The holidays are a joyful time, yes, but it can also be a hard time to stay healthy and on track if you are trying to eat a healthy plant-based diet. From Thanksgiving through the end of the year, there are many occasions that can tempt the most determined healthy eater and motivated dieter to go off course. The most important thing is to keep your big picture goals in mind while you navigate the buffets, family meals, and special occasion desserts.
A little indulgence won’t hurt you in long term, but a slippery slope of meal upon meal of unhealthy food can set you back. Here is the best advice, from Dr. Michael Greger, the plant-based doctor, and founder of NutritionFacts.org. He is the author of the best-selling books: How Not to Die and How Not to Diet, among other important and helpful guides to achieving your health goals through plant-based eating.
What should you eat instead of turkey?
Dr. Greger: Have you tried the Baked Grain Loaf with Umami Gravy recipe from my The How Not to Diet Cookbook? If not, you must. It’s a fabulously hearty loaf that you can make with any variety of whole grains, like oat groats, red quinoa, and brown lentils, and features heart-healthy walnuts. Since it’s baked in the oven, I always roast some veggies to serve on the side. The rich Umami Gravy brings an even deeper flavor to the dish.
Are sides with sauce healthy or unhealthy?
The longer question is: Is it better to eat greens with the buttery or cheesy sauce or skip them if they are drenched in fatty sauce? Better to eat creamed spinach or no spinach? (Obviously, we prefer steamed spinach but we are in the minority when it comes to a family meal!)
Dr. Greger: The question isn’t whether sides are healthy or unhealthy, but whether they are more or less healthy when compared with another option. Certainly, mashed sweet potatoes are healthier than potatoes au gratin. And steamed greens drizzled with balsamic are healthier than broccoli in cheese sauce. What if the only vegetable sides are drowning in fat, salt, or oil? I hate to miss out on veggies, so I go for the least fatty, salty, and oily option and promise myself to bring healthier veggie dishes the following year for everyone to enjoy!
How can we be “in the spirit” of celebrating and not overdo the alcoholic beverages?
Dr. Greger: For many, celebrations go hand-in-hand with imbibing, but excessive alcohol consumption can turn a festive get-together into a blurry, messy fiasco. If you do enjoy wine, beer, or spirits, sip one or even two glasses of water after each alcoholic drink. That’ll slow down your consumption and give your body — and your mind — time to absorb the booze. Just as importantly, be in the moment. Enjoy your friends and family, share stories, laugh at jokes, and simply be present. You can’t do that when you’re fuzzy-headed or wobbly on your feet!
Everyone sits around watching football on Thanksgiving like it’s required. What should we do instead?
Dr. Greger: Some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories are of strolling in the woods, breathing in the crisp fall air, participating in a clean-up of a neighborhood park, and volunteering at my local animal shelter, taking dogs for a walk, and giving them a cuddle. There are so many ways we can show how thankful we are.
What is the healthiest delicious dessert?
Or, Is there a dessert that someone who is dieting and trying to lose weight can still enjoy and be relatively guilt-free and healthy?
Dr. Greger: My Crust-Free Pumpkin Pie recipe in The How Not to Diet Cookbook!
Below is the recipe!
Crust-Free Pumpkin Pie
Serves 6 to 8
No need to feel deprived of a special dessert around the holidays with this pumpkin pie that is free of crust, sugar, and dairy, but filled with the great taste of pumpkin and spices.
- 3 tablespoons ground chia seeds
- 1 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, and then drained
- 1 (15-ounce) BPA-free can solid-pack pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
- ⅓ cup blackstrap molasses, at room temperature
- ⅓ cup Date Syrup (recipe below), at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350º F.
- In a small bowl, combine the ground chia seeds and 3 tablespoons of water, stirring to mix well. Set aside for 10 minutes to thicken.
- Combine the drained cashews and the chia mixture in a high-powered blender and blend until the nuts are finely ground. Add the pumpkin puree, molasses, Date Syrup, pumpkin pie spice, and vanilla and blend until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
- Transfer the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and bake for 45 minutes, or until the top looks cooked. Let the pie cool completely to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours, and then refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 3 hours. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Makes: 1½ cups
Date Syrup is great to have on hand when you need a whole food sweetener.
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Combine the dates and water in a heatproof bowl, and set aside for 1 hour to allow the dates to soften. Transfer the dates and the soaking water to a high-powered blender. Add the lemon juice and process until smooth. Transfer to a glass jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid. Store the syrup in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.
Any other ideas of how to be healthy and not feel like we are “missing out?”
Dr. Greger: Thanksgiving isn’t about a dead turkey or groaning on the couch, rubbing our bellies, and watching sports on TV. It’s a national holiday of — quite literally — giving thanks. It’s an opportunity to celebrate our good fortune with loved ones and give back. Pay it forward. How? By being appreciative of all we have and lending a helping hand to others who may not be as fortunate. If those aren’t your traditions, there’s no reason they can’t be. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.