Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for Great Friends and Good Food

Well, we’ve finally done it. The third edition of Good Food, Great Medicine (GFGM) is out there and hopefully making its way into kitchens across America! If you haven’t heard about the book, it is an evidence-based lifestyle guide that contains indispensable information about health in the first half of the book, and 185 wonderful recipes and cooking tips in the second half. If you would like to learn more, check out our website at I might be a little biased, but I can tell you this book was a labor of love and definitely worth the wait.  

My name is Malea, and I am a member of the GFGM office team. With Dr. Hassell and Mea, the authors of the cookbook, I’ll be writing and coordinating our blogging efforts. We plan to share how all of us in Dr. Hassell’s office apply the whole food Mediterranean diet on a practical every day level. The blog will also serve as a place for us to include recipes or ideas about food obstacles or triumphs. I hope you find this a useful and enjoyable tool when exploring good health and happiness. Cheers!

Malea climbing Mt. St. Helens this summer.
With Thanksgiving coming up, I am already picking out my sweater dress and leggings with the elastic waistband. Fashion trends seem to be favoring holiday overeating this year. Even though it is the holiday season and splurging is acceptable, I try to show at least a little self-restraint when surrounded by platters of baked goods and bacon wrapped everything. If you look through our holiday newsletters at, we have a lot of useful tips on how to navigate the tricky holiday season. There are a couple of suggestions that I have found really helpful in the past.

First, I try to eat well at home as much as I can, and avoid the extra pastries and cookies that are multiplying around the house. If I am satisfied from a breakfast, lunch, and dinner filled with good whole foods, I find it a lot easier to avoid those treats, or to give them away to grateful guests. This also makes the actual Thanksgiving dinner feel more special, and I can eat to my heart’s content.

Second, there are a few staple meals that I like to cook for the holidays that feature vegetables. For example, I love to roast seasonal vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash (Delicata or Butternut), or Brussels sprouts until they are caramelized and irresistible - see page 169 in Good Food, Great Medicine (GFGM). I roast the squash or sweet potatoes with olive oil and a sprinkling of spices such as salt, cinnamon and cayenne, and finish them with toasted chopped walnuts over the top. For the Brussels sprouts, I add a little chopped bacon, caramelized onions, and a dollop of crème fraiche to make them creamy and delicious. (This recipe was inspired by our nurse and chef extraordinaire, Shelley.) The bacon tends to make Brussels sprouts more appealing to those who would normally run in the other direction. The final recipe I will mention, mostly because I am making myself hungry, is Seductive Soybeans (page 202 GFGM). They take no time at all to prepare and the bowl is always empty by the end of the meal. I usually make a double batch so I can have enough for everyone.
The third and final tip I try to keep in mind is to get some form of activity every day (page 50, GFGM). You have probably heard this advice a thousand times, but it’s easy to forget when you are cozy by the fire with friends and a plateful of hot food. In the cookbook we recommend walking 30-60 minutes a day, especially after a meal, and at a brisk pace. Over the years, however, I have learned that a brisk pace after a Thanksgiving meal can leave one cursing the pilgrims and their decadent sweet potato and marshmallow casseroles. Even if a slow meander around the block is all you can muster, at least you will venture outside and get those endorphins pumping. Any movement is a step in the right direction!
I hope these tips will help you in the feasts ahead. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Turkeys poking around Malea's backyard
last Thanksgiving. If they only knew.
Side dishes for last year's Thanksgiving -
corn bread stuffing, mashed potatoes,
roasted Brussells sprouts,
cranberry sauce, and homemade rolls.

Dr. Hassell's Postscript
Holidays can be wonderful for any number of reasons, and food is definitely one of them.  A common challenge many of us face is taking good care of ourselves despite the unrelenting succession of holiday treats of the tender-crispy-rich-sweet-salty-succulent kind that are so delightfully inevitable for the next month or so.  A couple of principles that may help:

1.  Anyone feeling a lack of self-control this time of year may be interested in recent research showing that people with more self-control aren’t necessarily better at denying themselves, but instead actually arrange their lives to avoid temptation.1 One way to apply this research is to deliberately fill ourselves up on good-for-you food first (think vegetables, meat, and other whole foods) so that when the dessert tray comes into view we’ll find it easier to be more rational.

2. Make the good food taste great!  For example, even though bacon is in the unfortunate category of preserved meat and therefore associated with adverse health outcomes, using some bacon to give your Brussels sprouts a seductive edge is perfectly reasonable.  The actual quantity of bacon used is small, and the nutrient-rich sprouts find their way onto more plates.  (However, it’s a good idea to look for a source of uncured bacon that you enjoy.)  We talk more about the concept of flexible versus strict on pages 70–71 of the 3rd edition of Good Food, Great Medicine.

3. And if you know someone who snorts at the very idea of eating Brussels sprouts, remind them that cruciferous vegetables (like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale) have particularly strong evidence for benefit, including reducing cancer risk,2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis.  

 “In everything give thanks…” (1 Thess 5:18)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Miles Hassell MD

1 Ent, M. et al. Personality and Individual Differences 2015:74:12-15 “Trait self-control and the avoidance of temptation”
2 Tse, G.  Nutrition and Cancer 2014;66:128-39