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The Healing Power of Thanksgiving

by in Fruits and Veggies, Healthy Recipes, Holistic Nutrition Tips, Kitchen Sink, Preventative Medicine, Recipes, Superfoods, Weight Loss, Whole Foods Diet, Whole Foods Makeover November 26, 2008

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Contrary to popular belief Thanksgiving Dinner is actually quite healthy.

When we remove all the notorious “white foods,” such as white refined flours, sugars, and other carbohydrates devoid of nutrients we are actually left with a very colorful whole food fare.

Of course you should never try a new recipe while entertaining, but I have given each popular dish a “whole foods makeover” so that you can try a healthier option next time. There should be a next time–in just a few weeks. We should try to eat a turkey dinner more than once a year! Baking a whole turkey is a fantastic healthy and frugal way to optimize your grocery budget, and turkey is the hottest trend this winter. Plus it just makes the house smell good. I freeze carcasses until I have enough to make into a great turkey wild rice soup.

Here are the top eight superfoods found in our traditional American Thanksgiving spread.

1. Turkey

Renowned for its high tryptophan content, turkey has the potential to lift our mood and/or make us sleepy. It really depends on how we choose to pair up the amino acids in turkey. When turkey is consumed in conjunction with refined carbohydrates found in mashed potatoes or dinner rolls, the tryptophan converts to serotonin, and in low light conditions the excess serotonin converts in to melatonin, the nighttime hormone that makes us feel sleepy. Serotonin gives you that good “Turkey Buzz” and Melatonin is what sends you straight to the couch for a nice nap. If you are depressed you should work turkey, cottage cheese, and salmon in to your weekly rotation so you can benefit from my other favorite high tryptophan foods, or you can also just try some 5-HTP.

When we eat turkey in the absence of carbohydrates the amino acids that increase energizing catecholamines are able to cross the blood brain barrier and the result is an energized good mood. If you aren’t a breakfast person try a bit of salmon, cottage cheese, or turkey to start your day, support your adrenal glands, and keep you energized until lunch.

Turkey Makeover: Hold the butter, skip the stuffing and go straight for olive oil and lemon as your poultry flavorings of choice. If you bake your turkey at 320F you will be well below the smoking point of olive oil.

Stuffing the cavity of the turkey with whole lemon halves will also give the turkey a “salty flavor” so you can use the least amount of organic sea salt necessary. Stuff some garlic cloves and thyme under the skin of the turkey, and in the cavity along with the lemons.

Medical geeks like me can get crafty and inject herbal seasonings mixed with your basting solution of olive oil and lemon straight in to the meat with syringes (yes you can buy meat syringes at the store too.) Then just baste and bake as usual. Salt and pepper your turkey mainly on your dinner plate, not in the oven. Salt always loses flavor as it cooks and the best flavor comes from that final sprinkling. Salting your meat while cooking also dries it out, so really it is not just healthy but smart.


To benefit from the tryptophan in turkey don’t over do it with your carbs….that is unless you are heading straight to bed! To boost your mood opt to pair your turkey with the “slow carbs” found in fruits and veggies. Skip the dinner roll and the mound of mashed potatoes.

If you are adventurous, you can also go outside for a little walk after you eat your turkey to stay energized. The full spectrum light will prevent the melatonin formation that makes us all so sleepy.

The moral of the turkey story is that tryptophan converts to serotonin which makes us happy, and in the presence of excess dietary sugar and darkness serotonin converts to melatonin, and melatonin makes us drowsy. That is why all of us in Seattle are so darn tired all the time and left with no choice but to hang out at Starbucks or stare at a light box.

Got that? Fabulous. Moving on.

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2. Thyme

Did you ever wonder where that traditional flavor of Thanksgiving came from? You may not know if you haven’t ever prepared the meal. That certain flavor comes from the herb thyme that we traditionally use to flavor our stuffing. Thyme is a fantastic healing herb as it is antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal just like most of it’s relatives in the “laminacea” or mint family.

Thyme is used in making “Listerine” mouthwash, or at least it traditionally was. The aromatic oils in thyme are also fantastic for indigestion, no wonder this is the key point herbal medicine of our great American overeating day!

Stuffing Makeover: Just lose the stuffing! Stuffing although delicious is one of the biggest calorie mongers on the menu. If this is your favorite thing you will need to cut back somewhere else on your plate. The trend of white bread went out with eating McInflammation. The new America is a whole foods America.

