Thanks due for variety of food


Thanksgiving fun is at hand. How will you celebrate? Will you sharpen your skills at preparing high-nutrition dishes that fall within healthy guidelines? Or will you celebrate with a blowout, and balance it out next week?

Whatever your style, when the moment of grace arrives, consider these food and nutrition reasons to give thanks this year:

* Food is life, and the recent explosion in nutrition research improves the quality of our lives almost daily. Pumpkin pie is on the menu for people with diabetes this year, since we now know a little sugar is OK and doesn't raise blood sugar any more than mashed potatoes. We know adequate folic acid can help prevent birth defects and reduce heart attack risks.

* We still have our liberty. Despite the clamor of some groups about foods we should never eat, there are no "food police." We get to choose.

* The pursuit of food happiness is made possible daily by the incredible variety of restaurants calling from all directions.

* The wonders of the American marketplace provide anything we'll buy. From triple-rich chocolate desserts to fat-free chips and cookies, if we make our wishes known, someone will find a way to produce it.

* We have reliable tools to work with. Our tax dollars have bought us the Food Guide Pyramid and the Nutrition Facts label. When we want information, it's there. Knowledge is power.

* American ingenuity has created a vast array of cookbooks to suit every taste. Talented cooks have translated nutrition science into delicious fare, so busy folks can whip up foolproof meals in no time.

* The rise of vegetarianism has improved the variety of food available to everyone by focusing on more interesting plant foods. Gone is the ubiquitous green bean. We're being reintroduced to root vegetables, like turnips, rutabagas and sweet potatoes. Ancient grains like barley, amaranth and millet are now offered everywhere from local grocery stores to trendy restaurants.

* The "melting pot" is alive and well, and shelves crowded with exotic ingredients beckon cooks as never before. Whatever your experimental yen, the ingredients are probably close at hand. If you want it, you can have it.

* Boutique produce is making a comeback. Bartlett and D'Anjou pears now compete with forelles, comice, seckels and Asians. Winesap and red delicious apples vie for your attention with Cortlands, holidays, mutsus, royal galas and fujis.

Winter squash crowd bins in a splash of autumn colors and shapes varied enough to do double duty, first as a centerpiece, then as dinner.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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