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Giving Thanks for Nutritional Health

By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN

Giving Thanks for Nutritional HealthRalph Waldo Emerson did not mince words when he wrote ‘the first wealth is health,” stating that the true gift and richness in life for a living being is being healthy and having the freedom to actively participate in it. Oftentimes, health may be taken for granted until it is compromised or diminished in some way. Anyone that has been sick or had to manage a health condition themselves or with a family member can appreciate the importance of health to their happiness and quality of life. It starts with a sound body and mind and that is directly related to our nutritional status, genetic predisposition, and what we’re doing to help the body help itself.

Food is Fuel
That is where food and nutrition come in—the foundation for everything. Even before conception, the nutritional status of our mother, father, and ancestors, as well as environmental factors affected our health and development. Food is information. Over time, it can alter DNA, it can influence gene expression, it can derail or feed a cancer, it can decrease or enhance a systematic function, it can damage or protect cells, and it can hinder us or fuel us. But, there is a difference between food and nutrition, especially today. Today we have a plethora of food-like substances that are manufactured, chemically manipulated, altered and stripped, barely recognizable from the nutrient content it may have once had. It could be argued that it is actually no longer food, and it could definitely be considered no longer nutritionally beneficial.

When we talk nutrition, we talk about the richness of whole foods, foods found in the form they were originally placed in by Mother Nature herself. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and so on. Those rich sources of functional fuel in the form of protein, healthy fat, and carbohydrates, with the synergy of beneficial vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and polyphenols, are the powerful and productive components for supporting our body’s systems. The purpose of food is for fuel. Wouldn’t we want the most beneficial fuel available? An appropriate mixture matched with some clean, unadulterated water is a combination that promotes health and wellbeing for accomplishing all those things we want to do in life.

Many of my patients and clients come in overwhelmed about the upcoming holidays, a class or family reunion, church gathering or charity event because of the food, the choices, the amounts, the temptation. I remind them about the purpose of the celebration. It is not about the food, it is about the people. It is about the memories, the laughter, the games, and the time together. It is an occasion to celebrate life. Thanksgiving is exactly that. A time of celebration for life, for discovery, for togetherness, for love and for sharing. The food can be enjoyed and it can be the glue of commonality that brings people together, but it can also be the fuel that feeds the wealth of health.

Tips for Healthier Holiday Eating
Here are some tips in looking to nutrition and rethinking the purpose of food in your holiday celebrations. May you have the gift of health and happiness and spread the wealth with someone less healthy this season.

Healthier version of a classic
When there’s no substitute for “mama’s/grandma’s/uncle’s/cousin’s____,” remember to enjoy, but understand your stomach is not much bigger than your fist, think about what goes in it. There’s the tried and true classics that you don’t want to make into ‘diet’ food, but there are ways to keep the flavor and authenticity and increase the nutritional value for a healthier version without anyone being the wiser. Entertain the possibility by:
• While cooking, ask “Could I replace this calorie-dense ingredient with ____?” Pureed pumpkin, applesauce, and avocado often can substitute for oil in recipes for baked goods and desserts.
• Low-fat, soy or rice milk beverages, as well vegetable broth can often replace full fat dairy (cream, butter, milk) and cream of mushroom soups in mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, and sauces.
• Low sodium soups and canned, or frozen vegetables can be used for casseroles and side dishes.
• Low-fat yogurt, dairy-free sour cream (yes it is out there, check your local grocery store), low-fat frozen yogurt or other healthier but tasty toppings can replace full-fat, empty calorie toppings and offer more options for those with lactose intolerance, GI issues or following an animal free diet.
• Make use of spices and seasonings. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, thyme, and rosemary are just a few examples of great additions to a dish that make a significant impact on flavor and nutrition but don’t add fat, calories, or lots of work.

Portion control
Visual cues or even taking out the measuring cups may be helpful to remembering what an appropriate serving size looks like. A cascade of favorites may overwhelm any healthy intention you have from the pecan pie, gravy, dinner rolls, eggnog, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, creamy casseroles, honey-glazed ham, fried turkey, creamed corn, candied apples, caramel corn, pumpkin cream-cheese rolls, sweet potato casseroles topped with marshmallows—all made with a combination of love and the tempting three:  sugar, fat and salt. Knowing what a portion size looks like, what a treat is, and savoring every bite will help.

