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Thanksgiving is probably the most artery-clogging holiday. And just because your holiday meal is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s heart-healthy. Processed, sugary, salty and high-fat foods abound, even in the vegan world. So this holiday, follow these tips and be kind to your heart as well as to animals.

1. Make smart substitutions for butter and cream
To replace butter in recipes, choose heart-healthy options like extra virgin olive oil, high-oleic safflower oil, organic canola oil or macadamia nut oil. This goes for baking as well as sautéing, enriching stuffing, etc. To replace heavy cream in soups or sauces – or even mashed potatoes – try soy yogurt, or a product called MimicCreme, which is essentially a thickened nut milk.

2. Keep your grains whole
Less white flour = fewer empty calories and carbs. White whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour are superior substitutes. Use them for your baking, and try whole grain breads for your stuffing. Find ways to work in whole grains like quinoa and barley into the meal – there’s no rule that stuffing has to be made with bread, and gluten-free folks will appreciate an alternative, too.

3. Say no to salt
Start with one third the amount called for in a recipe (except for baking recipes) and go from there. You’ll be surprised that you don’t miss it. Use lemon juice to brighten the flavors of vegetables, which will reduce the need for salt. If you are using commercial broths, be sure to look for the lowest sodium brands you can find.

4. Be smart about sweet
Sure you’re going to eat dessert this Thanksgiving – but in addition to delicious vegan pie, consider lighter alternatives like baked apples. And to make up for dessert, eliminate the sugar in other places, such as in your sweet potatoes and cranberries. Try chopping and roasting sweet potatoes with savory herbs and spices instead of making a traditional sugary sweet casserole, and serve a less-sweet cranberry sauce. Bring sweetness to the table with naturally sweet vegetables like beets and with fresh fruit in salads. And remember, sugars also come from carbs, so do yourself a favor and don’t serve bread with your meal. It’s really the last thing you need, especially if bread stuffing is on the menu.

5. Go veggie crazy
Instead of one vegetable side dish, why not serve four or five? Be sure to include some superstar vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli so you can load up on antioxidants. Remember, the more vegetables on your plate, the less carbs and sugar you’ll eat during the meal.

6. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods tend to be high in salt, calories and unhealthy fats. Avoid them as much as possible, and you’re already well on your way to a healthier holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving and happy eating!

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