishes and a side order of what makes them healthful additions to your table:

  • Roasted sweet potato or pumpkin: The nice orange color in these vegetables provides beta-carotene that is converted to vitamin A, which helps contribute to healthy vision, immunity and bone health.
  • Traditional cranberry or Persian rice with dried fruit: Either one of these dishes provides an antioxidant known as proanthocyanidins, which can help contribute to a heart health and maintenance of a healthy urinary tract.
  • Turkey—a staple of almost every Thanksgiving table—provides niacin and vitamin B12 (cobalamin), which help support cell growth and metabolism; protein which is an important part of almost every part of the body, supporting cell growth and repair of tissues; tryptophan, a type of amino acid, is the component in turkey that can make you feel sleepy—resist the urge and take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood instead.
  • Green bean casserole or hummus contains fiber that may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

An Old World Tip for Getting Three Servings of Fruit, Even on Thanksgiving

It is common in Persian culture to celebrate every occasion with a fruit display. In fact, my husband and I had one at our wedding. A fruit display is essentially a fruit bowl on steroids, and can provide a nice low-calorie way for people to curb their hunger before eating Thanksgiving dinner. To make one this Thanksgiving, pull out a card table and cover it with a nice tablecloth, and then pile it high with as much fruit you can find.

Whether you mix up your holiday side dishes or keep everything traditional Thanksgiving is generally a day for indulgence, but moderation is still the key to making sure that you stay on track with your health goals the rest of the holiday season. Check out our backgrounder on functional foods for more information on healthful food components and tips on preparing them, or tell us about your favorite Thanksgiving dish.



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