Whatever you do, please don’t bake your stuffing inside the turkey, this makes it that much more fattening, and sets people up for food poisoning if not adequately cooked through. You HAVE to check the temperature of your stuffing AND your turkey.

Instead try a stuffing in your crockpot of brown rice or quinoa, thyme, raw nuts and seeds, dried fruit, garlic, and your favorite stuffing spices instead of the traditional white food fest. At least experiment with healthy stuffing alternatives for your non-holiday feasts. I will allow everyone to eat stuffing one day a year on my whole foods diet. If you can “just say no to stuffing” then you get bonus points and will immediately benefit by feeling good about yourself and not overstuffed from stuffing.

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3. Cranberries

Delicious and healthy antioxidant rich fruit that fight aging, inflammation, and bladder infections.

Why are berries all the latest rage? In my Mangosteen Scam tirade I discussed that all deeply pigmented fruit skins are high in antioxidants. From a botanical standpoint the plant smartly creates these antioxidant polyphenols known as “proanthocyanins” to protect the skin of the fruit from the sun. The fruit cannot use sunlight to produce energy in the manner that the leaves of the plant do, so the antioxidants are “nature’s sunscreen”. Without their protective antioxidants, berries would shrivel and burn under the sun’s harsh rays.

The ingenious antioxidant protection devised by the plant also kindly protects us from the free radical damage that results from the reactive oxygen species we are constantly exposed to in our polluted stressful environment. The skin, eyes, and blood vessels are especially protected by the proanthocyanins in berries.

Most people know that cranberry juice is good for bladder infections. E. coli, the bacteria that causes most bladder infections is unable to adhere to the lining of the bladder thanks to cranberry.

What most people don’t know though is that there is not a therapeutic cranberry juice out there that really tastes that good! If you are drinking a “delicious” glass of cranberry juice every day then you are probably not doing much to prevent a bladder infection. You should read the label because you are probably drinking a delicious glass of high fructose corn syrup(HFCS) and food coloring.


When shopping for cranberry juice, be sure to read the label and purchase only 100% pure cranberry juice. The HFCS juice trend faded out in the nineties. And a cranberry juice loaded with grape juice, apple juice or heaven forbid high fructose corn syrup is simply not going to be effective for preventing disease or bladder infections. To make cranberry juice more palatable, mix with 50% pure blueberry juice. Blueberries are also fantastic antioxidants that prevent bladder infections and aging.

Cranberry Sauce Makeover: Try experimenting with healthier natural sweeteners like agave, brown rice syrup, and stevia for homemade cranberry sauce. Adding a bunch of refined sugars and other refined pollutants to cranberries defeats their protective healing purpose.

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4. Yams

Because of the beautiful orange and yellow pigments, yams, sweet potatoes, and even that delicious pumpkin pie are all a rich source of beta carotene and other important carotenoids that prevent cancer and support a healthy immune system.

Yellow and orange foods are particularly protective to the lungs, reproductive system, and eyes.

No, carrots probably don’t improve your vision, but the carotenoids in them have been shown to be protective and preventative for both cataracts and macular degeneration. So they may not perfect your vision, but they will prevent its degeneration. Certain antioxidants have affiliations for certain tissues in our systems. Be sure to eat something yellow and orange every day, and I’m not talking about circus peanuts! Eating by the rainbow is the diet for the new millennium. If you are struggling with this new trend you may need to grab my favorite Whole Foods Multi that just happens to be “Buy One Get One Free” right now.

Yam Makeover: Lose the marshmallows! Marshmallows are completely out of style. Less is more now. “More is more” went out five years ago, and for some of us a few months ago when the stock market crashed. Try your traditional whipped yam recipe without the marshmallows. Garnish with pecans instead, or just let them stand alone as the amazing super food they are. Try healthier sweeteners in your candied yam recipe like brown rice syrup, agave, or stevia and flavor with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or pumpkin pie spice.

Baked yams as pictured are delicious and simple! Try roasting yams in the oven at 350F 30-40 minutes until fork tender. You can also steam yams till tender, drizzle with olive oil and give a sprinkle of sea salt for a regular dinner side dish. The peel of vegetables is where all the nutrients and fiber lies. Buy yams organic if you are going to eat the peel since they are a root vegetable. All root vegetables are naturally riddled with pesticides as they absorb and concentrate them from the soil. But, since yams and sweet potatoes are dirt cheap, they are worth the extra splurge. Everyone that is “cool now” is eating yams and sweet potatoes, so hopefully that includes you.

