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Healthy Holiday Food

By Dr. Ashraf Girgis ND.
Published First  11/5/2018

Holiday Meal

The Holidays are approaching fast. Many people gain weight during this time of year. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at the diets of 3000 individuals and concluded that weight gain increases between Thanksgiving until New Year’s. They also noted that loss of that same weight usually takes about 5 months.
But, is American holiday food really the culprit? Or is it perhaps all of our high fat and sugary beverages and desserts?

In a few weeks, Americans will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Although the celebration of Thanksgiving is as American as apple pie, it is important to note that the holiday has origins all the way back in ancient Iran. In Iran, around October 10 (it may vary a day or two), Iranians celebrate what is known as Jashne Mehregan. This celebration thanks God for the harvest. In ancient times, the ritual was dedicated to Mehr or Mitra (the God of Light, an ancient Iranian God dating back 1400 BC). Eventually, it spread all over the world, including India, Rome, and other places.

During Mehregan, people gather together to celebrate and share the holiday with family and friends. One popular festivity is having bonfires; people also eat lots of pumpkin seeds, pomegranates, various nuts from pistachios to walnuts, and sundried fruits such as apricots, plums, raisins, apples, and many others. This celebration still goes on every year around same time.

Fast forward few thousand years: in 1621, Pilgrims and Native American Indians from the Wampanoag tribe in Plymouth, Massachusetts celebrated what is known as Thanksgiving today. It was a celebration to show their gratitude for a good season and a successful harvest. According to a letter from Edward Winslow to his friends in Britain, the celebration food at this first Thanksgiving was very modest: it consisted of fowl, porridge, flint corn, squash, chestnuts, shellfish, and venison.

First Thanksgiving


Although national Thanksgiving celebrations started with George Washington (it was celebrated once during his presidency), it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared it a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

These days, Thanksgiving is a celebration of family and close relatives getting together and enjoying the holidays by eating and watching football. These days, most Americans celebrate with turkey, ham, mashed potato, cranberry, and green beans, in addition to stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Even if you are a vegetarian, you can continue to enjoy green beans, sweet potatoes, and stuffing on this Thanksgiving table. Let’s look at a few of the other health benefits of these items:

1. Turkey (Meleagris Gallapavo)

Turkey is native to New Mexico and the United States; it spread to Europe and many other countries from the United States. Benjamin Franklin had such an affection for the turkey that he was disappointed to see the eagle chosen over it as America’s national bird. Every year, there are 250 million of these birds raised in the United States for consumption.

Even though the holidays are considered one of the culprits of weight gain, turkey has many health benefits. It is an excellent source of meat protein, providing 65% of the needed daily requirement in just one small 4-ounce portion. This protein is made of essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building block of protein. Protein is involved in every action happening in the body. It is part of every cell; its activities range from cellular production and repair to neuron signaling. Enzymes are protein, and they are involved in the production of energy as well as regulating activities such as blood clotting, digestion, and muscle movement and construction. Hormones are also mainly made up of protein. They play an important role in signaling to cells how to respond.

Turkey contains tryptophan, which acts as a neurotransmitter precursor to serotonin, another neurotransmitter. Serotonin is an ingredient in making us feel good. It is involved in regulating sleep, mood, and digestion. Low serotonin levels are connected to depression and anxiety. This high tryptophan content is likely the reason people feel sleepy after consumption of turkey.
100 gram of turkey (or 3½ ounces, about size and thickness of a deck of a cards) holds anywhere from 27-30 grams of protein. This varies slightly depending on whether the portion has white skin or dark skin.

Turkey is low fat and a good source of vitamin B, iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus, choline and potassium. Dark meat contains more vitamins and minerals, while it also has more fat. Pasteurized turkey contains more omega three fatty acids.

If you can afford buying an organic turkey free of hormone or antibiotics, this is the best option. It is also important to eat free-range turkey; these turkeys have less stress hormones.

Green Beans

2. Green Beans
Green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) originated in Asia, most likely in ancient Iran (farming and animal husbandry was originated in ancient greater Iran). Currently, green beans are consumed all over the world. There are about 150 variety of green beans, but regardless of variations, all green beans are excellent sources of fiber. Fiber plays an essential role in keeping our guts clean, flushing all fat and toxins. I always joke during my talks that fiber acts like a bulldozer, cleaning up the dirt inside our guts. It is extremely important to eat enough fiber. One cup (125 grams )of green beans provides about 16% of the daily dietary recommendation of fiber. Women need 28 grams of fiber, while men need about 35 grams of fiber. Green beans contain vitamins B6, C, and A as well as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.

Due to their fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and high amount of flavonoids, green beans are good for preventing cardiovascular disease and reducing inflammation. Additionally, because it is a good source of fiber, it is good in lowering the risk of colorectal cancer, in addition to boosting immunity.

If you are a vegetarian, green beans can be a great part of your Thanksgiving dinner, combined with other foods. Green beans contain 1.8 grams of protein in one cup.

