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Special Diets Don't Have to Stump Cooks

CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. – Traditional Thanksgiving foods and family can become opposing forces at a table where people have many different dietary needs.  Vegetarians, diabetics, and those with wheat, nut or gluten allergies can complicate Thanksgiving offerings.

“We really specialize in medical nutrition, so most of our patients have a medical diagnosis like heart disease, kidney disease, or celiac disease,” said Rachel Harris, nutritionist at the Hudson Valley Hospital Center. She said cooks can triumph over these challenges by serving a large variety of vegetables and cutting back on sugar, salt and oil.

In addition to invitees who may be trying to control their weight, cholesterol or blood pressure, November is also American Diabetes Month. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that about 25.8 million Americans have diabetes, both type one and type two, and that over a quarter of those people remain undiagnosed.  That’s about 8.3 percent of the population of the U.S.

In addition, a “Vegetarian Times” poll in 2008 found that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian, and about 22.8 million follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet.”

The nutrition department at Hudson Valley Hospital Center said it focuses on replacing items, rather than denying them all together. Thus, cooks can choose healthier ingredients for traditional dishes that appeal to everyone at the table, instead of taking them off the menu.

“Vegetables are definitely the biggest thing,” Harris said. “Lean turkey breast is a good choice for almost everyone besides the vegetarians. It’s low in saturated fat and cholesterol. You can use fruit as a dessert instead of the pies and things. If you make mashed potatoes, leave the skins on.”

Harris also suggested replacing cream with skim milk is another way to cut back on fat. Also, allowing people to salt their dishes at the table, instead of adding salt during cooking process is good for those with low-sodium diets.

“We also recommend people have a conversation with their family that they’re trying to keep their blood sugar or blood pressure under control. Because a lot of times people don’t know they’re trying to lose weight and they inadvertently sabotage them,” said Harris.

Harris added that vegetarian friendly options include meat-free protein dishes, like beans or quinoa. Quinoa, she said, is actually the only grain which contains all the essential amino acids.

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