For a healthy wheat free “sweet potato pie” scoop out freshly baked sweet potato just like what is pictured here, sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice, drizzle with honey, and top with shredded coconut! Without the pie crust you have earned the calories to add a small dollop of your favorite organic vanilla ice cream. It sounds weird, but it is truly delicious. Who has the time to bake an entire pie anyways when you can just toss a couple sweet potatoes in the oven? Isn’t healthy easy? That is why it is so stylish.

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5. Green Beans

Green beans are loaded with fiber, beta carotene, B-vitamins, calcium, and potassium. Eating any beans are a fantastic diabetic trick for lowering the glycemic load of a meal. Beans truly are the “magical fruit” for a reason. Now eating too many beans may not make you too popular, but at least they will make you more attractive and youthful and trim your waist line.

Green Bean Makeover: Lightly steam your green beans, they are done when they turn bright green, don’t boil them in to a nutrient devoid lifeless brown mess. We just don’t boil vegetables anymore. If you boil them you should drink the water too as that is where all the vitamins go. It is just wrong on so many levels, and the kind of thing that only belongs in the “worse dressed” section of the tabloids. Canned green beans went out with acid washed jeans. Always opt for fresh or frozen before grabbing for cans.

I don’t mean to sound bossy, but you have to lose the white canned cream of mushroom soup garbage, and dress your beans with olive oil or your favorite olive oil based salad dressing. If you have to defy me and use a cream based soup then grab an organic one, as most cheap soups are the worst of the worst processed food fests.

Now add carmelized REAL onions, not those fake canned crunchies that were SO 1981. It is important that you keep up with the latest trends. Almond slivers should be RAW to maximally benefit from the cancer fighting phenolic acids and healthy fats, and of course that also is the stylish thing that everyone else is doing. Especially celebrities. This is how celebrities eat on their “designer diets” so if you want to send me a thank you check you are welcome to make a donation.

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6. Mashed Potatoes

If you keep the peel on the potatoes before you mash them, then I will give you permission to eat them.

Potatoes get a bad wrap because we don’t eat the peel. Buy organic potatoes and mash them WHOLE. The peel of the potato contains fiber, vitamin C, thiamin, and potassium.

Some people with arthritis don’t tolerate potatoes well, if you have arthritis, potatoes and foods in the solonacea family like eggplant, peppers, onions, and so forth just may not be the right choice for you.

Mashed Potato Makeover: There are a few great makeover tricks you can implement to freshen up a rather dead ugly lifeless food like mashed potatoes. Definitely stand by ready and loaded with your garlic press and press about a clove per large potato. Garlic supports the immune and cardiovascular systems. Garlic also prevents and kills parasites.

I always add cottage cheese to my mashed potatoes to give them that creamy consistency, this protein bump also decreases the glycemic load for dieters, and diabetics. Cottage is also rich in mood boosting tryptophan. Remember we have to eat protein, and fiber with EVERY meal to prevent diabetes, blood sugar crashes from hypoglycemia, and obesity. Plus all the cool kids are doing it.

Try olive oil instead of butter, try adding some steamed arugula or spinach in at the end to create a gourmet effect, and if you HAVE to have that buttery flavor from organic butter (please don’t EVER use margarine if you learn anything from my nags. Please just go throw out your tub of margarine in the garbage where it belongs, and never buy it again, or any other hydrogenated oil product that serves no other biochemical purpose in life but to rapidly age you, clog your arteries, and make you unnecessarily fat. We want to be the least amount of fat right? Your body can’t use margarine so it converts it to fat storage…) just add some low fat buttermilk in lieu of regular milk if you must do dairy and NEED that butter flavor. Sprinkle with sea salt and organic pepper. Enjoy!

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7. Minced Meat Pie

Are you terrified of minced meat pie? Well most of us are, until we discover that modern “minced meat” is just a fruit sauce made of dates and other dried fruits and not some leftover cafeteria meat concoction.