3. Cranberries
At Thanksgiving, cranberries are used as a cranberry sauce, whole, or as a juice. Cranberry originates from North America. Native American Indians used it in their traditional medicine for bladder and kidney ailments. Cranberry is a good source of phytonutrients (meaning nutrients in plants), such as anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. Phytonutrients are great for detoxifications and strengthening the immune system.

Other phytonutrients in the cranberry are flavan-3-ols such as epicatechins, catechins, and flavonols including kaempferol and quercetin. Cranberries also contain terpenoids like ursolic acid. These phytonutrients play a great anti-inflammatory role.

In addition, cranberries are also a great source of vitamins. In one cup of cranberries, you can have 18% of your daily vitamin C, vitamin b1, b2, b3, and b6, choline, and folate, plus 16% of daily fiber in addition to manganese, vitamin E, vitamin K, copper and pantothenic acid. All this is in addition to lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene.

Cranberry has been used in the treatment of urinary tract infections due to its detoxing effects and many of its vitamins and anti-inflammatory benefits. It has also been observed to block the formation of placid in the arteries, thereby preventing cardiovascular disease.

Sweet Potatoes

4. Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas)

The sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is indigenous to the South and Central America. There are approximately 50 genera and 1000 specious of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite items on the dinner table because they delicious and nutritious. One cup of sweet potatoes contains 400% of your vitamin B requirement, in addition to containing vitamin C, potassium, and more. These vitamins and minerals have many health benefits. Indian scientists conducted a study with sweet potatoes in the treatment of patients with ulcers. They concluded:
“…this study demonstrates that the tubers of Ipomoea batatas possess a potent ulcer healing effect, which appears to be related to the free radical scavenging activity of the phytoconstituents, and their ability to inhibit lipid peroxidative processes. The present study, thus, aims to highlight the health benefits of sweet potato, establish it as a potent “functional food” and promote its use as a vegetable to enrich people’s diets.”
In addition, to its high content of beta-carotene, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, sweet potatoes prevent cellular aging and reduce inflammation and heart disease. Despite its starch content, the sweet potato does not spike blood sugar because it has a low a glycemic index, meaning that it takes a while to get converted to sugar. While boiled sweet potato has glycemic index of 44, a baked sweet potato has a much higher glycemic index of 99, so try to boil it this Thanksgiving instead of baking it. It is also best not to add the customary sugary syrup frequently done during the holidays. Because baking a sweet potato raises its glycemic index, adding sugar makes it worse, turning a healthy food to a food high in sugar. If you have been reading my articles or following wellness, you know that sugar is very bad for your waistline as well as your heart, diabetes, and overall health.

5. Pumpkin (Curcubita pepo or Curcubita maxima)

Pumpkins or squash belong to the Gourd family. Pumpkins have many different species. They are native to Iran and to North and Central America. Growing up in Iran, we loved eating pumpkins right out of tanor (ground or wall oven). We took the seeds out and roasted it, mashing the pumpkins with a little bit of cinnamon and sprinkles of sugar or honey. It was delicious. In Iran, seeds are used commonly as snacks, the same as sunflower seeds. In Iranian traditional medicine, foods are divided into cold and hot in order to keep balance in the body. Pumpkin is considered a cold food.

Pumpkin itself has many health benefits. Native Americans used it for kidney ailments, urinary problems, and intestinal infections, which led American pharmacopeia to list it as an anti-parasite medicine. Pumpkin contains high levels of beta-carotene. Beta-carotenes are the pigments in dark green, red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotenes have many health benefits. Beta-carotenes in the body get converted to vitamin A, which is an important antioxidant and acts as an immune system booster. Beta-carotenes have been shown to patients with asthma and exercise-induced asthma.

Pumpkin contains essential fatty acids, amino acids, Phytosterols, minerals, and many vitamins. In a double-blind study, pumpkin seed oil was used with saw palmetto. The results indicated reductions of symptoms of Benin prostatic hypoplasia after the use of the oil. The curcurbitin constituent in pumpkin showed antiparasitic activities in test tubes. In China, pumpkin seed oil was shown to be helpful in a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis. In two studies conducted in Thailand, scientists found that eating pumpkin seeds as a snack can help in preventing kidney stones by reducing certain substances which promote the formation of kidney stones. Human research in China and Russia also showed that pumpkin seed could resolve tapeworm infestations.

A cup of pumpkin provides 2% of fiber, 197% of beta-carotene, and 17% of daily vitamin C, in addition to vitamin b6, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron, among many others. So enjoy your pumpkin pie as long as you go easy on sugar and cream. You can also eat it by placing it in the oven and, after it is done cooking, scooping it up and eating the meaty part with some honey or sugar with spruces of cinnamon.


 May your holiday be a source of joy with all you are thankful for. Regardless of where you are or how you celebrate it, the important part is never to overlook the fact that we are alive and able to celebrate. Enjoy!

Thanks for visiting For organizing a talk by Dr. Girgis, please call If interested in buying books for your organization or have any other issues, feel free to leave a message for Dr. Girgis at 616-777-0608 or email her directly at .

[2] Canela A, Vera E, Klatt P, Blasco MA. High-throughput telomere length quantification by FISH and its application to human population studies. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007;104:5300–5305.[PMC free article] [PubMed]

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