The average person can eat as many as 5,240 calories during their blow out on Christmas Day – and a whopping 190g of fat. But it doesn’t have to be that way – and now scientist have come up with the recipe for a guilt-free Christmas dinner.
Indeed, many of our favourite festive treats – including red wine, Christmas pudding and dark chocolate – provide a range of health benefits, explain academics from King’s College London. They looked at everything from nuts to Brussels sprouts, and have revealed the foods that can slash your risk of cancer, lower your blood pressure and improve your gut bacteria.
Professor Kevin Whelan, head of department of nutritional sciences, said: ‘Christmas is a time to enjoy yourself and for many that includes indulging in festive treats.
‘You might be surprised to find that lots of foods we typically enjoy sharing with our families at Christmas have actually been shown to have nutritional benefits.’
He says the message is: Christmas can be delicious and healthy if you make the following smart choices.
Scientists have come up with the recipe for a guilt-free, health-boosting Christmas dinner. Nuts/nut roast: Lowers heart attack risk.
This time of year we dig out the nut crackers – and experts say this is a good thing. A nut roast is a popular option for vegans and vegetarians for their Christmas dinner too. Eating a handful of nuts twice a week can slash the risk of heart disease by almost a quarter, recent research suggested.
Regular consumption of nuts is known to boost your cardiovascular health (stock image)
A study of more than 200,000 people – many of whom were followed for more than three decades – found all types of nuts helped prevent the world’s biggest killer. Strikingly, the Harvard University researchers said they also found no evidence that nuts fuelled weight gain, despite their high calorie content and previous reports to the contrary.
Regular snacking on walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans and peanuts achieved dramatic results compared to those who rarely or never ate them.
Brussels sprouts: Reduces cancer risk
Brussel sprouts might not be everyone’s favourite but they have been linked to a variety of beneficial health effects including reducing cancer risk and modifying the gut microbiome, says the King’s College team.
These nutritionally dense vegetables are also full of iron, as are green leafy vegetables and nuts, they add.
Brussels sprouts and similar cruciferous vegetables have been shown to lower the risk of a range of cancers (stock image)
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of Brussels sprouts and similar cruciferous vegetables can lower the risk of a range of cancers including lung, breast and prostate.
They contain a compound, known as sulforaphane, that ‘turns off’ genes that influence cancer’s development. Red wine, Champagne, dark chocolate, root vegetables and cranberries: Lowers blood pressure.
High blood pressure increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke and is closely linked to some forms of dementia. But thankfully, some Christmas pantry staples are good for the complaint.
Red wine, dark chocolate and cranberries contain beneficial compounds called polyphenols that have been shown to lower blood pressure.
Packing your plate with toot vegetables is a good option as they absorb nitrate from the soil and consuming these types, such as beetroot, has been shown to lower blood pressure.
King’s College say this has been shown after consuming two to three portions of beetroot as a juice or as a cooked vegetable.
The experts also explain that drinking two to three glasses of Champagne has been shown to improve short term blood vessel function from four to eight hours after consumption.
This was due to the beneficial compounds present in the grapes and not the alcohol. However, alcohol has been shown to improve the absorption of beneficial plant chemicals.
Tangerine: Vitamin A, C and fibre boost
The tradition of a tangerine in the Christmas stocking is a great opportunity to enjoy more fruits.
The tasty and refreshing citrus fruit is packed with many nutritious compounds, including vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, fibre and potassium. Research discovered a substance in tangerines not only helps to prevent obesity, but also offers protection against type 2 diabetes, and even atherosclerosis, the underlying disease responsible for most heart attacks and strokes.
The University of Western Ontario say that the a flavonoid in tangerines called nobiletin is responsible.
Turkey: Boosts heart health benefits and provides protein. Turkey breast is one of the leanest protein sources available with less fat than beef fillet, lamb fillet, pork fillet and chicken breast.
Turkey also contains much less fat than pork and much less salt than ham and as such earns its place at the centre of the Christmas table. Turkey is lean and rich in protein and selenium – which boosts heart health (stock image)
It also offers more than 10 essential nutrients including selenium – which boosts heart health – and iodine, which is essential in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. A 3oz serving (about the size of a pack of cards) provides 20 per cent of selenium requirements – a mineral deficient in many British diets.
Although Turkey is a white meat, it also provides about 10 per cent of the daily iron requirement. Christmas pudding: Beneficial gut bacteria
Whatever your recipe includes, Christmas pudding can be a delicious way of increasing your fibre intake through fruits such as cranberries, cherries, apricots, sultanas, dates and raisins.
These ingredients provide fibre which is vital for healthy gut bacteria. There is an ever-growing body of scientific research focusing on the crucial role our microbiome plays in our overall health.
A healthy, balanced gut glora helps us break down foods, protects us from infection, trains our immune system and manufactures vitamins, such as K and B12. It also sends signals to our brain that can affect mood, anxiety and appetite.
WARNING: OVEREATING IS RISKY FOR THOSE WITH HEART DISEASE OR AT RISK OF IT
Scientists have told us our Christmas dinner can be good for our health – but it’s important to not overdo it if you have heart problems or are at risk of developing heart disease. An expert has warned that overeating over the festive period for these people can trigger a heart attack.
The average person can eat as many as 5,240 calories during their blow out on Christmas Day – and a whopping 190g of fat.
‘Most people get away with seasonal over-indulgences without significant harm to their health,’ said Marvin Lipman, clinical professor emeritus at New York Medical College.
This photo provided by kitchen gadget MealKitt reveals three different portion sizes of the same Christmas dinner: the amount you need to lose weight (bottom, 560 kcal), to maintain weight (top left, 900 kcal), or gain weight (top right, 1200 kcal)
‘But for those with risk factors such as heart disease or high cholesterol, overeating can set off more serious medical problems.’
Writing for Consumer Reports as its chief medical adviser, Professor Lipman refers to a study of almost 2,000 heart-attack patients that found a single act of overeating could quadruple one’s chance of having a heart attack on the same day.
He explains that triglycerides – a type of fat found in the blood after a large meal – can cause inflammation in the blood vessels to in and around your heart.
‘This is commonly a prelude to a heart attack,’ he said. ‘Large amounts of food and alcohol can also induce the release of adrenaline-like substances that can cause a fatal abnormal heart rhythm.’