I’ve always prepared the traditional Thanksgiving feast for my family, with the exception of the pies. I usually use a cooking bag for the turkey, as it keeps the meat moist and cuts down on the baking time. I keep trying to duplicate the taste of my mom’s giblet stuffing, with only moderate success. Mom always put in a bit of cloves, and it just smelled so good when the turkey was baking. Candied sweet potatoes get mixed reviews with my bunch, but everybody seems to agree that the mashed potatoes get an A. We round out the meal with either broccoli salad or coleslaw and steamed fresh vegetables. Steamed vegetables makes it a healthy meal, right?

This year, however, will be a different story because my son has been on an alkaline diet and eats mostly salads, fruits and no meat. My daughter has recently gone vegan, and I’ve been doing my own anti-inflammation experiment where I’ve eliminated bread, pasta and all sweets from my diet. Now if you look at the typical Thanksgiving feast, you’ll see that there’s not much left! All of us have good reasons for the changes we’ve made, and all of us have noticed very positive effects because of it.

BUT, there are others in the family who are still clamoring for the traditional feast, and I’ve decided that’s what will be on our table, with the addition of a huge tray of fresh fruit instead of the pies. The most important thing about Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be all about the food, but should be more about the interactions of the family gathered around the table. Sharing good food is a very nice part of the experience, though, and one that I’m not willing to abandon just yet.

Have you noticed that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands of diet plans and programs out there, each one claiming to be the answer to all our ills? And it’s sometimes hard to know what to believe because nutrition advice seems to be constantly changing. Depending on what study you’ve read about, coffee is either good for you because it’s high in antioxidants and small amounts of some vitamins and minerals and is linked to a reduced risk of many diseases, or it’s bad for you because the caffeine in coffee can cause anxiety and disrupt sleep, and can lead to heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. Also, caffeine tends to be addictive and can lead to withdrawal headaches and general crankiness when it is suddenly stopped. There have also been changing ideas about eggs, butter, wine and any number of other foods over the years. Nutrition research is a relatively new field and current studies come out frequently that refute ideas that were once accepted without question.

We hear a lot about the Keto diet these days, which seems to resemble the Atkins diet of a few years ago. It’s a low carb regimen, and I’ve read you can eat as much protein and fat as desired. Wow! Don’t we love being given “permission” to eat all the bacon, eggs, butter, cheese and steak that we want? Sounds like a cholesterol nightmare to me, but I guess there are people who have lost a lot of weight while eating that kind of food.

Then there’s the opposite approach, advocated by Dr. John McDougall. He passionately believes that a starch based, low fat, whole food vegan diet is the answer for preventing degenerative diseases, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and many types of cancer. His videos and presentations show how we are “eating ourselves to death and destroying planet earth.” He maintains that the livestock industry produces significant gasses that contribute to global warming, and the poultry, egg, dairy and fish industries are major unregulated polluters of the environment.

He believes that meat and dairy products are the culprits that are making us overweight and sick and keeping hospitals and clinics packed and thriving. His eating plan includes beans, corn, pasta made with unrefined flours, potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain wheat or rye bread, rice, cold and hot cereals with a bit of rice milk, fruits and vegetables, small amounts of salt and sugar and plenty of spices. He maintains that the starches are satisfying and keep us feeling full longer, and the vegetables and fruits provide much needed nutrients. No meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products or vegetable oils are allowed.

A few things impressed me when I was doing research about McDougall. His plan is free and available to all, and this includes recipes and educational materials. If interested, you can visit www.drmcdougall.com and learn more. Also, his foundation is funding a study on the dietary treatment of multiple sclerosis in conjunction with the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Many testimonials are available from people who have been cured of diabetes, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and hundreds of other conditions by strictly adhering to the principles of this way of eating.

I don’t recall any doctors ever giving me much in the way of nutritional advice to deal with whatever ailments were present. Doctors received only minimal nutrition education themselves in medical school, if any. The McDougall Foundation is providing the funding to train medical students in diet-based treatment and prevention of disease. I see this as a possible way to change how physicians practice medicine in the 21st century. I’m sure that “big pharma” won’t be happy about the potential loss of millions of dollars of revenue because there are fewer sick people needing drugs.

So, after all that, how are we supposed to feel about the traditional turkey dinner that we’re all looking forward to this week? Change is never easy, but when the evidence is so compelling that says that better health is possible through better eating, maybe we should educate ourselves and start making small, gradual changes and think more critically about what foods we put into our bodies.

For further information, you may want to consider “What the Health?,” “Forks over Knives,” or “Food Choices,” which are documentaries that are available online.

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Marilyn Secco is a retired teacher and author of the book “Front Porch Tales.” She has 2 children and 5 grandchildren and lives in Kersey with a temperamental cat named Tidder. Contact her at mbsecco@windstream.net.

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