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Healthy Holidays: Three Thanksgiving Favorites with a Cancer-Fighting Twist

Cooked turkey and fruit on a plate with other side dishes on a table

Feasting with friends and family is arguably the best part of Thanksgiving (although the ritual football game certainly isn’t shabby.) But rather than serve the same tired dishes, why not revisit them with a healthier twist?

We’ve taken three Thanksgiving classics – gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing – and upped the nutrient factor with our favorite cancer-fighting add-ins. They just so happen to be vegan as well, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a delicious side dish for a roast turkey.

Savory Mushroom-Herb Gravy

Turkey gravy isn’t exactly the most attractive dish on the Thanksgiving table – or the most nutritious. Skip the grocery store’s gravies, which are devoid of any nutritional value, and opt for our hearty homemade version instead. Velvety smooth with surprisingly savory undertones, this version gets its flavor from earthy shiitake mushrooms.


  • 3 tablespoons Earth Balance organic vegan butter
  • ½ cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 3 tablespoons whole grain pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste


  • Melt butter over medium heat; sauté mushrooms and onion until soft.
  • Sprinkle flour over the top of mushroom/onion mixture; stir constantly for 2-3 minutes or until flour turns golden brown.
  • Add soy sauce, vegetable broth and herbs; stir every few minutes as sauce thickens into gravy.

Health Bonus: Researchers have identified a number of anti-cancer compounds in shiitake mushrooms. The mushroom’s cell walls are rich in lentinin – a popular immune booster in Japanese medicine – which may help slow tumor growth. Shiitake mushrooms also contain a substance known as “activated hexose-containing compound,” which has lessened the side effects of cancer treatment in several independent studies.

Garlic-Parsnip Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving staple for a reason. If you’re already planning to serve this favorite comfort food for your holiday gathering this year, why not slip in an extra serving of vegetables? Whipped into the potatoes, parsnips bring a whole new set of nutrients, while keeping the soft and fluffy texture that we’ve all come to love.


  • 1 half pound Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 pound parsnips
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste


  • Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. As water heats, peel and chop the potatoes and parsnips. Once water is boiling, add the vegetables and cover; cook until soft.
  • As the water boils, crush and mince the garlic. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before lightly sautéing with a teaspoon of olive oil.
  • Drain the boiled potatoes and parsnips; add to a large bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Using an electric mixer, whip until soft and fluffy.

Health Bonus: Garlic is an incredibly potent, yet completely natural, antibiotic. Also, once the cloves are crushed, chemical changes produce allicin – a cancer-fighting substance. It’s important not to cook the garlic for at least 10 minutes after crushing it to allow these changes to take place. In several studies, garlic and garlic extract have stimulated activity in cancer-fighting cells, and even slowed the rate at which existing tumors spread throughout the body.

Wheat Sourdough-Chive Stuffing

In this stuffing recipe, processed white bread is replaced with a whole-grain version, made extra flavorful by the sourdough tang. Chives, onion and celery provide textural crunch, while vegetable broth makes this a suitable side for vegetarians – or those looking for a bit less meat on their Thanksgiving table.


  • 1 large loaf of wheat sourdough bread
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup of chives, chopped
  • ¼ cup of onion, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (again)
  • 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon sage
  • 3 cups vegetable broth


  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees. As oven heats, tear bread into small cubes and toss with 4 tablespoons of olive oil; spread onto a greased baking sheet.
  • Toast bread crumbs in oven for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly golden. As bread crumbs toast, sauté the chives, onion and celery with the other 4 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • In a large oven-safe dish, toss bread cubes and sautéed vegetables with the fresh herbs. Cover with vegetable broth, and return to oven to bake for 30 minutes.

Health Bonus: Chives belong to the same family as garlic; they’re another rich source of cancer-fighting allicin. Unlike garlic, however, chives are rich in glutathione, which helps the body naturally identify and eliminate toxins. Beta-carotene – a powerful immune system booster – is also abundant in the slim green stems.

Planning to try one of these dishes – or tweak one of your own favorite Thanksgiving recipes? Be sure to share your culinary ideas in the comments!

Faith Franz

After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center. Read More

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