Christmas time gets quite a roasting from a nutrition perspective. It’s a challenging time to embrace healthier foods, when you see all the tempting comforting food marketed and advertised throughout the season.
Despite my background, I hope that Christmas can be recognised as a celebratory occasion – it certainly shouldn’t be a time to feel guilty about enjoying eating mince pies, Christmas cake and my personal favourite, panettone! Though a walk on Christmas Day wouldn’t do any harm to burn off some calories…
However, if you look at the individual festive foods in the UK – Brussels sprouts, parsnips, chestnuts, clementines, turkey – each have their own great nutritional benefits. It’s just they are typically prepared, cooked and served often laden with fat such as butter and salt. This is when the nutritional value can be reduced or depleted.
This is my guide to the top 5 nutritious foods to include on the menu this Christmas, and how to cook them for the biggest benefit:
You either love them or hate them, but they are a great source of folic acid, potassium, fibre and vitamin C, which is important to help wounds heal, protect cells and keep the immune system working. However, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that will leach into the cooking water if you cook sprouts for too long, so cook them quickly in boiling water for no more than minutes.
I love a good sweet parsnip to cut through roast. A good source of fibre, manganese and folic acid. Folic acid is particularly important for women who are trying to conceive because it helps in the development of a healthy foetus by reducing the risk of neural tube defects. If parsnips aren’t your thing then other food sources of folic acid include green leafy veg, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals – remember that with a balanced diet it shouldn’t be an issue to get enough in your diet. However if you are trying for a baby, then it’s worth taking a supplement to really guarantee you’re getting the recommended amount.
A great source of vitamin C with over 60% of your recommended intake in 100g, or one large fruit. They come into season in November and it’s always good to be stocked up with these at Christmas if you want a break from mince pies or chocolates from the selection box. These are a source of natural rather than added sugar, so make for a healthier choice, and are also great in savoury dishes too.
Only really eaten at this time of year, it’s a great choice all year round, because it’s a good source of protein, vitamin B6 and B12, potassium and zinc – and the flesh is low in saturated fat if you remove the skin. 100g of roast turkey provides over 60% of the recommended daily amount for niacin, a B vitamin necessary for providing energy to the body from the food we eat. Jamie has a great recipe for turkey and clementine salad on JO.com, a useful way of using the turkey up and preventing any going to waste. Turkey shouldn’t just be for Christmas!
These festive snacks offer a delicious sweet nutty flavour that always sits well with Brussels sprouts, in stuffing or crumbled over salads and stir fries at other times during the year. When cooked and peeled they are low in saturated fat and a source of fibre, which is an important nutrient that often gets overlooked over Christmas, as it’s easy to indulge in high-fat, high-sugar foods and limit foods that are high in fibre such as fruit and veg. A high-fibre diet can help reduce cholesterol, but also help you feel full and control your appetite, which is a good point to be aware of when food is everywhere at Christmas!
It’s always worth remembering that, even though I’ve highlighted some super nutritious foods here, there are plenty more to choose from. There is no such thing as a superfood, and a varied diet is essential to get all the nutrients you need even over Christmas.
Red cabbage is a a Christmas staple, whether it’s braised with apple and balsamic, or sprinkled with crispy rosemary and bacon bits (as above). But, red cabbage also packs a bit of a nutritional punch – it’s a great source of vitamins K and C, and folic acid.
Deliciously tangy cranberries are a source of Vitamin C. Spoon into leftover turkey sandwiches or dollop into gravy – delicious!
Oranges are such a quintessential part of Christmas that you can really use them across so many fantastic dishes – in salads, squeezed into cocktails, zested into puds and even added to stockings!
Mushrooms are a great source of essential B vitamins, which help our metabolism function so we can utilise the energy and nutrients from the food we eat. Just 14 button mushrooms or 3-4 heaped tablespoons of mushrooms count as one of your 5-a-day. They’re great in a mushroom Wellington, in a veggie stuffing, or even made into vegan sausage rolls!
Butternut squash is delicious and packed with vitamins. Choose firm squash that feel heavy for their size. You don’t even need to remove the skin; just make sure you wash it well as it goes soft when cooking. Squash is packed with vitamin A, which helps us see in the dark! Try making gorgeous stuffed squash (above) as a veggie alternative to turkey this year.