Let’s face it, Thanksgiving isn’t exactly the healthiest of holidays. While some associate the day with football, Pilgrims and turkey, many relate it more closely to phrases like ‘over-eating’ and ‘food coma’. We’re here to tell you that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be so difficult on the body, and there are some simple steps you can take to make this Thanksgiving a healthy one.
Here are nine tips and recommendations from Innovative Medicine and the medical staff at the New York Center for Innovative Medicine (NYCIM) to make your Thanksgiving as healthy as possible:
1. Choose Organic, Fresh Options
Try and choose organic when possible. We won’t go into all the reasons (check out our diet plan for that), but organic foods have less toxins and pesticides, so that’s reason enough. Natural is also best as opposed to canned and store bought products like canned cranberry sauce which is mostly refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup with a little bit of cranberry flavor. Instead, opt for a fresh take on cranberry sauce. Here’s a recipe from our registered nurse, Erin Mewshaw:
- 1 large organic Vidalia onion cut into thin wedges
- 1 tablespoon of organic, grass-fed butter
- 1/4 cup of organic raisins
- 1/4 cup dry wed wine
- Dash of all natural sea salt or Himalayan salt
- 3/4 cup packed organic brown sugar
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 x 12 ounce package of organic cranberries (3 cups)
- 1 cup water
In a medium skillet add onions and butter and cook for 5 minutes or until tender. Add raisins, wine, and salt. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.
In a medium saucepan combine brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and 1 cup of water. Heat to a boil and then simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add 2 cups of the cranberries and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add remaining cranberries; cook 3-5 more minutes until berries pop. Remove cinnamon sticks and add in onion mixture. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Can be refrigerated for up to 3 days (this goes against point 7 below, but only because the sugar acts as a preservative).
2. Eat for Satiety
Satiety simply means the feeling of fullness and the suppression of hunger for a period of time after a meal. We must remember, the brain controls if we feel full or not (not our stomachs), and it takes about 20 minutes after ingesting foods and drink to release hormones, including leptin & ghrelin, that trigger whether you feel full or not. This means one can easily over-eat if they do not take their time and plan accordingly during a big meal like a Thanksgiving feast.
A few tips to avoid over-eating and achieve satiety:
- Eat slowly and deliberately, chewing food longer and savoring each bite.
- Eat till your stomach feels half full and then pause to allow the chemicals released when you put food or drink in your stomach to be picked up by your brain and give you a better indication of satiety.
- Fill your plate with half vegetables, which are easier to digest than meats and fatty foods.
3. Water and Wine
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, and that is normally accompanied by a toast or two. While adhering from alcohol is always your best bet (especially if in treatment), if you do choose to toast with a glass of wine, follow the 2-to-1 rule. This means you should drink 2 glasses of water for every 1 glass of wine. The liver will already be under some strain as it secretes bile into the small intestine to aid in digesting fat, so it’s prudent to avoid additional stress with alcohol.
4. Take Digestive Enzymes
There are several organs related to the gastrointestinal system that can use some additional support during Thanksgiving. These include the stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas and intestines. One of the best ways to provide immediate support is through the addition of digestive enzymes. At NYCIM, patients may be prescribed digestive enzyme supplements such as Pancreatin, Digest Plus or Pan 10X. Even without these supplements, you can take small actions to improve your digestive capabilities. Dr. Szulc recommends a very simple addition to your Thanksgiving meal:
“Something simple like adding lemon to food can help in digestion and help the stomach to control pH, which is extremely important for digestive purposes.”
– Dr. Thomas K. Szulc
5. Add Probiotics
Probiotics can improve digestion of protein which we normally consume in larger amounts for Thanksgiving. This will help to quicken the digestive process and reduce gas, bloating and digestive complaints that are common during this special holiday. At NYCIM, many patients will receive probiotic supplements such as HMF that can be used to improve digestion, although even if you do not have direct access to a high quality probiotic supplement, you can have some kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut before eating your Thanksgiving meal.
6. Try a Digestif
If you’ve never heard of bitters, now is your time to get acquainted with the herbal liquor concoctions. Commonly used in Europe as an after dinner digestif, the specialty drinks contain numerous bitter herbs that have been shown to aid in digestion and encourage digestive enzymes, bile & HCL (hydrochloric acid) production.
Dr. Szulc adds, “In Europe, it is very popular after we are eating more meat that we drink something called bitters. This is very popular in Sweden, Germany and Italy where many of the best bitter liqueurs are produced. Because these drinks are herb based and preserved in alcohol, they allow us to digest quicker. Otherwise, fat and protein which are more difficult to digest are sitting in our stomachs for hours and hours.a”
Some more common bitters include Germany’s Underberg, Denmark’s Gammel Dansk, and Italy’s Fernet-Branca or the sweeter option of limoncello (not so much a bitter, but still a digestif).
7. 24 Hours for Leftovers
One of the great things about Thanksgiving are the leftovers. We cook so much, eat a good deal of it, but there are always leftovers to last us through the coming week. However, we highly recommend following the 24 hour rule for leftovers. If you can’t finish them in 24 hours after being cooked, throw them away.
This may seem wasteful, but it’s actually a smart precautionary action. The risk of bacterial and fungal growth rises significantly with leftovers, especially Thanksgiving leftovers which we normally tend to clump together. This actually promotes food spoilage and the growth of bacteria even after it’s in the fridge. A single bacterium dividing every half-hour can produce 17 million offspring in 12 hours, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Some bacteria are also known for withstanding heat, refrigeration and freezing temperatures.
“Definitely there is an issue with leftovers. Especially those things that easily spoil, like foods with eggs or mayonnaise, as these are good mediums for bacteria and fungus. Depending what kind of food it is, some foods are more prone to bacteria, some more to fungus, and others even to parasites. All animals, including turkey, can carry parasites. Especially animals that are not wild are prone to carry pathogens. So the recommendation is to never eat leftovers stored for more than 24 hours.”
– Dr. Thomas K. Szulc
8. Avoid the Microwave
Microwaves seem like a harmless and convenient way to heat up Thanksgiving leftovers, but Dr. Szulc warns of the dangers in using microwaves to heat food. “When we deal with any protein we consume, the protein has to have a specific spin of the amino acid which is a left-handed molecular spin that our body can absorb and utilize. When we use a microwave, it artificially breaks the protein into a different state and changes the molecular spin into a right-handed molecular spin. What results is poorer digestion. Also, amino-acids in the right-handed spin, or D-form, are not found in nature and are considered as a toxin in the body.”
9. Actually Give Thanks
It seems obvious, but actually giving thanks during Thanksgiving is quite important. More and more studies show that feelings of gratitude are associated with improved health, reduction in stress, strengthening of immune response, and boosting of positive neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
“Thanksgiving is a time for enjoyment and gratitude. So a positive atmosphere is essential. Next, each piece of food should be chewed slowly and with appreciation, until it becomes a nourishing liquid like mash that will greatly reduce your stomach’s job of breaking this food down. This is a dinner not for only watching football, but spend more time on the food itself – talk slowly, eat slowly, and really enjoy the dinner. This is a celebration of the year, to give thanks for life and to the harvest that allows us to eat such delicious and life-sustaining foods.”
– Dr. Thomas K. Szulc
Have a happy (and healthy) Thanksgiving!
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