Monday Medical: A healthy, plant-based holiday is possible

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Monday Medical

Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.

Fresh, healthier recipes that highlight the taste and nutrients of plant-based holiday dishes were the focus of the “Real Food” presentation at Yampa Valley Medical Center on Wednesday.

The talk, given by registered dietitians Cara Marrs and Laura Stout, was part of a monthly series exploring how to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into our diets. The presentations stress the benefits of a diet composed primarily of plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and teas. Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, plant-based foods are powerful defenses against disease.

“It’s really about eating whole food, real food — not foods from boxes, bags and cans,” said internal medicine physician Dr. Charlie Petersen, a regular contributor to the “Real Food” series.

The holidays, filled with rich, calorie-laden sweets and traditional dishes, can present a difficult dilemma to individuals working to eat healthier the rest of the year.

It doesn’t have to be this way, explained Marrs and Stout, who shared simple recipe ideas that exchange unnecessary sugars, unhealthy fats and processed ingredients for spices and whole, plant-based components that add color and enhance flavor to old standbys.

For example, rather than settling for jiggly, jellied cranberries from a can, Marrs suggested boiling a bag of fresh cranberries with a bit of sweetener, orange zest and ginger.

The health benefits of some holiday foods, such as sweet potatoes, which contain disease-fighting antioxidants called carotenoids, often are drowned out by high-fat and high-calorie additions such as heavy cream and marshmallows.

Marrs shared her twist on the dish: Bake the sweet potatoes, then mash them with coconut milk, curry paste, a dash of brown sugar and salt and pepper.

Stout noted that roasting is the best way to preserve the taste and nutritional value of vegetables. Plus, it’s easy — simply cut vegetables in equal-size pieces, toss with a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet or roasting pan lined with parchment paper.

Salads are excellent side dishes and healthier alternatives to heavy traditional dishes such as creamed spinach. A salad composed of a green, a grain, a nut and a simple vinaigrette makes a filling side or even main course meal, Stout said.

Sometimes, dessert is a necessary indulgence, especially during the holidays. A few steps can reduce the calories and guilt factor associated with a special treat. Consider reducing the sugar in recipes, substituting almond or coconut milk for heavy cream and making crust-free pies using almond or flax meal as the base, Marrs said.

Petersen stressed that a plant-based diet is not necessarily vegetarian or void of meat; it simply includes more of the “good stuff.”

Studies have shown that people who eat an average of seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily have less than half the risk of cancer and heart disease than those consuming one to two servings of produce per day.

Regular moderate exercise and not smoking further can reduce a person’s risk of these dangerous diseases, Petersen said.

“It’s a diet of abundance, not a diet of deprivation,” he said.

The “Real Food” series typically occurs on the fourth Wednesday of every month. The next presentation will be Jan. 22. For more information on the series, including recipes, visit www.yvmc.org/integratedhealth and click on “Events, Classes and Information.”

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