Vegetarian Dietitian: It's Okay To Splurge On Thanksgiving Turkey

Millions of Thanksgiving turkeys will be eaten this year. But the American Dietetic Association (ADA) says it might be a good idea to cut back on the meat. Host Jennifer Ludden talks to the ADA's Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. Blatner says you don't have to rush out and get a Tofurky (tofu prepared to taste like turkey), but decreasing the amount of meat intake could lead to better health.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

I'm Jennifer Ludden, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, some recipes you might not have considered for tomorrow's Thanksgiving feast. We'll sample some vegan soul food.

But first, many Americans will be talking turkey tomorrow, agonizing over what to stuff it with, how long to cook it, how you know it's done but not overdone.

While the first settlers likely did not eat turkey, the bird has become the unofficial Thanksgiving symbol. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 45 million turkeys will grace tables this holiday, and it probably includes your table unless your dietitian is like Dawn Jackson Blatner. Ms. Blatner is an expert on vegetarianism at the American Dietetic Association. She's also the author of "The Flexitarian Diet," and she joins us from her home in Chicago, where she's testing out some of those recipes. Ms. Blatner, hi.

Ms. DAWN JACKSON BLATNER (Author, "The Flexitarian Diet"): Well, hello, thanks so much for having me.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Now, the subtitle of your book is "The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life." Can eating a vegetarian diet really do all that?

Ms. BLATNER: Hands down, absolutely yes, that these plant foods do magical things. So you know, I get a lot of people who say they're, you know, very excited about the weight-loss benefits. But, you know, those health benefits and living longer are, you know, they're really great.

LUDDEN: And this has been studied?

Ms. BLATNER: This has been studied, yeah, and all studies really lead to a vegetarian diet is great for you. But what my push is is that maybe you don't have to be so strict about being a vegetarian. You can do it a little bit more flexibly.

LUDDEN: Right. We don't want to make all the carnivores out there feel too guilty, especially this holiday week. So tell me, diet-wise, I mean, is it okay to have meat now and then, and how often is now and then?

Ms. BLATNER: Yeah, you know, I think the Thanksgiving holiday is the perfect example of why being a flexible vegetarian really comes into play. Because, you know, most of the time, having vegetarian meals is delicious, but when it comes to sitting down for a Thanksgiving dinner, it might be the perfect time, even if you're mostly vegetarian, to enjoy the turkey with everybody.

You know, I think eating is not only for nutrition but also for social reasons and fitting in and having fun with family and loved ones. So I think when it comes to thinking about the turkey for Thanksgiving, thinking of it as a condiment rather than, like, the main course is probably a great idea.

LUDDEN: A little leg on the side there.

Ms. BLATNER: Well, yeah, and you know, sides are so spectacular when it comes to turkey day. You know, you've got all the stuffing and mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles and sweet potato casseroles that, you know, turkey can take a side seat and still you can enjoy all of those Thanksgiving fare.

LUDDEN: Some companies, you know, maybe sensing a trend towards vegetarianism or so, are marketing mock meats. I mean, you've got substitutes for those who still want the taste but not the negative consequence. How healthy are these mock meats?

Ms. BLATNER: Yeah, they're really good for you in terms of calories and in terms of fat, but the place to really watch with these faux meats is in the sodium levels. They can run a little bit high, so you know, making sure you keep even those portions in check.

LUDDEN: And if you do want to count yourself as a vegetarian, does a mock meat undercut that?

Ms. BLATNER: You absolutely can enjoy either a mock meat or a little bit of the real deal, depending on where you fit in the continuum of a vegetarian. Now, one of the things that I really love to encourage is if you are going to go vegetarian, whether you're cutting back on the turkey or doing the faux meat, to make sure you get umami flavors, which are those meaty, savory flavors that we all crave. And you can do that by finding things on your table like mushrooms and mushroom gravy so that you get that umami savory taste. Or even potatoes have that umami flavor.

LUDDEN: Really?

Ms. BLATNER: Yes, so making sure...

LUDDEN: But there's not umami in the spice section. I mean, what, just is it in certain foods inherently?

Ms. BLATNER: Yeah, in certain foods inherently there's more of a savory flavor. Mushrooms are really high, parmesan cheese, potatoes, cooked tomatoes, even soy sauce. So really, I encourage people who are cutting back on the turkey to make sure that they up the ante on those umami foods to, you know, really get that good flavor going this holiday season.

LUDDEN: And does that also bring with it more a satiated - more a feeling of being full?

Ms. BLATNER: Oh, 100 percent, absolutely. I mean part of feeling full is actually in your stomach, but part of feeling full is in your mind. And how much did you enjoy that meal? How much did you enjoy those flavors? So it plays a big role. And, you know, being able to push away from the table that you're full, but not necessarily stuffed.

LUDDEN: So, can I ask what is going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year?

Ms. BLATNER: Well, being a flexitarian, there's definitely going to be a turkey but that's going to be more of a condiment as opposed to the main course, and all the traditional fixings like stuffing and mashed potatoes. And I'm personally responsible for making sweet potatoes and my favorite Brussels sprouts.

LUDDEN: Do you have a recipe to share?

Ms. BLATNER: Well, you know, I think roasting is an amazing technique on just about any vegetable that's out there, because when you roast - which just means cooking things for about an hour at a high temperature like 425, 450 - it brings out natural sugars of all those foods. So even people who don't tend to love Brussels sprouts or even sweet potatoes, roasting them slow and hot in that oven makes them sweet and delicious for everyone.

LUDDEN: Yeah, those Brussels sprouts can use all the natural sugars they can get.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BLATNER: Yeah.

LUDDEN: Dawn Jackson Blatner is the author of the �The Flexitarian Diet� and a registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association. She joined us from her home in Chicago, where we can hear a whole lot of cooking going on. Dawn Jackson Blatner, thank you so much.

Ms. BLATNER: Well, thank you and gobble, gobble.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: