The Mediterranean Diet Meets a Western Tradition: Thanksgiving!

Published on: 11/23/2020
By: Leyanee Perez, R.D, L.D.N.

A healthy dietary pattern is linked to good health. The Mediterranean diet has been associated with positive health outcomes, but what do we do when the holidays come? Do we take a break from healthy eating? Do we skip the festivities? The answer is neither. In this article, I will show you how you can have a healthy delicious Thanksgiving meal following Mediterranean diet recommendations.
Let’s Talk Turkey
The Healthy Mediterranean Style Eating Pattern recommends 26 oz. of lean meats (meat, poultry, and eggs) per week. Turkey is a lean meat. In fact, a 3 oz. serving of roasted skinless turkey breast contains only 3 grams of fat and less than 25 milligrams of sodium per ounce.
Whether you are celebrating at home or gathering over Zoom with family and friends, your top priority should be to stay safe. If you are not cooking the whole turkey, you can still savor a delicious turkey breast or any other turkey cuts. The best preparation methods are roasting or grilling to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure that your turkey has reached the safest internal temperature. Clean your thermometer in between tests.
Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or frozen for 3 to 4 months. Use them on pizza, flatbreads, pasta, tacos, fajitas, sandwiches and/or salads.
The Sides
Turkey may be center stage but the delicious side dishes are not far behind. Luckily for us, the Mediterranean diet calls for dark green vegetables, red and orange vegetables, other starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils.
The classic side dishes are sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, potatoes, corn bread stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
Sweet potatoes are orange vegetables rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene. When making sweet potato casserole, substitute whole milk for skim milk, replace brown sugar with maple syrup, and use mini marshmallows to reduce added sugars. Because maple syrup is sweeter, use a quarter less maple syrup than sugar. Also, reduce milk by 3 tablespoons and turn down the oven 25 degrees. Maple syrup caramelizes and burns faster.
Green bean casseroles are high in potassium, and the antioxidants: Vitamin C, Beta-Carotene, and Lutein + Zeaxanthin; the antioxidant that gives dark green vegetables their anti-inflammatory properties and offer cardiovascular protection. Green beans are also a source of fiber. Fiber is important for digestive health and help with satiety. Typically, most green bean casseroles call for heavy cream. Substituting heavy cream for half-and-half or milk, cuts calories and fat, by half.
Potato dishes can be as healthy as you want them to be. What you should know about potatoes is that more color means more nutrition and antioxidant activity. This year, spice things up and experiment new recipes using more colored potatoes.
Corn bread stuffing is my all-time favorite. I use extra-virgin olive oil and low sodium chicken broth instead of turkey drippings and butter. However, what makes my stuffing so special are the cranberries and chopped walnuts. Cranberries are high in quercetin, the flavonol that appears to offer COVID-19 protection, and walnuts are the only nuts high in Omega-3 ALA.
For the cranberry sauce, try a homemade whole berry sauce and you will never go back to canned ones. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries, orange juice, water and vanilla extract. Cranberries have natural sugars that help thicken the sauce.
Thanksgivings will not be the same without the delicious desserts.  If pumpkin pie is your favorite, try making one from scratch with fresh pumpkins from the pumpkin patch. Pumpkins are rich in antioxidants: Vitamin A, Carotenes and Lutein + Zeaxanthin. Pace yourself, a small serving per day can stretch your pie for the entire week.
Remember you do not have to sacrifice good taste for good health. Enjoy a healthy and delicious Thanksgivings meal at home or via Zoom with family and friends!

About #GiveMe5

There are many benefits to eating well, from disease prevention to overall health and wellness. That’s why Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation have partnered with Kohl’s Cares on a program called #GiveMe5 to encourage children and families throughout the community to stay active and eat their five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Our partnership brings healthy eating tips and recipes to kids in local schools and to families at various community events throughout the year. For more information, please visit our #GiveMe5 page.

About Leyanee Perez

Leyanee Perez is a Registered / Licensed Dietitian specializing in Community Programs and Health Communications who has worked with Nicklaus Children's Health System since 2018. She has impacted the lives of many children and families throughout Miami-Dade County through the nutrition outreach program called #GiveMe5, a partnership between Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation and Kohl’s Cares. She works in collaboration with government agencies, faith-based organizations and schools to host a farmer’s market and deliver educational workshops focused on the importance of eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.
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