The health benefits of a traditional Christmas dinner

Concept,Of,Christmas,Or,New,Year,Dinner,With,Roasted,Chicken

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

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.

Roast Christmas turkey

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.

Brussels sprouts

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.

Tasty,Roasted,Brussels,Sprouts,With,Bacon,On,Blue,Wooden,Table,

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

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!

Roasted,Baby,Potatoes,In,Iron,Skillet.,Dark,Grey,Background.,Close

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

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.

A bowl of roast parsnips

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.

Carrots

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.

Fried,Carrots,With,Green,Herbs,In,Baking,Tray,,Close,Up

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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Create your healthiest festive menu yet! Top tips for your Christmas Dinner

A family eating christmas dinner

When it comes to Christmas menus, they are often a mix of healthy and not so healthy dishes; it is the season of treats after all!

However, there are so many foods on the traditional festive menus that are great for supporting wellbeing. Even better, they are delicious!

 

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five delicious and healthy festive foods.

Turkey

Turkey has more nutritional benefits than chicken in many respects. Importantly, it is higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken. However, with both meats, it’s important to avoid eating the skin as this is where most of the fat sits and there are no further benefits to eating it (apart from the taste of crispy skin which many of us love!)

Roast Christmas turkey

From an immune-boosting perspective, turkey contains one third more zinc than chicken, and this is especially rich in the dark meat. Turkey also provides all of the energising B vitamins, together with potassium which is great for the heart, and phosphorus which is essential for healthy bones. There’s no need for any guilt when loading up your Christmas meal plate with turkey!

Red cabbage

Any vegetable or fruit that is deep in colour is rich in nutrients, and red cabbage is no exception. Red cabbage is loaded with disease-preventing antioxidants.

Red cabbage stewed with apples

However, all cabbage provides a plethora of nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K. Uniquely, cabbage also contains a compound called S-Methylmethionine which has been found to help heal stomach ulcers and soothe pain in the gut. And if you’re struggling with acid reflux during the festive season, which is very common, then drinking raw cabbage juice will certainly help. However, there’s no problem with adding some beetroot and apple to make the juice more palatable and even healthier.

Red cabbage makes a delicious addition to any Christmas menu, prepared with apples, raisins, cinnamon, and bay leaves.

Parsnips

No Christmas menu is complete without the addition of parsnips. This slightly sweet root vegetable can be eaten instead, or in addition to, potatoes and provides a great source of fibre. Parsnips are also rich in folate, essential for the production of healthy red blood cells, and help support lung health. Additionally, they contain plenty of potassium which helps reduce blood pressure.

A bowl of roast parsnips

Parsnips clearly deliver on health and taste and are great roasted and flavoured with garlic, Parmesan cheese or coriander. Indeed, they also make a fabulous Boxing Day spicy soup with both turmeric and cumin providing the warming and delicious spices.

Cranberry sauce

Whilst cranberries can be rather sharp and sour in taste, used in cranberry sauce they certainly come alive. And they still deliver on health, providing plenty of anthocyanins – antioxidants that protect the liver from free radical damage. Even better, these antioxidants also have a protective effect on overall health.

CRanberry sauce in small ceramic jug and cranberries on wooden board

Cranberries are also well-known for their ability to help prevent and treat urinary tract infections because they stop any bacteria from hanging around internally.

Every turkey needs some accompaniments and cranberry sauce provides a very worthy and healthy partner.

Chestnuts

No nut conjures up feelings of Christmas more than chestnuts! If you’re lucky enough to have an open fire, then you can’t miss out on roasting these delicious nuts. And once they’re roasted, chestnuts are certainly easier to extract from their outer shell.

Chestnuts are naturally rich in immune-boosting zinc, energising iron and bone-loving manganese. They are also rich in complex carbs so will certainly hit the spot if you’re feeling in need of a snack between meals.

Roasted,Chestnuts,On,An,Old,Board.,Selective,Focus.

