A huge focus of the festive period is the food and drink we consume and more often than not, our Christmas dinner choices are deemed to be unhealthy, lacking in nutrients and highly calorific.
Average food and drink intake could easily reach a staggering 6.000 calories on Christmas day. Sugary drinks, alcoholic drinks, desserts, chocolates, sweets, mince pies, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, crisps and canapés don’t’ come cheap in terms of calories.
That may certainly be the case for these typical Christmas treats, but you may be surprised to find out that the there are a number of Christmas choices that do not deserve the bad press and tucking into your traditional Christmas dinner may, in fact, be a great source of nutrients.
Let’s take a closer look at some of your Christmas dinner choices
The star of our Christmas day dinner, Turkey, is lean and extremely nutritious. As a first-class protein, it contains all the essential amino acids. (In terms of nutrition, the word “essential” means that it must come from the diet; in other words, your body cannot make it itself.). It is, however, a particularly rich source of the essential amino acid, Tryptophan, which is am an important precursor to Serotonin; our mood-enhancing neurotransmitter. In turn, your body needs Serotonin to make Melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. So, your Christmas meal is not only a good source of at least one essential amino acid, but it is also a rich source of iron, zinc, potassium as well as vitamins B6 and B3, both essential vitamins for the body’s energy production processes and immune system. So, enjoy this tasty, flavoursome meat knowing that you are providing your body with plenty of goodness.
Other tryptophan-rich foods include cheeses, shellfish and nuts; all likely foods on your Christmas menu.
They may be a source of contention as to whether they deserve their place as part of your Christmas feast, but these nutritional powerhouses which are very low in calories and a rich source of many valuable nutrients will always be granted a special spot on my Christmas plate! Part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which also includes kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and greens, they are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin B6, folate, potassium and manganese as well as, perhaps surprisingly, protein. They also contain compounds called Glucosinolates, which support the body’s detoxification processes, clearing the body of, in particular, potentially harmful carcinogenic toxins. High in fibre, they help to balance blood sugars and improve digestive health.
Nuts are often considered to be high in calories and best avoided. They are indeed high in calories due to their high-fat content, but these are essential heart-friendly anti-inflammatory fats, which we should be eating plenty of. All nuts provide different nutrients with each offering varying health benefits;
- Almonds are rich in calcium and vitamin E, essential for good skin health
- Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, an important antioxidant for Thyroid health.
- Cashews are a rich source of magnesium, vital for energy production if you don’t eat enough dark green leafy vegetables.
- Walnuts are a particularly good source of omega-3s, a great alternative if you’re not keen on oily fish.
Nuts are also a good source of protein and fibre, which will help to balance blood sugars and reduce cravings for sugar.
These can be eaten roasted as a snack, as part of stuffing or a nut roast and, unlike other nuts do not contain the same fat and are therefore low in calories. They are nutritious, providing good sources of iron, B vitamins and folate, as well as good protein and fibre.
Clementines and other festive fruits
These juicy fruits, part of the citrus family, provide the antioxidant vitamin C It’s bright orange colour also indicates that it is also a good source of beta-carotene, which the body needs to make another antioxidant vitamin A. In addition, they provide calcium, magnesium and potassium and folate. So, snacking on these refreshing fruits will be a healthy choice that will help to boost your immune health at this busy time.
If you’re including other festive fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate, you’ll guarantee an antioxidant boost that will help to combat free radical build-up. Supporting your body with antioxidants will go a long way to maintaining your health at this busy and possibly stressful period.
Whilst your traditional Christmas pudding is undoubtedly high in sugar, it does contain plenty of dried fruit; a good source of B vitamins, potassium, calcium, iron and fibre and as such, does contribute towards the recommended 7-a-day. In addition, Christmas puddings are also rich in the spice cinnamon, which provides anti-inflammatory benefits and can help to balance blood sugar.
Keep portions small to avoid excessive sugar intake.
And lastly and I’m sure not least to accompany your Christmas dinner…
The health benefits of red wine have been documented and in comparison with other alcoholic drinks, can be considered a “healthier“ option. Whilst I would not advocate excessive alcohol consumption, opting for red wine as a drink of choice can provide some (limited) benefits, due to its antioxidant content. The antioxidant Resveratrol, found in the skins of grapes, is believed to be responsible for the suggested health benefits of red wine. In general the darker the grape, the higher the antioxidant content. However, it is also worth remembering that wine, whatever the colour, is highly calorific due to its alcohol content, which, when consumed in excess will be detrimental to your health. For more information on how alcohol affects your health, visit the DrinkAware website.
Consider alternating your alcoholic drinks for non-alcoholic choices but be careful not to opt for fizzy drinks instead, if you’re looking to keep an eye on your weight. A recent study concluded that swapping just one 8oz glass of fizzy drink for an equivalent glass of water reduced calorie consumption significantly and does provide health benefits, such as lower blood pressure. Try infusing cucumber and mint into your usual glass of water for a refreshing twist.
For a more detailed guide on which drinks choices to make and why CLICK HERE “Drinking Smart” over Christmas; What to Choose and Why?
So, with so many fabulous nutrients lurking in your Christmas Dinner, relax and enjoy your Christmas meal without compromising on your traditional festive favourites.