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Delicious – and Healthy – Thanksgiving Side Dishes

A gorgeous brown turkey is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals. Every family enjoys their favorite traditional side dishes, with recipes often passed down from generation to generation. Make this year’s Thanksgiving meal with a healthy twist on side dishes that feature whole grains and a rainbow of colorful vegetables and fruit with the emphasis on natural flavors instead of heavy creams and sauces. Use these tips for a delicious and healthy holiday meal.

  1. Try whole grains like quinoa, farro, wheat berries or amaranth instead of rice or potatoes. Whole grains contain important phytonutrients that promote health along with B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber.  According to the Whole Grains Council, consuming three daily servings of whole grains reduces risk of heart disease by 25-36%, stroke by 37%, Type II diabetes by 21-27%, digestive system cancers by 21-43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%.1
  2. Build on your family’s favorite vegetable side dishes. Vegetables are packed with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals to improve health and decrease risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. Plus, vegetables are naturally low in calories!2
    1. Instead of a traditional green bean casserole high in fat and sodium, steam fresh green beans and toss with olive oil, garlic, dill or tarragon.
    2. Layer slices of sweet potato and Granny Smith apples in a casserole dish and drizzle with maple syrup or honey before roasting. You won’t miss the marshmallows!
    3. One serving of cranberries contains 10% of your daily need for fiber, plus cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C and phytonutrients that decrease inflammation.3 Make your own cranberry sauce and use ginger, cinnamon and cloves for flavor with less added sugar.
    4. Mash potatoes with the skins intact to increase the fiber. Add one clove of garlic for each person served to the potatoes while cooking for a deeper flavor that needs less (or no!) butter.
    5. Many favorite Thanksgiving side dishes feature cruciferous vegetables that contain phytonutrients, folate and fiber to decrease inflammation and help prevent cancer.4 Instead of broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and turnips with high-calorie cream sauces, sprinkle bite-size chunks of raw vegetables with olive oil and seasoned salt, then roast in a 400° oven for 20-30 minutes to bring out a sweet, deep flavor.
  3. Rethink the appetizers and munchies you provide throughout the day.
    1. Use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in your favorite dip to reduce calories.
    2. Instead of potato chips, provide cut-up raw vegetables like celery, green or red bell pepper, and carrots for dipping.
    3. Nuts are a good source of fiber and several phytonutrients to promote health, including reducing risk of high blood pressure, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.5 Avoid salted nuts and make your own spiced nut mix with your favorite seasonings:  cinnamon, ginger and orange juice for a sweeter taste or chili powder, cayenne pepper and lime juice for a spicy flavor.
    4. Olives are good sources of fiber, iron and vitamin E. 80-85% of the calories in olives come from monounsaturated fat that help promote a healthy cardiovascular system. Olives also contain several different antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to chronic disease.6 Offer olives marinated in olive oil, lemon zest and garlic as part of an appetizer tray, or make an olive spread for raw vegetables or whole grain crackers by blending olives, garlic, and your favorite seasonings in a food processor.


  1. Whole Grains 101. Oldways Whole Grains Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101  Accessed 10-20-16
  2. Top 10 Reasons to Eat MORE Fruits and Vegetables. Fruit and Veggies More Matters. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/top-10-reasons-to-eat-more-fruits-and-vegetables  Accessed 10-20-16
  3. AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer:  Cranberries. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/cranberries.html Accessed 10-22-16
  4. AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer:  Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/broccoli-cruciferous.html  Accessed 10-22-16
  5. Ros E. Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients. 2010;2(7):652-682. doi:10.3390/nu2070652.
  6. Olives. The World’s Healthiest Foods.  http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=46  Accessed 10-24-16

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