Written by: Emily Lind
Medically reviewed by: Rob Philibert, MD PhD
Mark your calendars, because Thanksgiving 2021 is shaping up to be the return to pre-pandemic level celebrations! It’s estimated that 1 in 6 Americans will be travelling for Thanksgiving this year, meaning that we’re slowly headed back to normal.
Perhaps this year more than ever, we should be thankful for our health. 69% of Americans are grateful for good health during the Season of Giving. But how many of us think about our heart health when planning our holiday feast? To help, here are some heart-healthy recipes to add to your Thanksgiving feast!
Diversify your mash
Second, to the turkey itself, mashed potatoes are a staple of any holiday meal. But why limit yourself to potatoes? Add some mashed cauliflower to your Thanksgiving feast, which has a similar texture and flavour profile, and also has many added health benefits. Cauliflower is high in fibre, which in turn has been shown to help regulate inflammation and the immune system. Upping your fibre intake by adding mashed cauliflower to your meal could lower your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and more!
And don’t worry – you’re not doomed to bland, dry mashed cauliflowers! Try this recipe, which swaps the butter and cream out for olive oil. One study has found that replacing five grams of margarine, butter or mayonnaise with the same amount of olive oil is associated with up to a 7% decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease! Olive oil has also been shown to improve brain health, strengthen bones, and reduce the risk of high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke. Talk about a heart-healthy swap!
Don’t doubt sprouts!
Brussels sprouts are maligned as the fourth most disliked vegetable, but they definitely don’t deserve the bad reputation! In fact, brussels sprouts are an underrated superfood packed with essential nutrients like vitamin K, important for blood clotting, and vitamin C, a critical antioxidant involved in tissue repair and immune function. They also have vitamin B6, potassium, iron, thiamine, magnesium and phosphorus.
Like cauliflower, brussels sprouts have a high fibre content, which again is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. But that’s not all! Brussels sprouts are also high in kaempferol, an antioxidant that has been linked with decreased inflammation and improved heart health. Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables also may possess anti-inflammatory properties, which could contribute to decreasing the risk of heart disease.
The secret to adding brussels sprouts to your Thanksgiving meal is to roast them rather than boil them. Also, make sure that you season them with ingredients that can hold up to the brussels sprouts’ distinct flavour. For example, try roasting the brussels sprouts with honey and vinegar, or with lemon and garlic. And if all else fails, go for a cheesy recipe like this one.
A New Twist on a Classic:
Green bean casseroles are a staple of American holiday dining. Green beans on their own are phenomenally heart-healthy thanks to their high fibre, folate, vitamin K, calcium and many other essential vitamins. Unfortunately, the downfall of many green bean casseroles lies in the use of cream or creamy soup. In large quantities, the cream is not heart-healthy.
There are ways to have green bean casserole without cream as well! Try this recipe, which uses fresh green beans, onions, mushrooms and chicken stock. A cream-free green bean casserole also has the added benefit of giving green bean casserole more texture. The panko-crusted, baked onions bring crunch while sauteing the mushrooms deepens their flavour. The rich flavor makes this heart-healthy dish all the more worth trying!
Is it even a holiday without a turkey? Turkey is already heart-healthy, lean meat. There are many ways to cook and eat turkey if you’re looking to make it even healthier. For example, stick to the extra lean pieces like the breast to maximize health benefits, and skip eating the skin. Rather than deep-frying, a classic, oven-roasted bird is not only juicier but also better for heart health.
Don’t forget dessert!
One of the classic debates of Thanksgiving is pie preference – apple or pumpkin? But don’t make the mistake of limiting your dessert selection to just pies. A great heart-healthy addition is to have fresh fruit for dessert. Blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all delicious and have the added benefit of being packed with vitamins and other nutrients.
Blueberries in particular are almost magical in their health benefits. They contain about 25 different anthocyanins, which are compounds that are linked to decreased risk of coronary heart disease. It’s thought that anthocyanins are able to reduce arterial stiffness and blood pressure. Add in their high vitamin C and fibre content, and blueberries are a superfood in every sense of the word.
Apples are another fantastic heart-healthy addition to your dessert selection. Packed with fibre, potassium, manganese, copper and many vitamins, apples are linked to decreased risk of heart disease. They also contain polyphenols like epicatechin, which is thought to help lower blood pressure.
Pumpkin bread is also a wonderful way to have a classic Fall flavour without the added sugar and cream from conventional pumpkin pie recipes. Pumpkin is heart-healthy and contains fibre, potassium, iron, several important vitamins and more! Pumpkin bread is fantastically versatile and can be eaten with jam as a sweet treat, or alongside chilli and stew.
The bottom line
This Thanksgiving, make sure to take the time to appreciate your health. Be sure to treat yourself to some well deserved holiday feasting, but also consider adding some of these heart-healthy additions to the meal. You never know – you might find a new holiday favourite!