Mediterranean Thanksgiving Swaps for a Brain Healthy Feast

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, our dinner tables often groan under the weight of enticing dishes.  However, many of these culinary delights are Standard American Diet (S.A.D) classics, laden with little nutritional value, high in saturated fats, and packed with processed ingredients.  While this is a time for cherished family gatherings and delicious meals, you shouldn’t put your brain health goals on the back burner.  Embracing the brain healthy Mediterranean diet (MeDi) can be simpler than you'd imagine, involving easy swaps that don't demand extra time in the kitchen, and can even make your meal preparation more efficient, all while keeping your brain health in focus.  In fact, people who adhere to these diets not only enjoy longer lifespans but also experience significantly lower rates of dementia and cognitive decline, with reductions of up to 50%.1 

To effectively integrate these dietary principles into our Thanksgiving celebration and the bustling holiday season, we don't need to undergo a sudden dietary overhaul, which can be daunting during this busy time of year.  Instead, the secret is to adopt gradual changes that can smoothly become a part of our holiday feasting habits over time. 

Transition to a Brain-Healthy Thanksgiving Journey with Simple Approaches: 

  • Create a flavorful Mediterranean drink station featuring refreshing options such as infused water with cucumber and mint or a non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice.  This complements the meal and keeps everyone hydrated during the festive gathering. 
  • Offer a platter of dried fruits and nuts, commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine, as a simple yet satisfying snack option for guests to enjoy while socializing. 
  • Encourage healthier choices and a colorful Thanksgiving spread by having a variety of side dishes and salads.  Offer a selection of nutrient-rich options, such as roasted vegetables, whole-grain salads, and leafy greens, to make it easier for your guests to balance their plates with wholesome choices. 
  • Finish your Thanksgiving dinner with a selection of herbal teas, such as chamomile or mint, to aid digestion and add a comforting note to your holiday celebration. 

To embrace a brain-healthy twist for your Thanksgiving dinner, consider these simple swaps that maintain the traditional holiday spirit while aligning with a Mediterranean diet pattern.  These alternatives allow you to savor familiar flavors while enhancing the nutritional value of your meals.  Feel free to choose from these options to replace sides or mains, ensuring your Thanksgiving feast is filled with brain-boosting nutrients. 

Mediterranean-Inspired Thanksgiving Swaps for a Healthy Feast 

S.A.D. Appetizer: Charcutier Board 

The charcuterie board is laden with processed meats, high fat cheese, and high-sodium items, less than ideal for brain health. 

MeDi Appetizer: Hummus and Vegetables Platter   

Hummus is a good source of plant-based protein and healthy fats.  The vegetables are customizable to preferences and provide various nutrients like lutein and zeaxanthin, which support brain health. 

S.A.D. Side: Mashed Potatoes and Gravy 

Mashed potatoes and gravy are starchy and laden with saturated fats, which can be detrimental to cognitive function 

MeDi Side: Cauliflower Mash with Olive Oil  

Cauliflower is rich in choline, a nutrient important for memory and cognitive function.  Olive oil provides healthy polyphenols that support overall brain health. 

S.A.D. Side: Candied Yams 

Candied yams, often drowned in sugary syrups and marshmallows, contribute to excessive sugar intake that's unfavorable for the brain. 

MeDi Side: Roasted Butternut Squash with Walnuts  

Walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can benefit brain health. 

S.A.D. Main: Traditional Turkey Stuffing 

In traditional turkey stuffing, the use of refined white bread, often found in store-bought options, along with processed ingredients and high saturated fats, can be detrimental to brain health and lack essential nutrients.  

MeDi Main: Wild Rice Mushroom Casserole 

Wild rice is packed with brain-boosting nutrients, including antioxidants, fiber, and essential B vitamins, while mushrooms offer cognitive support with vitamin D and choline, making them an ideal choice for brain health. 

S.A.D. Dessert: Pumpkin Pie and Whipped Cream 

The traditional pumpkin pie topped with whipped cream is typically loaded with sugar and saturated fats, both of which can potentially have adverse effects on cognitive health when consumed in excess. 

MeDi Dessert: Dark Chocolate Mixed Berries and Nuts Bark  

Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and may improve blood flow to the brain.  Berries are rich in antioxidants, including anthocyanins, that support brain health. 

To prepare for a brain-healthy Thanksgiving dinner, start with gradual adjustments that allow you to enhance your cognitive wellness while maintaining the holiday spirit. 

If you're seeking to improve your brain nutrition this holiday season and beyond, consider incorporating RELEVATE into your routine.  Crafted with Mediterranean and MIND diet principles, RELEVATE offers 17 vital nutrients for long-term brain health.  Discover how RELEVATE can contribute to filling nutritional gaps you may be missing by visiting here.  

For even more tips and recipes, along with some Mediterranean diet meal plans, download our FREE guide: Learn to Eat the Mediterranean Way. 


1. Finicelli, Mauro et al. “The Mediterranean Diet: An Update of the Clinical Trials.” Nutrients vol. 14,14 2956. 19 Jul. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14142956 

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