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Indulge in the good stuff this Christmas!

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Food is the centrepiece of a great Christmas and many of the foods we eat during the festive season are very special. Whilst we may worry about over-indulgence at Christmas, many of the foods we eat at this time of year are actually really healthy as well as being truly delicious. The trick is to steer clear of junk food and concentrate on eating the best traditional Christmas fare. Choose quality over quantity this Christmas, indulge in fresh delicious food, keep the sugar content down, and enjoy every mouthful!

Traditional Christmas food at its best!

The main focus of a Christmas dinner is often roast turkey, with lots of vegetables and trimmings. When you look at some of the main ingredients of our festive culinary centre-piece – not only is Christmas dinner truly delicious, but it’s also bursting with nutrients.

Roast turkey - the feelgood roast!

Turkey is a great source of high-quality protein and rich in vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, zinc with a portion also providing nearly half your recommended daily selenium intake.

However, it may be the turkey in your Christmas dinner that sends you to sleep in front of the television on Christmas afternoon! Turkey meat contains an amino acid – Tryptophan, which gets converted to Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, that seems to help people sleep better and also improves mood. So the turkey may be the reason we all feel sleepy after our dinners on Christmas day!

A Vegetarian Christmas dinner

If you’re planning a vegetarian Christmas dinner – you might opt for a nut roast, such as this delicious Squash and Chestnut roast recipe by Anna Jones. The recipe combines butternut squash, pistachio, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and chestnuts for the base, with a topping of ricotta cheese or tofu, cavolo nero, shallots, chilli and spices. As well as tasting scrumptious, this dish is packed with nutrients, particularly in the nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are especially rich in magnesium, a nutrient needed for over 300 enzymes to function in the body, so it’s pretty important. Other vitamins and minerals in nuts include vitamin E, vitamin B6 copper, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium.

Picture - Squash and Chestnut roast by Anna Jones

Brussels Sprouts

What’s not to love about the humble sprout! Although not loved by all, they are a great traditional choice at Christmas. Sprouts contain traces of a number of vitamins and minerals – there are two which stand out:

  • Vitamin C – interesting fact: weight for weight, brussels sprouts have 17% more Vitamin C than oranges!

  • Vitamin K1 – brussels sprouts contain a healthy dollop of Vitamin K1, with a portion of sprouts providing your recommended daily dose of this vitamin. Vitamin K1 is important for blood clotting in the body.

Sprouts don’t have to be boring or soggy and overcooked. Try roasting them - drizzled in olive oil, a little garlic, some parmesan cheese and a little seasoning, and you’ll never look back!

Or how about this BBC Good Food recipe for Sizzled Sprouts with Pistachios and Pomegranate?

Festive Oranges

Oranges are also great to eat at Christmas - the fresh taste of orange cleanses the palate after a rich Christmas dinner. Apart from looking and tasting wonderful, oranges are bursting with phytonutrients. One phytonutrient in oranges is called Hesperidin - this is an antioxidant which has anti-inflammatory properties. Another phytonutrient found in citrus fruits Naringenin appears to offer some protection against cardiovascular disease.

Cranberries for quercetin

We only seem to eat Cranberries at Christmas, which makes eating cranberry sauce during the festive season even more special! Cranberry sauce works perfectly with turkey and is also delicious with cold meats, cheeses and leftovers after Christmas dinner.

Cranberries contain some important phytonutrients. They are one of the leading fruit sources of Quercetin, a powerful antioxidant, which scavenges free radicals in the body. This helps reduce inflammation, which is important, as inflammation contributes to many chronic health problems.

Cranberries can also be helpful to people who suffer from recurrent urinary tract infections – a recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that cranberries significantly reduced the risk of infections in susceptible populations.

The cheese course

Many of us have come to associate Christmas with enjoying a selection of cheeses – maybe served with olives and perhaps a range of tasty salads pickles and chutneys. In the past we may have considered eating cheese an indulgence as we may have been worried about saturated fats in dairy foods to cardiovascular health. Now the evidence is very clear and we don’t have to worry! Not only are dairy fats not a risk, higher consumption of fats from dairy sources has been found to actually be protective against cardiometabolic disease.

Cheese is also a great source of protein and calcium which are so important for bone and muscle health. It also contains vitamin K2 which helps calcium to reach your bones where it is needed.

Last but not least – the Chocolate!

It’s good to avoid too much sugar and refined carbohydrates at Christmas, as those foods are pro-inflammatory and don’t contain any nutritious value.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a little chocolate along the way! Chocolate is very nutritious – it contains a lot of key minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese. It’s also rich in fibre, is a great source of antioxidants, and contains cocoa flavonoids which are thought to be good for brain health.

The trick is to choose dark rather than milk chocolate, and ideally select chocolate that has more than 85% cocoa solids. For Christmas, treat yourself to some good quality dark chocolate, such as Lindt 85% dark chocolate.

You could also try using dark chocolate to make Chocolate Brazil nuts. Chop up and melt some dark chocolate, dip some Brazil nuts into the chocolate and leave them until the chocolate has set. Eating Brazil nuts will also give you a healthy dose of Selenium, which is so good for thyroid health!

Or how about making some Keto Orange Fudge – a Diet Doctor recipe involving dark chocolate, whipping cream, orange zest and vanilla which all add up to a delicious Christmas treat.

Enjoy your Christmas!

There are so many wonderful foods to eat at Christmas and we should all relax and enjoy the pleasure of good food, friends and family at this time of year. Keep away from processed junk food, choose good quality real food, and enjoy every mouthful!

So, let’s raise a glass of sugar-free mulled wine and enjoy the festive season!

Sugar-free Mulled wine recipe

750ml of red wine, white wine, with or without alcohol

1 tsp cloves

9g of dried ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

7g dried bitter orange peel

1 star anise

1 tsp cardamom seeds ( green)

1 tbls vanilla extract (optional)

  1. In a saucepan, heat all the ingredients on medium-low heat. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, without bringing to a boil

  2. For a more intensive taste, allow the spices to infuse overnight, then strain the next day.

  3. To serve, heat without boiling and serve

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