Eating a traditional Christmas dinner is obviously incredibly popular, especially in the UK. And whilst many of us will consume more food than usual, the standard Christmas dinner is a well-balanced meal when it comes to nutrition.
From the turkey to the sides, there is much to be revered when it comes to this delicious fayre.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at the key foods in a traditional Christmas dinner and shares their nutritional and health benefits.
Turkey has more protein than chicken. It also contains less fat (if you keep away from the skin) and slightly less calories overall.
From a micronutrient perspective, turkey provides an excellent source of vitamin B12 (essentially only found in animal produce), and in fact contains all B vitamins, which fulfil so many key functions in the body, not least energy production.
When choosing the turkey meat for your plate, try and mix up light meat and dark meat; the dark meat is a richer source of the mineral zinc, essential for the immune system, skin, hair, and eye health.
Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts generally appear on most Christmas meal plates. They are really worth getting to like because they’re incredibly healthy and nutritionally balanced.
As part of the super-healthy family of cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts contain indoles which may help prevent certain nasty degenerative diseases. Indoles are also incredibly effective for oestrogen detoxification which helps women better balance hormones, especially as we go through the menopause. Additionally, Brussels sprouts are high in fibre, which is often lacking in UK diets, and the antioxidants vitamin C and beta-carotene.
As some of us find Brussels a little bitter, they are often more palatable lightly boiled and then stir-fried with some bacon and pine nuts.
Roast potatoes are often given a bad rap due to their fat content but it’s only down to the fat they’re cooked in; unfortunately, traditional goose fat falls into this category but it’s only one day, so enjoy those delicious roasties!
Potatoes are a good energy source and if eaten with protein, such as turkey, have less effect on blood sugar levels.
They’re also a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C, heart-loving potassium and fibre and no-one can deny that they are an absolute essential on the Christmas table, well roasted and crispy – yum!
Parsnips can often be used in dishes as an alternative to potatoes but when it comes to Christmas dinner, they should definitely have their own place.
Parsnips are a traditional root vegetable that come into season during the winter months for very good reason; all root vegetables provide good energy but can also be used in a myriad of hearty, warming dishes.
When planning a traditional Christmas dinner, roasted is certainly the best option, and many of us like to cook them in a little honey for added sweetness. In the scheme of things, this isn’t a problem and parsnips certainly give back in terms of their nutrients. They are high in vitamin C and vitamin E, both needed for healthy blood cells, as well as folate, which helps support the nervous system and energy levels. And let’s not forget parsnips’ very useful fibre content too, supporting our digestion.
The biggest nutritional benefit of carrots is that they are an excellent source of beta-carotene. This nutrient is one of our most powerful antioxidants, protecting the body from free radical damage. This in turn, helps protect us from the ageing process and, hopefully, some of our serious degenerative diseases.
Beta carotene is turned into vitamin A in the body as needed which is essential for sight and especially night vision. Just one carrot a day can help with poor night vision if this is becoming noticeable.
The good news is that cooking carrots actually improves bioavailability of beta carotene, which means it is more easily converted into vitamin A.
All in all, a traditional Christmas meal is healthy and nutritious and should be enjoyed with great gusto!
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