Well the beauty of this is that dates, figs, prunes, apples, and most dried fruits score high on the ORAC, meaning they have extremely high free radical fighting potential. Antioxidants=Anti-aging. Memorize that. Aging isn’t just about vanity and outer appearance. Your organs and blood vessels are aging on the inside as we sit here. If it doesn’t look good on the outside it doesn’t look good on the inside either. True beauty is an inside out job. Eat more antioxidants to prevent disease and you will be rewarded with a continuously youthful glow.

Let me be the first to announce that Minced Meat Pies are now the HOTTEST trend for fall. Don’t worry they only show up on the whole foods runway once every 50 years.

Minced Meat Makeover: Opt for a whole grain crust and use organic butter rather than margarine (heaven forbid.) If you really want to impress those avoiding gluten with your gourmet skills, you can add a dollop of your favorite organic minced meat filling to half a sliced date and top with a splash of real whipped cream. Dates are also delicious stuffed with various nut butters, and chocolates as I just recently learned from RN, Rod Newbound.
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8. Red Wine

“Yes! Dr. Nicole says I can have a glass of red wine!” Just remember that is only ONE to two glasses of red wine–max. That is one drink per day not per hour–and no you can’t save them all up for the end of the week. It just doesn’t work that way. The benefits of the cancer fighting, anti-aging polyphenols in red wine known as resveratol go down as you burden your liver with alcohol. As with everything, moderation is key. Even too much water will kill cause hyponatremia and kill you.

Red Wine Makeover: Remember that one glass is better for you than the entire bottle. Opt for an organic alternative like our Kitchen Table 2008 Favorite, Badger Mountain. Remember to never drive while you are drinking. The most stylish people always have a driver…er…cab driver. Even one glass of alcohol impairs your judgment enough to put an end to your happy holiday–or worse yet–someone else’s.

Please always be considerate to the safety of others when imbibing during the holiday season.

Hope you all have a Happy AND Healthy Thanksgiving! Have fun wowing all your friends and family with this questionably boring kitchen table talk of the Thanksgiving superfoods and how to give them makeovers. Let me know if you manage to pull it off and keep them interested! Feel free to share any of your healthy Thanksgiving recipe tips in the comments section.

Thanks much for sharing my whole foods tips with your friends and family.

~Dr. Nicole Sundene
Naturopathic Physician

References: Medical Nutrition from Marz by Dr. Russell Marz, Medical Herbalism by Hoffman

Related Reading:

The Healing Power of Cauliflower
The Healing Power of Music
The Healing Power of Positivity
The Healing Power of Mexican Food
The Healing Power of Stinging Nettles

7 Comments
  1. This will be My First Thanksgiving In The Raw, sans turkey and all the traditional trimmings. It’s going to be different, for sure, but I’m pretty excited about four delicious dishes I’m going to bring along to the family gathering. I have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is regaining my health and vitality – and to that I sing thanks and praises to the raw foods lifestyle.

    Many Blessings to you, Doc!

  2. Leave it to Dr. Nicole to pull together another great reason to be thankful! The holidays are a time for enjoying ourselves and it is great to know that so many of the foods we choose for our yearly celebrations are good for us and packed full of nutrition.

    Dr. Scott’s last blog post..The Healing Power of Thanksgiving

  3. Does anyone make real mincemeat anymore? My grandmother used to and I was one of the few at the table that like it. On the yam dishes, I use molasses to add a little something sweet. It may be fattening, but at least it offers up a little bit of iron.

  4. I used olive oil on my turkey instead of butter this year and it was delicious. Thank you for the reminder to forgo the stuffing – I always wind up regretting it.

  5. […] hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving Feast and did their best. If you are still struggling to get back on the Whole Foods Wagon I have invited […]

  6. Nicely done, Dr Nicole.

    Last year I basted my turkey with olive oil and lemon juice. It turned out the be the best tasting bird I’d ever done. And it sure was a pleasure hosting my loving mother-in-law & my favorite brother-in-law for that meal.

    I have a recipe for sweet potato dinner rolls that go especially well with turkey. The dough is wonderful to work with too.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about improving our American Holiday. I’m giving it a thumb’s up on my SU blog, so I can be sure to refer back to it for my next turkey dinner.

    Rod Newbound, RN’s last blog post..The Twenty Best Holiday Charities of 2008

  7. […] is good for you due to the antioxidant capacity of the resveratrol as I mentioned in my post, “The Healing Power of Thanksgiving,” but remember the key is MODERATION. You cannot save up all these “drink coupons” and have […]

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