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Ahhh Thanksgiving, a day for traveling to my parents’ place, a gathering of self-proclaimed foodies- myself included, who love to cook in the kitchen for hours on end, catching up together, enlisting help from the little ones, and finally feasting on a delicious traditional thanksgiving spread.  As we wind down and start to clean up the dishes and pack left-overs, I rush off thirty minutes down the road for Thanksgiving Part II, an equally cherished gathering and scrumptious meal at my in-laws home. YES TWO, back-to-back Thanksgiving meals, an occasion for giving thanks for our health, family and loved ones, and a chance to feel more stuffed than a turkey in one 24 hour event of pure gluttony.  It’s tradition, and I love every bit of it!  Thanks to my voracious sweet tooth, my all time favorite Thanksgiving dish has always been sweet potato casserole.  How can one resist the combo of butter, brown sugar and marshmallow in concert?  Warm, fluffy mashed and baked potatoes topped with candied goodness make for an essential Thanksgiving side dish I simply can't do without. While my food allergies don't prevent me from continuing in this tradition of indulgence, my newly adopted healthy lifestyle has me think twice.  It's tricky to find healthy options during the holidays as traditional recipes present a dangerous array of sugary delights and fattening comforts.  It's especially hard to resist when all of this scrumptious aromatic food is made, presented and consumed around the enjoyment of family and togetherness.  My solution in recent years as I've transformed my health is not to abstain, to pitifully miss out, to bitterly turn to bitter greens and salad for dinner, but to embrace the celebration of food and sharing with the help of some revised recipes and healthy options.  Good will and togetherness are at the core of our celebration, so I'm all about making a delicious healthy dish together to share with all.  This casserole is quick and simple, and as always my toddler loves to try her hand at the 'pulse' button on the food processor.  My amazing family of foodies are always up for trying creative new recipes, including my own twists on traditional favorites.  Last week I posted my Thanksgiving raw vegan pumpkin pie recipe, and today I'm happy to share my healthy rendition of sweet potato casserole.  I made this the week before Thanksgiving in order to photograph for the blog, and I gotta say, it tastes so much like the real thing that I devoured half of it in one day!  I guess the tradition of gluttony continues, albeit a healthier version.

Here’s a breakdown of the health benefits found in the key ingredients of my Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole:

Sweet Potatoes have such numerous and powerful health benefits, there are too many to name here.  To point to just a few of the perks, sweet potatoes contain over 400% of your daily needs for Vitamin A in one medium spud according to Medical News Today, and they're loaded with potassium and fiber.  A high vitamin C content combined with significant beta-carotene in sweet potatoes offers a terrific immunity boost too, while the "anthocyanin and other color-related pigments in the sweet potato are equally valuable for their anti-inflammatory health benefits," according to www.whfoods.org.  The benefits of beta-carotene are accessed most when consumed together with healthy fat.  I've got you covered with fats in the form of flax seed and pecans (see below). 

Flax Seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, the "good" fats known help reduce risk of heart disease.  WebMD says recent studies suggest flaxseed may have a protective effect against breast cancer, prostate cancer, and color cancer, while also reducing risk of stroke and diabetes. 

Dates are a terrific natural sweetener and replacement for processed and refined sugar in almost any recipe.  Rich in fiber and antioxidants, dates also boast an assortment of key minerals including calcium and iron.

Pecans are great for decreasing bad cholesterol and increasing good cholesterol, plus they're high in antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, and the skin protecting vitamin E. 

Cinnamon is known to reduce blood sugar levels and risk of heart disease, and with it's anti-inflammatory properties this potent spice can even relieve arthritis pain.


Sweet Potato Casserole

Serves 6-8

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (steam and mash 3-4 large potatoes)
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract (non-alcohol)
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
6 Tbsp filtered water

1/2 cup chopped pitted medjool dates
2 Tbsp unrefined virgin coconut oil
1/3 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup raw pecans
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Steam 3-4 large sweet potatoes on the stovetop.  While the potatoes are steaming, make the topping.  Combine the topping ingredients in the food processor using the pulse button.  Pulse until you've achieved a crumbly texture that holds together when pinched between fingers.  Do not over process or you will make a dough rather than a crumble.  Set topping aside in a bowl and rinse food processor.  To make the filling, place steamed sweet potatoes and all other filling ingredients in the food processor and process until creamy.  Use a spatula to pour filling into a baking dish.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling, then bake 25-30 minutes.  I used a deep round baking dish, which worked fine, however I recommend using a more shallow rectangular dish for easier serving.  Enjoy the aroma and dig in!