Don't forget the side dishes when preparing a healthier Thanksgiving

Fresh is better than canned

In addition to opting for an antibiotic-free turkey, there are many other ways to reduce health hazards at the dinner table, both on Thanksgiving and during the rest of the year.

Melissa Sargent, environmental health organizer at the Ecology Center, has posted a blog with a variety of tips for healthy holiday eating.

For side dishes, she recommends fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables rather than canned.

“Fresh ingredients taste better and do not have to be more complicated to prepare,” Sargent says. “Buy beans, grains, and dry goods in bulk whenever possible, and look for packaging made of glass, paper, cardboard or aseptic cartons.”

That kind of buying is also likely to lead shoppers to local farmers and farmers’ markets, another way to support a healthier food supply.

Why avoid canned or commercially packed foods?

“Because most cans are lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA) and plastic wrap and plastic tubs can contain phthalates, such as DEHP,” she says. Both BPA and DEHP are plasticizers and can migrate into the food within the container, especially acidic ingredients like tomatoes or fatty ones like dairy products.

“Both BPA and DEHP are also endocrine disruptors linked to an array of health effects ranging from reproductive disorders to neurological impairments, obesity, and cancer,” Sargent says. “The two chemicals are also similar in that food and food packaging are considered the major source of exposure for those most at risk: children.”

Fortunately, some companies use alternatives to BPA in some or all of their canned products; a list is available here. In addition, the Ecology Center’s Healthy Stuff lab is currently testing food packaging for toxic chemicals. You can sign up to receive report releases and other updates at