In these busy times, healthy habits are best developed when they are sensible, affordable, and easy to assimilate into our daily lives. Trying to rebuild your family’s nutritional framework this time of year is impractical, to say the least. The good news is that you are probably following many of the guidelines we would suggest for you already. The traditional turkey dinner often prepared for this holiday is a wonderful example of some of the healthy foods and nutritious cooking methods that will boost your energy and keep you strong and healthy in these cold and complicated days.
Thinking about a holiday meal as highly nutritious might seem counter-intuitive, but you would be surprised how many beneficial vitamins, nutrients, amino acids, and proteins can be tucked away in the traditional turkey-with-trimmings feast. The typical Thanksgiving Dinner has many elements in it that fortify the body in these cold months. The traditional meat and side dishes are based on the seasonal eating habits of our ancestors, few of whom suffered from the kinds of modern-day diseases and conditions that so plague our doctor’s office waiting rooms. Diabetes, high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, over toxification of the liver; these maladies belong to our recent generations. Many scientists and nutritional experts are pointing to the rise of boxed and canned food as one of the culprits. They also blame the heavy load of carbohydrates and refined sugars that have found their way to the foundation of our food pyramid. Once upon a time there were no canned green beans or pumpkin puree, no margarine and no Cool Whip. This time of year turkeys are fully mature and hunted for their nutritious meat. The rice, corn, beans, winter squash, cranberries, potatoes, greens, and herbs are all seasonally ripe and ready this time of year, which is why they were included in this traditional meal.
Modern chefs are beginning to create meals based upon what is now called the Four Pillars of World Cuisine. These are standards of heritage cuisine found around the world that have been known to sustain healthy people, boost stamina and support a vibrant life for thousands of years. These four pillars are:
Meat on the bone
Fermented and sprouted foods
Fresh, unadulterated plant and animal products
Meat on the bone provides vital nutrients for our bones and digestive tracts. The easiest ways to access these vital nutrients is to cook whole meat, or to make a bone broth. Roast a whole turkey, chicken or duck; cook a whole fish; or braise a chunk of ham or beef with a bone running through it. Not only will the taste be significantly improved but the value of your meal increases. The fat from animals is a kind of fat our bodies know how to process. They are the major building block for our cells. Animal proteins are also a wonderful source of energy and, unlike sugar, does not trigger insulin production. Insulin promotes weight gain, whereas energy from fat is like a clean energy source, burning calories without the harmful side effects and doesn’t damage the tissues like sugar. In addition, many essential vitamins are fat-soluble, which means you need fat to absorb them. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, among others, require a sensible amount of fat in the body to process these vitamins. Roasting a whole turkey, basting it with butter, and using the drippings for gravy is one easy way to incorporate the many benefits of whole food into your diet. Just make sure to make a strong turkey stock the day after with the carcass. Throw in the left over fat and skin and a few aromatics, and let it simmer for as long as possible, but at least 8 hours. This broth will keep you in vigorous health through the winter months, and can be used as a base to flavor meals for weeks afterwards.
Fermented foods are a part of the heritage cuisine of many places around the world. Some have even speculated that Western Europe is one of the only places in the world lacking this important dietary addition. Fermentation enables beneficial bacteria to grow and helps break down the tough cellulose walls of fresh vegetables. Produce eaten in fermented form delivers this necessary bacteria right to the digestive organs. This intestinal flora strengthens the ability of the stomach to break down food, aids the liver in detoxifying the blood for the rest of the body, and builds up good bacterial barriers on the walls of our cells to fortify the immune system. Considering that 80% of the immune system is housed in the abdomen, this makes a healthy digestion vitally important for those who wish to stay healthy and strong. So much of our vitality is directly related to the success or failure of our immune system. When our bodies are working harder than necessary to ward off colds and flus we feel weakened, exhausted, and emotionally drained. Adding one portion of a fermented food to your holiday meal is as powerful as taking an entire bottle of high-quality probiotics! (See Dr. Mercola’s study on fermentation for more information: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2004/10/27/fermented-foods.aspx).
Organ meats were once thought to be the best parts of the animal. A hunter’s meal of fried liver and onions goes back in time thousands of years, and was eaten by the fireside by food gatherers to keep up their strength for the rest of their journey home. Today, we have learned from homeopathy that like treats like. In other words, to fortify your liver, eat liver. To strengthen your glandular system, eat thymus, thyroid, and other sweetbreads. If this is totally foreign to your dinner table, think of it like this: the liver is more than just the filter for the body. It is also the storage place for extra nutrients, holding on to minerals, proteins, sugars, and vitamins until the body has need of them. If you are eating a healthy bovine liver, you are ingesting all the extra nutrients it has been storing for future use. It is a super food, packed with many absolutely necessary nutrients for your body. Especially important if you are recovering your liver from abuse, neglect, or anemia, this one addition to your diet will give you nearly immediate results in terms of improved energy, mental clarity, and overall vigor.
Fresh vegetables are a requirement for any healthy diet. And, in this case, the Chinese got it right thousands of years ago: lightly steaming fresh vegetables is the best way to get the most nutrients and vitamins out of your food. Carrots, for example, only offer 1% of the vitamin A to your body in raw form, but if you gently cook it until it is slightly tender but still crunchy you can retain as much as 30% of that same vitamin A. Though the fiber is important, it can be difficult for the body to break down in the time allowed by the stomach to process before the left overs are expelled from the body. The closer we can get our food to a body-temperature soup, the more we will absorb of its nutrients. Essentially, the more energy the body has to spend warming up the food and breaking it down from solid form, the less energy it has to expend on the actual digesting of that food and fewer nutrients are absorbed as a result. As you plan your thanksgiving meal, go with real over canned and frozen whenever possible. Farmer’s markets are great places to get local organic produce and the cost is not as prohibitive as some might say. Many markets stay open through December to provide the seasonal produce so often associated with holiday meals.
As we move through the holiday season, there are increasing demands on our time. To meet these demands, we sacrifice other, perhaps more important, things. Our sleep suffers. Our meals come quickly in the form of food from the freezer, or a drive-thru, and from inadequate snacks eaten by the handful instead of a proper meal. We drink too much coffee, too much alcohol, and not enough water. Merely by eating healthy food according to the four pillars of world cuisine, you will strengthen your body’s immune system, in turn fortifying the systems that keep you vital, awake, and energetic. When you begin to notice your energy stores depleting, this is typically a warming light that something is internally amiss. Preventative care is the key at this time. Build yourself up again with a nutritious meal, lots of water, and a good night’s sleep. Finding a way to make a little time for self-care this season will go a long way in keeping you ready for the demands you undoubtedly face.
When you just can’t manage to build up your body alone, remember to consider Chinese herbs. The beauty of herbal medicines is that they are essentially high-quality food substances, concentrated to upwards of 60 times the nutrient value of the original food product. Add to this the modern processes we have access to today and we now have a system of medicine that provides the highest quality essential nutrients in concentrated form to anyone anywhere. This medicine is meant to supplement your daily intake of good food, helping the body by providing rare or missing essential nutrients. This ancient and elegant medicine focuses 5,000 years of herbal knowledge into the ability to give each patient just what they need to boost their metabolism, and increase stamina. By taking herbal supplements from a qualified Chinese herbologist you can see marked results in a matter of days. Digestion, sleep, and mental attitude will improve, and health will radiate from you like the holiday lights on a tree.