Thanksgiving is that time of the year where we pause to be thankful – thankful for our friends, thankful for our family and, hopefully, thankful for our health. But it is also the beginning of a time of the year when many of us find the wheels spiraling off when it comes to our health – and staying off until after the new year. By the time they come back on, we are vowing to lose the extra pounds and offset the less than stellar holiday eating habits with extreme diets and extra winter gym hours. It took me several years to piece together, but the following is how I kick-off the holiday season with my Anti-Cancer Thanksgiving.
Each year my goal for an Anti-Cancer Thanksgiving is to make it as thankful as possible while spending time with friends and family, yet starting off the holidays with a healthy step forward. Studies show that many of us gain weight during the holidays and fail to get it off during the new year’s aftermath. In fact, much of the excess weight that people accumulate throughout their entire adulthood can be traced back solely to the holidays.1 Some studies have estimated that up to half of all adult weight gain can be traced to the holidays alone.2 Maybe worse yet, the increases in blood sugar that happen from overeating sweets appears to substantially contribute to the rise in blood sugar of diabetics throughout the entire year.3 Both increased weight and increased blood sugar are closely related to an increased risk of breast cancer.4
So how do we enjoy Thanksgiving without derailing our health for the entire year?
Enter the Anti-Cancer Thanksgiving
Below is my laundry list of the most important aspects of Thanksgiving dinner and how we can maximize them to enjoy an anti-cancer thanksgiving. Starting with the turkey and heading down the menu, this is the way I prepare my very satisfying Thanksgiving feast and I hope it can provide some healthy additions to yours.
No thanksgiving dinner is complete without a turkey, but this year make sure you get one that roams around the pasture eating its normal diet (yes, lots of bugs). The healthiest, and in my opinion most flavorful turkeys, are ones that are not injected with steroids and antibiotics and fed a bunch of artificial foods to fatten them. These turkeys that roam the pasture (i.e. “pastured”) have significantly higher amounts of anti-cancer omega 3 fatty acids and a plethora of vitamins and nutrients that help our cells and immune system function optimally. I get mine from Old Time Farm, which is where all of the pictures in this article were taken. Through her farm, Shelly Oswald provides the Pittsburgh area with healthy chickens and turkeys, along with healthy eggs with dark, delicious, and nutrient-dense yolks.
I removed bread from my stuffing during my intern year of medical training, about a decade ago. I was on call for the holidays and whipped it up based on a family recipe after a 33-hour shift (in other words, it was darn easy to make). I used 100% grass-fed ground beef instead of a carbivore bread base and have never turned back. Instead of turning to pure sugar after I eat it (like with both whole grain and white bread), I get an added dose of vitamins, nutrients, cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and omega-3s.5 Oh, and it tastes a lot better and is more filling.
One of the lesser issues with the often carbohydrate-heavy foods of Thanksgiving dinner, either replace them or add some mashed sweet potatoes using heavy cream and butter from 100% grass-fed cows. I use Kerry Gold or my favorite, raw, grass-fed butter from Windy Acres Dairy. This provides a hefty amount of anti-cancer CLA and omega 3s with little excess sugar and carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes are not only more delicious (in my humble opinion) but contain more vitamins (especially vitamin A) and fiber to feed our gut bacteria, with less carbohydrates overall. Sweet potatoes may also have less “antinutrients.” White potatoes still have a plethora of vitamins and nutrients, so we have both on the table.
Brussels sprouts serve as part sustenance and part medicine as the bitter chemicals within them stimulate our immune systems to fight infections and cancer (read more here and here). I cut Brussels sprouts into fourths ahead of time to increase production of their healthy chemicals, and toss them into my large cast-iron pan with some grass-fed butter, ground black pepper, and favorite Peruvian salt from the Steel City Salt Co. (they make amazing salt in the City of Champions and ship it anywhere in the world). This is the easiest vegetable to make and my absolute favorite.
Do not waste your money. Do you see all the other delicious foods on this list? Why would you waste the empty, unsatisfying calories on bread?
This is the tough one for most people, but it doesn’t have to be. A couple simple changes in ingredients can take this from a flour and sugar bomb to a delicious holiday snack. First off, you can simply remove the crust to make pumpkin pie mousse. Put them in small 4-8-ounce mason jars and you are good to go.
Otherwise, for the pumpkin filling, combine pumpkin puree with eggs from pastured chickens, heavy cream from grass-fed cows or full-fat coconut milk, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Replace the flour-based crust and use pecans and butter (and coconut flakes for more texture). Mark Sisson has an excellent recipe, though I switch out heavy cream for the coconut milk and pecans for the walnuts and cook at 350 degrees in the oven.
Nothing goes better with a hearty Thanksgiving meal than a nice glass of a bold red. I stick with a bottle of Aglianico, Madiran, or Cahors. Not only are these three delicious, but they contain high amounts of resveratrol, polyphenols, flavonoids, and other chemicals that stimulate our immune system and antioxidant production.
After years of terrible match-ups on Thanksgiving Day, the Steelers periodically make the cut which helps to keep me awake after the turkey feast, and while my healthy and delicious food is digesting. Make sure to pick up a Terrible Towel and wave it around to burn some post-Thanksgiving Dinner calories.
The real benefits from the holidays are providing us with relaxing time away from work to rest, reflect, and socialize with family and friends. The benefits of these activities are overlooked in our busy society, but the benefits are immense for mental well-being and overall happiness and health.
Moving Forward for a Anti-Cancer Thanksgiving and Cancer-Free Holiday Season
These foods and ingredients are healthy, filling, and contain a plethora of cancer-fighting vitamins and nutrients. They also limit cancer-promoting simple carbohydrates and excess sugar. They also leave me happy, full, and with less holiday weight to accumulate throughout my adult life. Best of all, they leave the rest of my family happy and celebrating a cancer-free thanksgiving dinner.
In October, I challenged you to quit promoting sugar during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now in November, I challenge you to start your holidays with a healthy, happy, and cancer-free thanksgiving.
- Yanovski, J. A. et al. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N. Engl. J. Med. 342, 861–7 (2000).
- Roberts, S. B. & Mayer, J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction? Nutr. Rev. 58, 378–9 (2000).
- Chen, H.-S., Jap, T.-S., Chen, R.-L. & Lin, H.-D. A prospective study of glycemic control during holiday time in type 2 diabetic patients. Diabetes Care 27, 326–30 (2004).
- Champ, C. E., Volek, J. S., Siglin, J., Jin, L. & Simone, N. L. Weight Gain, Metabolic Syndrome, and Breast Cancer Recurrence: Are Dietary Recommendations Supported by the Data? Int. J. Breast Cancer 2012, 9 (2012).
- Daley, C., Abbott, A., Doyle, P., Nader, G. & Larson, S. A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef. Nutr. J. 9, 10 (2010).
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