Thanksgiving’s nutritional superstars

November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving, a national holiday celebrated as a day filled with family, gratitude, and food — whether families drove hundreds of miles or walked hundreds of feet to be together — this holiday is likely considered as one of the best holidays’ of the year.

The reasons why Thanksgiving is a supremely favored holiday are reunions with family and friends, spread of laughter, love and blessings, and best of all, the commemoration and relishing over delicious home-cooked meals.

In the event of planning for holiday reunions, people end up as either the dinner guests, or the hosts of the dinners. Like any other dinner party, if not more challenging, hosts of Thanksgiving dinners never have an easy job. Most likely, they have been planning their Thanksgiving Day meal for a little while now, from the discovery of traditional recipes handed down from generation-to-generation, to more modern day recipes trending on Pintrest. Either way, it seems that every year the issue surfaces of what to make and how much to serve, and above all, how many guests will show up and what their eating habits are.

However, this year, forget about pleasing every palate at the dinner table, because every person’s appreciation for taste and flavor will always vary. But trust me; an invitation to join for dinner with a home-cooked meal never tastes bad. I know this for a fact, because I was “always the guest and never the host,” so I’m quite the seasoned pro at eating at other peoples homes, and I’ve never complained over the taste of free food!

Therefore, let’s focus on the food and what makes the food special, rather than, what others will think about your cooking. Traditionally, a common list of foods on the Thanksgiving menu may include all sorts of casseroles, praline crusted candied yams, deviled eggs, turkey and stuffing covered in juicy gravy, honey baked ham topped with pineapples, and the list can go on indefinitely. But with all that said, I would like to tell you about three Thanksgiving side items that are incredibly healthy and delicious, and what I call the “nutrition superstars” at the dinner table: green salad, cranberry sauce and sweet potato pie.

Green salads, tossed from iceberg lettuce, leafy greens like arugula, baby spinach, kale, or romaine lettuce, are refreshing and complementary side items to main meat dishes. Not to mention, green salads are low in fats and total calories; so it’s a great dish for weight watching guests. According to, mixed green salads are nutritional powerhouses, because leafy greens are rich sources of minerals (including potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium) and vitamins, including vitamins K, C, E and a bonanza of B vitamins. Leafy greens are also packed with phytonutrients including beta-carotene and lutein, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, which may protect against visionary damage and heart-related maladies. Not only do leafy greens sound good on paper, but they also taste great when topped with reduced-fat cheese such as feta, blue, or mozzarella; crushed pecans or sliced almonds, and fat-free dressings of your choice.

Next on the list of superfoods is cranberry sauce. Cranberries are small, bright red oval shaped, grape sized berries rich in vitamins K and C. According to the American Heart Association,

vitamin K plays a vital role in proper blood clotting, and promotes cardiovascular health. Vitamin K is involved in the prevention of calcification of the arteries, which means improved blood flood and vascular circulation. In addition, cranberries are a source of vitamin C, an essential nutrient that promotes collagen repair, would healing, and maintenance of bones and teeth. Dried cranberries are usually eaten as snacks, toppings for salads, or companions for grain dishes like rice and quinoa. Alternatively, cranberry sauce is either processed and canned or made fresh from whole cranberries. To make fresh cranberry sauce, whole cranberries must be boiled, and then chilled for 45 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Cranberry sauce can be eaten alone or as a dressing over sliced turkey.

Usually after second rounds of servings, and bellies full of food, people save the best for last — dessert. Sweet potato pie is an excellent dessert option, because sweet potatoes are starchy vegetables high in dietary fiber and richest in vitamin A, an essential nutrient to maintain optimal health. According to research, dietary fiber promotes a healthy digestive system, helps a person fill full longer, and may help with weight loss. Keep in mind though that store purchased sweet potato pies may contain high amounts of fats and sugars, so it is best to bake a pie from scratch.

In celebration of Thanksgiving and sharing, I have included healthier versions of sweet potato pie and cranberry sauce recipes. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Pie (250 calories/slice)

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 1 hour

Servings: 8


* 2 (1-1/2 lbs) sweet potatoes

* 2 tbsp light butter, softened

* 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

* 1/2 cup 1% milk

* 2 large eggs

* 1/2 tsp ground pumpkin pie spice

* 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

* 1 tsp vanilla extract

* 9 inch. pie crust


Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 50 to 55 minutes, or until soft. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and

remove the skin. Blend potatoes in a blender and pulse for about one minute to remove all fibers. Place sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add butter, and mix well. Using an electric mixer, mix in sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with cool whip and enjoy!

Cranberry Sauce

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 15 mins

Servings: 8


* 2 bags of fresh cranberries (12 oz. bags)

* ¾ cup orange juice

* ½ cup splenda

* ½ cup water

* Juice and zest of orange

* 3-4 tablespoons of honey or agave nectar for taste (optional)


1. Put cranberries, juice, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.

2. Keep on medium heat, stirring constantly until the cranberries pop (they will literally burst open) and slowly stir in splenda sweetener

3. Reduce to a simmer and pour the juice and orange zest over the cranberry mixture/

4. Simmer 10-20 minutes and remove from heat

5. Cool for 45 minutes and store in fridge overnight before serving

Sandra Ruan is a Bladen County native who is a dietetic intern at Southern Regional Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter at sandralruan.