Also, keep these tips in mind:
• A cup is about the size of your fist or tennis ball (go for ½ fist of casseroles, pastas, pies and deep fried goodies)
• A deck of cards is about 3-4 ounces, think of it as your protein serving
• A stamp size pad of butter will do the trick
• Dish out servings in the kitchen versus family style platters and endless bowls of sides on the table or buffet set-up
• Choose salad plates or 6-9” dinner plates versus the larger 12” dinner plate
• Promptly redistribute leftovers among storage containers and properly store

Savor and enjoy
If there is a special dish or entrée you can’t wait to make or taste, allow yourself to really enjoy it. Savor each bite and slow down to allow your senses to really process it, acknowledging the flavor, texture, appearance, and physical cues your body emits as you eat it. Try to recognize when your body is satisfied and when you may be eating it because it is too good to stop, or because it is simply in front of where you’re sitting. Do an internal check-in and ask yourself these questions:
• Am I still physically hungry or trying to fill a hole, emotionally or out of boredom?
• Does this still taste as good as the first few bites?
• Are their memories or emotions attached to this food (guilt, shame, sadness, joy, excitement, happiness)?
• Could I be doing something other than this, like taking a walk, talking to someone, helping with clean up?

Get creative with leftovers
Food waste is a major issue, especially within the U.S. With over 42 million Americans food insecure and an estimated 70 billion pounds of wasted food each year, we have the power to address both simultaneously. You can:
• Make casseroles and invite friends and neighbors over.
• Make basil pesto using leftover salad, green bean casserole and spinach.
• Combine some frozen vegetables and whole wheat biscuits with the mashed potatoes for a healthier version of Shepherd’s Pie.

Give thanks and share
No matter what may be going on in our lives or with our families, we usually have much more to be thankful for than we give credit for. It is a good time to try to find at least four things in your life that you are thankful for and reflect on what they mean to you. Can we lighten someone else’s load by:
• Working at a local food shelf, food bank, or shelter
• Donating healthy canned or dry goods to the local pantry
• Visiting a nursing home, hospital, or area shut-ins
• Fostering a child or donating food and supplies to a daycare, camp, or other institution
• Adopting a pet or volunteering at an animal shelter
• Sending troops a care package with a variety of homemade and dried goods
• For other ideas and tips for healthy donations check out:

We all have the power to make a difference in someone’s life. Cheers!

Need more specialized or individualized ideas for your health condition, or nutritional needs?

Schedule an appointment today with me, your registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

State of Franklin Healthcare Associates
301 Med Tech Parkway | Johnson City, TN 37601
(423) 794-5500

(Makes 2 cups/4 servings)
Traditional cranberry sauce usually calls for a 2:1 ratio of berries to sugar. Adding another sweet fruit, such as apples, helps cut down on the amount of sugar without compromising the taste. Fruit sweetener, Sucanat, or unrefined organic sugar can be found in natural foods stores.

2 cups peeled sliced apples (use a sweet, tart apple such as Jonagold, Granny Smith, or McIntosh)
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup apple juice
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup fruit sweetener or organic sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Cook all ingredients in a saucepan until fruit is tender—about 5 to 7 minutes. Purée 2 cups at a time in a blender. Return to saucepan and cook until mixture thickens to consistency you desire.

Total calories per serving: 122
Fat: 0 grams
Carbohydrates: 30 grams
Protein: 0 grams
Sodium: 6 milligrams
Fiber: 4 grams

(Makes 2 cups/4 servings)
Made with Cranberry Applesauce, this easy pudding makes an excellent last-minute dessert.

1 cup Cranberry Applesauce (see recipe, above)
1 cup silken tofu
1 Tablespoon finely chopped walnuts or pecans, or grated coconut

In a blender or with a hand blender, combine Cranberry Applesauce and silken tofu and blend until smooth and creamy. Mix in chopped nuts or grated coconut, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 107
Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 6 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram

1. Coleman-Jensen, et al. Household Food Security in the United States ins 2015.
2. Feeding America
Recipes from our friends at The Vegetarian Resource Group Credit: Debra Daniels-Zeller

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