When you’re interested in making your diet as healthy as possible it is easy to start questioning every mouthful of food you eat, and every lifestyle choice you make. Is it good for me? Is it bad for me? Is it not quite as good for me as some alternative I’ve not even found out about yet? Too much thinking can lead to food choices becoming stressful, which is not good for health or happiness.
Christmas is the perfect time to kick back, relax and enjoy yourself without second guessing every mouthful. To help you in the quest for ultimate chill out, I’ve been hunting for some top nutritional qualities of your favourite Christmas food, so you can get munching with a clear conscience:
Turkey. The staple to a traditional Christmas dinner. Also happens to contain more protein per 100 grams than other meats, making it a great source of this essential nutrient. Protein is required for maintaining muscle as well as building it. It is also essential for immune health, and strong hair, nails and bones. Turkey also contains selenium, which is essential for immune health 1.
Nut roast. If you’re vegetarian or vegan you’re most likely not going to be hitting the turkey hard. However, nuts contain many essential nutrients including good fats and minerals – both of which many people are missing in their diets. It also contains a good amount of fibre. Making nut roast from walnuts ensures a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which may be lacking in other Christmas foods 2,3.
Mince pies. These can’t be good for you surely? Not in excess, but at least they are not completely nutrient deficient. The fruit contains vitamins and minerals, as well as essential fibres 4,5 and you don’t have to worry about the fat content with this Lucy Bee recipe which is also gluten and dairy free. It’s the sugar that is the usual culprit in these delicious pies so opting for a recipe that’s low in sugar is the best way to make sure they’re as good for you as possible.
Chocolate. Keep it dark and it’s not actually bad for you. Over 70% cocoa content is the best choice 6. In fact, one study found that dark chocolate can help prevent the physical effects of psychosocial stress – helpful if you’ve got any speeches to make or Spanish inquisitions about your love life from your Great Aunt Bess to endure 7. You’re not going to find that much cocoa in many Christmas themed truffles, but I love making my own using Lucy Bee. Mix cocoa powder with melted Lucy Bee and some honey to sweeten, pour into a mould and leave to set in the fridge. So easy, so delicious.
Cranberries. Cranberries are great for health. High in manganese, vitamin C and fibre as well as anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, these health giving berries are great for immune health. Cranberry sauce generally contains a lot of sugar, so opt for a low sugar option and you’re on to a winner 8.
Stuffing. Let’s face facts; it’s not going to win any awards as world’s healthiest food. However, all is not lost. Stuffing contains a good portion of herbs, which are actually really great sources of many nutrients. Dried thyme contains good amounts of vitamin C, iron, manganese and fibre, with parsley high in vitamin A and folate. If the bread crumbs are wholemeal, that’s an added boost of fibre to the mix 9,10.
I’m not even grasping at straws now, these are actually good for you! You’re probably going to eat more over the festive period than you would otherwise, but that isn’t always a bad thing. Christmas meals tend to be the traditional meat and two (or more) veg formula, which probably means more veg than you usually eat. Vegetables contain fewer nutrients now than they used to due to fast growth times and reduced soil quality, so the more the merrier for getting your daily requirements of minerals 11.
Satsuma. These used to be a staple of the Christmas stocking. Crammed with vitamin C, along with some vitamin A, calcium and B vitamins. They’re also a great alternative to less healthy options, providing a sweet treat without artificial sugars 12.
Christmas pudding. Again, it’s not in the same league as, say, an apple for healthiest desert choice, but it could be worse. It contains heaps of dried fruit which are high in potassium, and some fibre and iron along with polyphenols and fibre essential for the good bacteria in your intestine 4. Dried fruit consumption has even been linked to reduced obesity 5. Best to make it yourself to control the sugar content.
Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts always made an appearance in my house around Christmas time, and they’re great for health. Just one brazil nut contains almost 100% of your daily requirement for selenium – a nutrient essential for immune health. Go easy on these as it is possible to overdose on selenium 3, 13.
Foods to avoid are those containing too much sugar or alcohol if you can bear it. Other than that, there are plenty of Christmas foods which are good for you. The calorific intake might be higher than average, but improvements to stress hormone levels by chilling out over the festive period could actually help how your body metabolises food meaning you’re less likely to store it as fat 14.
Some non-food related treats to indulge in for the good of your health and happiness are making sure you get enough sleep over the festive season. Sleep seems to have a key role in preventing weight gain, so it’s a good focus to have during a period of festive indulgence 15. If you’ve got some time off work now is a great time to get into a good sleep routine ready for the New Year.
I recently wrote about the way your skin can absorb nutrients – so take this as a sign that you need more long soaks in the bath. Epsom salts are a great way to absorb magnesium sulphate, an essential mineral for health and for reducing stress 16.
The overall message? Eat, drink (non-alcoholic fruit punch if possible…) and be merry! Here is wishing you a wonderfully relaxing Christmas and a fantastic New Year.
Vicky has a degree in Biological Sciences with a focus on biochemistry and immunology and is currently studying for a MSc in Drug Discovery and Protein Biotechnology. She is also an endurance athlete.
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