 

Of course, chestnut is the main event in chestnut stuffing which can quite happily be vegan with the addition of mushrooms, onions, garlic, oregano, and sage. All these additional ingredients provide immune-boosting antioxidants, and plenty of warming herbs to help protect the body against any nasty viruses floating around.

And chestnuts don’t just need to feature in savoury recipes; they work really well with chocolate made into a cake or as a cream to pour over some decadent poached pears (also now in season).

So, enjoy your festive feast and include some of these health-giving foods for an extra wellbeing boost!

 

Stay well.

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Seasonal Eating: What to eat in December

A table laid with christmas foods including turkey, cake, cheese and decorations

The festive season is upon us which brings its own traditional food choices during this period.  However, as always, it’s good to eat foods that are naturally in season as they are at their best.

And some of these can certainly feature as part of your Christmas menu.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top seasonal foods for December.

 

 

Turnips

For some reason turnips don’t seem to get the same accolades as parsnips.  Perhaps it’s because turnips were traditionally grown as cattle fodder in the nineteenth century. And whilst turnips are generally available all year, they are at their tastiest right now.

Rustic,Organic,Turnips,With,Fresh,Green,Tops,And,Roots,On

From a nutritional perspective, they provide a range of nutrients including immune-boosting vitamin C, hormone balancing vitamin B6 and bone-loving calcium and manganese.  Importantly, and just like all members of the brassica family, turnips contain indoles which ramp up liver detoxification enzymes, perfect for this time of year.

Turnips can be baked just like potatoes, with some thyme, and are delicious sprinkled with a little parmesan cheese.

Apples

Whilst the nutritional benefits of apples are never in question, they can be quite confusing to choose from as there are over 7,000 varieties! But which ever ones you choose they provide some great health benefits.

Apples made into a heart shape on a wooden background

Apples are prized for their pectin content. Pectin is a gentle form of soluble fibre hence apples have traditionally been used to treat constipation.  Importantly, pectin helps remove ‘bad‘ cholesterol from the blood stream, making apples a heart-healthy choice.

Apples are also higher in fructose than glucose which means they’re lower on the glycaemic index and help to balance blood sugar levels. This is also important when keeping a watchful eye on the waistband.  Apples are also a rich source of vitamin C to give the immune system a much-needed boost at this time of year.

Jerusalem Artichoke

Interestingly, they are not from Jerusalem and are also not part of the artichoke family! However, I frequently write about Jerusalem artichokes because they are some of the best vegetables to feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Close up of artichokes

Just like a garden, the gut microbiome needs to be cultivated and fed and this vegetable is great for the purpose. They are rich in inulin which is known as prebiotic bacteria. As with all vegetables they’re also rich in vitamin C and potassium. Jerusalem artichokes make a delicious side dish simply roasted with or without the skin.

Kale

Interestingly kale is not only in season at this time of year, but also definitely much tastier too! Kale is a member of the Brassica family and provides amazing health benefits, especially in protecting the liver, but also providing compounds to protect future health too.

shutterstock_192761054 bowl of kale Apr15

From an antioxidant perspective, kale delivers on vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, hence its role in protecting current and future health. It is also rich in key minerals such as manganese, iron, and calcium, all generally lacking in the typical UK diet and essential for the heart and bones, amongst other things.

Kale can be slightly bitter so is best sauteed with a little garlic and soy sauce to make a delicious side.

Potatoes

Potatoes often get bad press, especially from people following the ketogenic diet as they are obviously high in carbs.  However, boiled potatoes are lower on the glycaemic index than jackets, therefore their starch content is less.

a basket of jersey royal potatoes

Importantly, potatoes provide a great and inexpensive energy source so are great for feeding and satisfying families.  They also contain plenty of vitamin C and if eaten with the skin, provide a great source of fibre.

If you’re looking for a festive treat, then dauphinoise potatoes, made with cream, garlic and cheese is one of the most delicious ways you’ll ever eat them!

So, enjoy all that nature has to offer this season and grab some great health benefits too!

Stay well.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

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