5 healthy Christmas foods to enjoy

Posted on December 14, 2016 by Helen Field

5 healthy Christmas foods to enjoy It's not just a season of sugar

Every Christmas, we're inundated with festive food. There's a hullabaloo around chocolate snowflakes, mini mallow snowmen, cheesy biscuits, chocolate Irish cream, rich party treats, and other sugary, calorific delights. So is there anything healthy about Christmas? Yes there is. Take a look at this blog and discover what they are and how they're good for you. Maybe you can include some of them throughout the festive season!

1. Brussels sprouts

Although there could be a genetic reason why some people hate the taste of Brussel's sprouts, the trick to making them more appealing to eat is to not overcook them. If you do, they'll stink! Slightly crunchy, and they're like a different vegetable altogether. Delicious! Of course, there are some amazing ways to serve-up these little cabbagey green balls of delight. Brussels sprouts are definitely top of the healthy Christmas foods list.

Why eat sprouts?

Many studies have shown some really positive values of sprouts in preventing certain cancers and helping to lower cholesterol. They are a great source of vitamin C, fibre, folate, and antioxidants. As Brussels sprouts are high in fibre, they add bulk to your meals and help fill you up. Foods high in water, like fruit and other veg, also have this effect.

Other green vegetables, like kale, pak choi, cabbage and broccoli, are also rich in nutrients which can help protect heart health, age related macular degeneration, and blood vessel damage in certain cancers.

2. Turkey

As it's a lean meat, turkey is a rich source of protein and low in fat, unlike its fatty Christmas counterpart, goose. It can become dry if overcooked but you can reduce this by covering the turkey in foil to keep the moisture in. Basting it a couple of times with its own juices throughout cooking can also help.

Why eat turkey?

B vitamins enable your body to unlock the energy from food. Turkey is rich in vitamin B6, which helps your red blood cells stay healthy and reduces tiredness. Selenium helps keep your hair and nails healthy, protects your cells and tissues from damage. Phosphorus is another mineral in turkey, enabling normal bone growth and development.

Protein is a crucial part of our diet because our bodies need it for maintenance and repair. Although eating plant protein - like that found in lentils, seeds, nuts and beans - is fantastic for your diet, it lacks some amino acids found in animal protein which are needed to keep your body at its healthiest. Meat such as turkey, and fish, eggs and dairy are therefore recommended sources to include as part of a balanced diet.

What if you're vegetarian or vegan though? Well there are some tasty alternatives which can help you get the vitamins you need, such as quinoa. This is often called a grain but it's actually a seed which comes from the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant. It has a high total protein level and good balance of amino acids which makes it a popular choice for vegans and vegetarians.

3. Cranberries

These slightly bitter berries make a beautiful addition to the Christmas roast dinner. Ready-made versions are highly sweetened, so making your own is a lower sugar option. There's a seriously easy one for you to try. Simply put cranberries, honey, cinnamon, orange zest and water into a pot and cook it. Here's the recipe.

You can do more than make sauce with cranberries, for example try adding dried cranberries to your mince pie mincemeat or stuffing.

Why eat cranberries?

Perhaps one of the most commonly known health benefits of cranberries is their ability to help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). The proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries helps stop certain bacteria from clinging to the urinary tract walls, reducing the likelihood of infection. In juice form, this is unfortunately not the case. Recent studies show that the active ingredient has dispersed by the time it reaches the bladder, so it's more beneficial to eat the whole berries.

Cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease due to their anti-inflammatory properties. They have even shown to reduce tumour progression in certain cancers.

4. Jelly

The Victorians wowed their Christmas guests with decadent towers of colourful jellies, adorned with detail. Look at the Charlotte Russe for instance. There have been some ambitious jelly designs today too, including a wobbly Jelly Parlour of Wonders in Harrods, and glow-in-the-dark jelly.

Jelly can be such a simple, diverse dessert - and a healthy one. You can make any flavour jelly you want with a few gelatine leaves or crystals. All you do is soak these thin plastic-like sheets in cold water, then heat them until melted and mix it into orange juice, lemonade, wine, or any other liquid you fancy. You can add cinnamon, raspberries, banana, or any other fruit you want to give punches of other flavours.

Try making jelly's opaque cousin, blancmange, by combining the melted gelatine with milk, lemon juice, sugar and water. Why not include these lighter alternatives to heavy Christmas pudding at the end of your festive meal?

Why eat jelly?

Jelly contains gelatin which is great for maintaining healthy skin and digestion. But what exactly is it? Naturally occurring in animal biproducts, the gelatin we buy in shops usually comes from pork.

Gelatin helps keep your digestive tract healthy by promoting the production of digestive juices and a healthy stomach lining. Maintaining healthy intestines helps prevent leaky gut, which is often the cause of many food intolerances, allergies, inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune diseases.

Gelatin also helps keep your joints in good working condition and helps reduce inflammation and joint pain.

5. Mixed nuts

It's time to get your nutcracker ready - without it you'll never break through the natural armour-plated packaging of these delicious walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, and cashews! But why are they a festive tradition? Having mixed nuts at Christmastime dates back to the earliest Pagan times when luxurious treats like nuts were saved for Christmas feasts. In Elizabethan England, blanched almonds went into making marchpane, or marzipan as we know it today.

Why eat nuts?

Nuts are very nutritious. As well as containing 'good fats' or polyunsaturated fats and omega-3, they contain important vitamins and nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium and selenium. Studies show that some nuts can help lower the bad form of cholesterol (LDL). They may even help boost your life expectancy. Here's a breakdown of the nutrients in different nuts.

Chestnuts - Vitamin B6, vitamin C, and fibre. B vitamins unlock energy in food so that nutrients can be used in the body effectively.

Walnuts - Contain omega-3, which is also found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon.

Brazil nuts - Good source of selenium which supports the immune system and helps produce the active thyroid hormone.

Hazelnuts - Good source of folate for helping to keep your heart health on track.

Almonds - Rich in calcium which is good for your bones and vitamin E which helps maintain clear skin.

Cashews - High in protein, and contain iron, zinc, and magnesium. Can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Pecans - Effective at lowering cholesterol due to its high plant sterols content.

What healthy Christmas foods will you be enjoying?

Despite the mountain of sugary, fatty foods available around Christmas, there are some little gems of nutritional ones around too. Whatever you plan to tuck into this year, make sure you include some of the healthy Christmas foods to keep your body warm and fighting fit. But above all - enjoy!

Check out some more festive blogs like 5 ways to increase your steps this holiday season.