holiday favorites remix: simple swaps for healthy holiday recipes

Simple ways to have delicious holiday meals while still sticking to your health journey.

Simple swaps are healthier cooking oils, better meat options, and lots of good vegetable side dishes. Make sure you balance your plate and consider trying out new main or side dishes this holiday season.

The holidays are here, and many delicious recipes bring not only comfort but also nostalgia! But how am I to stay on my health journey during this tempting time? So many foods are full of simple carbs, processed ingredients or empty calories! Sometimes, we can make easy substitutions for classic dishes or even just swap out a few ingredients to make a meal less inflammatory or exclude common food allergens. There are many good holiday substitutes available to make your holiday season both enjoyable and healthy.

The first thing to think about is the quality of the ingredients you are cooking with. Vegetable oils tend to be higher in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Avocado oil contains more anti-inflammatory fats and is very stable at high temperatures. You should never heat extra virgin olive oil above 300° F as it will destroy the healthy fats. Coconut oil also has healthy short-chain fatty acids, is stable at high temperatures and can add a coconut flavor to the dish. Avocado oil has a very mild flavor and is great for roasting vegetables or doing a light deep fry. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to your food once it is done cooking.

Many people are now discovering that they are gluten-sensitive. This is not a full-blown allergy to wheat and the onset Celiac disease but rather a mild food sensitivity. Cornstarch and potato starch are good substitutes for wheat flour when preparing a breaded dish. Corn bread stuffing can easily be substituted for gluten-based bread stuffing. If you have certain food restrictions but plan to attend a family or group gathering, you can provide alternative preparations of classic holiday recipes. This way you get to enjoy the meal, and it eases the burden on the host. 

Choose grass-fed, free-range meat, or wild-caught fish as a center dish. Your plate should be half vegetables, ¼ protein, and ¼ quality carbs.

When it comes to main dishes, most holiday meals are centered around meat. This makes sense as protein was often a scarce resource, and celebrations call for this extra-special ingredient. However, in modern times we have an abundance of meat although it is not all of equal quality. One of the easiest holiday swaps is choosing grass-fed and finished red meat, free-range chicken or turkey or even wild-caught fish as your center dish. Salmon and tuna both make hearty main dishes. Overall, emphasizing less pork during the holidays is another easy swap. This does not mean you have to completely avoid pork but rather seek a balance. Perhaps you get a large free-range turkey for Christmas and a small honey ham to complement it. If you are eating at someone’s home, you may not be able to pick the menu, but you can fill your plate according to these principles. Take more of the lean meat and less of the pork. 

The overall plate dynamics you can utilize the rest of the year still apply during holidays. Your plate should be half vegetables, ¼ protein and ¼ quality carbs (complex carbs like sweet potato, quinoa, squash, along with some fruit). Fill your plate with veggies first and then add small portions of other options. Remember that corn and potatoes, for this calculation, count as starches and not vegetables. 

Finally, I would like to address meat substitute options. Some people falsely assume that living a healthy life means not eating meat. The truth is far more nuanced. Humans need high quality protein, which can come from plants or animals. But the quality of the meat or meat substitute is very important. I have already discussed healthy meat options so now we will look at the non-meat options. 

Processed non-meat alternatives often contain a multitude of questionable ingredients. Since they are trying to approximate another food, they go through a lot of maneuvering. Many of these substitutes are considered “ultra-processed foods.” Some of (like seitan) are wheat-based, which poses a challenge to gluten-sensitive or celiac individuals. One approach is to swap out whole food sources of protein – rice and beans, lentils, organic tofu, quinoa, squash – instead of using processed substitutes. If you are going for a  soy product, it is best to find organic to reduce pesticide exposure (this includes tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc.)

Try these delicious recipes today!

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Dr. Jessica Keating
Owner & Physician , Willow Clinic of Natural Medicine
Jessica Lodal Keating graduated with her doctorate in chiropractic medicine from National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) in Lombard, IL in December of 2016. She graduated summa cum laude and salutatorian of her class. She completed a primary care internship at the in-house clinic in the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center in downtown Chicago. There she was able to provide natural approaches to health and wellness to an under-served population. She also led efforts to solicit supplement donations from local doctors in order to provide these supplements to patients free of charge. During her time at NUHS, Dr. Keating also studied traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and became certified to perform acupuncture, moxabustion and fire cupping. She uses the wisdom of eastern medicine to complement her holistic approach to assessing each individual patient and treating the whole person. She participated in various other seminars and trainings over the course of her studies including MPI’s full-spine adjusting seminar and Apex’s Fundamentals of Functional Blood Chemistry. Dr. Keating also completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic medicine in 2018, graduating valedictorian and summa cum laude. Dr. Keating has worked in several natural primary care offices in the greater Chicagoland area. She is also a full-time naturopathic clinician at National University of Health Sciences. There she is able to help shape the next generation of naturopathic doctors. She has a home-call practice where she treats patients in the comfort of their own homes all around Chicagoland. Dr. Keating loves balancing private practice with teaching and clinical supervision. Dr. Jessica Keating received her bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon before deciding to attend NUHS. After her undergrad degree, she grew frustrated with the field of political science and sought a new career path. Her own health had been dramatically improved through diet, yoga and herbal medicine. Because of these experiences, she decided to deepen her understanding of natural medicine by pursuing a higher degree. Dr. Keating remains committed to her own health journey on a personal and professional level. She aims to help others thrive and maintain optimal health by guiding them down the same path and educating her patients by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. Dr. Keating practices holistic, natural primary care. She treats GI conditions, autoimmune disorders, women’s health, sleep issues, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, depression, back pain as well as working with patients on weight loss and general wellness promotion. She treats pediatric, adult and geriatric patients using diet, lifestyle modification, herbal medicine, physical medicine and acupuncture. In her free time, Dr. Keating loves reading, biking, cooking and playing with her cats. Dr. Keating also enjoys yoga, tennis, rollerblading, going to the movies and travelling with her husband. She has been to 28 different countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
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