Eat, Drink, and Be… Healthy?

By - Nov 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By Jan Wolfenberg

With the holiday season fast approaching, thoughts are turning to festive foods and yummy treats. So often we think that foods that are fun, festive and delicious can’t also be healthy. Not true! Many people incorrectly assume that healthy eating is, by definition, low fat eating. My definition of a healthy food is one that is as close to its natural state as possible. The less processing, the better the food is. “Foods” that can’t be found in nature, or that contain a mile long list of ingredients, are best avoided. While we may fudge a bit (pun intended) on our normal eating patterns during holiday feasts, there is no reason that the foods you choose can’t be both unbearably delicious and healthy too.

Let’s start with the main course. Turkey is a perfectly healthy food, if you eat meat. It’s high in good, complete proteins and relatively low in fat. There is a downside however (isn’t there always?). To quote Leslie Valentine of EnvironmentalDefense.org:

“… most turkeys (and chickens) sold in this country are routinely fed antibiotics to compensate over-crowded, stressful and unsanitary living conditions and to make the birds reach slaughter weight slightly faster. It’s estimated that more than two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to healthy animals, including turkey flocks.”

Needless to say, this isn’t a healthy diet choice. But what can you do? Buy organic. Organic turkey farms ensure the amount of space each bird gets, the access to the outdoors, and the quality of the feed, as well as the absence of chemicals and antibiotics. You can find organic turkeys at natural food stores, at some grocery stores and online — although you’ll need to be prepared to spend more than usual.

For those who don’t eat meat, there are vegetarian choices available at health food stores. Tofurky and The Great Unturkey Feast are just two examples. They consist of flavored tofu formed to look something like a turkey breast. I won’t tell you they taste just like turkey, because, frankly, they don’t. I tried one of these ersatz turkeys last year. I’m afraid it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. So this year, I’m going to make a different vegetarian main dish. Who really needs turkey, with all the other trimmings that accompany the bird?

To make the rest of the meal healthier, make things from scratch when you can, read labels religiously when you can’t, and choose real foods that are as minimally processed as possible:

  • Bake whole sweet potatoes instead of candied yams. Anything in a can has fewer nutrients than the fresh version, and the marshmallows don’t add anything beneficial. Some brown sugar isn’t a bad thing, and gives that sweetness everyone loves.
  • Veggies — Make lots! Vegetables can be prepared in so many ways. Use all the colors too, as the more color, the greater the quantity of vitamins. And it looks so pretty too! If you must have the classic green bean casserole, make it with fresh steamed green beans — not canned or frozen. They’ll have more nutrient value and taste better, too.
  • Cranberries — another favorite at my house. Making candied cranberries from scratch is SO EASY and they are unbelievably good. Try this recipe: Wash 1 bag of cranberries. Put them in a Pyrex covered dish. Stir in 1.5 cups of organic sugar, 1 cup water and 2 dashes of cinnamon. Cover and place on a cookie sheet in case they boil over. Bake at 350º for 1 hour. Remove from oven and wait at least 15 minutes before serving. The berries will thicken as they cool. Serve cold or at room temp with your meal.
  • Dessert — The classic pumpkin pies or apple pies that many people serve are actually pretty healthy, if they’re homemade. Use real whipped cream on top. Non-dairy whipped toppings are full of hydrogenated oils and are just one molecule away from plastic. If you don’t have time to make it yourself, the pressure can variety is still better than Cool Whip.

Above all, remember to enjoy the process. Hold your attitude of gratitude, not just when you sit down to eat, but also while shopping and cooking, and you will be giving your guests and loved ones not just nourishment for their bodies, but for their spirits as well.

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