The festive season can be a time of overindulgence, and it’s not just about Christmas day as there are many weeks beforehand when our health and waistlines can take a beating during the whirlwind of social engagements. However, this time of year offers an abundance of healthy foods which we can use to support our healthy in many ways.
Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and xx for HFMA, explores the health benefits of winter foods and how we can make the most of them this Christmas.
What’s in season during the festive season?
The festive season offers an abundance of vegetables, primarily roots and greens, which can be used to make warming meals such as stews, casseroles, and soups. Vegetables in season this time of year include beetroot, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, turnips, swede, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, and purple sprouting broccoli. Other seasonal foods include turkey, chestnuts, and dried fruits which offer an abundance of essential nutrients that can support our health during the winter months.
The list below highlights ten of the top Christmas superfoods and how to make the most of them during the festive season.
Good source of: Potassium and vitamins B1, B6, C, K and folate
This veggie is a classic at the Christmas dinner table, but its versatility extends way beyond this. Leftover Brussels sprouts can be used with other veggies to make breakfast hash cakes topped with poached eggs for boxing day. Brussels sprouts can also be eaten raw and work well in salads with finely shredded and combined with leftover turkey and clementine segments.
Top tip: Vegetable such as Brussels sprouts can leave you feeling a little bloated and windy after Christmas lunch. Try drinking mint tea to ease the bloating (not suitable if you are also suffering with indigestion).
Good source of: protein, tryptophan, selenium, zinc and vitamins B3, B6 and B12
Roast turkey takes pride of place on the Christmas dinner table, and in many instances, there is plenty left over which can be used to make curries, salads, stews, and soups (my favourite dish for leftovers is nasi goreng which is a fried rice dish). Turkey is a source of lean protein, which helps with the body’s growth and repair of tissues. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey which is taken up into the brain to make the hormone serotonin that influences mood. This hormone is also involved in melatonin synthesis, which helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
Good source of: fibre, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B6
This classic nut is served chiefly at Christmas time and works well when used to make stuffing or fried Brussels sprouts with pancetta. Chestnuts have the lowest fat content of all nut varieties. They contain a good source of magnesium, which is often referred to as natures relaxant as it is involved in muscle contraction. Low intakes have been associated with increased anxiety. These nuts are also rich in fibre that helps to maintain good digestion, cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Good source of: vitamin C and antioxidant polyphenols
These fruits are available during the winter but are too sour and tart to eat raw. Traditional cranberries sauce is often high in sugar so try making your own at home, which will help you to control the amount of sugar you put into the recipe. Cranberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidant polyphenols that may help to reduce the risk of heart disease by preventing platelet build-up and lowering blood pressure.
Good source of: vitamin C and folate
The season is short for this vibrant fruit (January through to March). Blood oranges can be eaten alone as a healthy snack. Still, they also work well in winter salads, which are an excellent way to use leftovers such as turkey or oven-baked fish alongside kale and walnuts. This fruit also works well in puddings or on top of pancakes at breakfast. Blood orange juice also makes for an exciting twist on the classic Bellini, which you can drink to see the new year in.
Good source of: fibre, omega 3, iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins B1, B6, E and folate
Nuts are a popular snack over Christmas and seem even more enjoyable when you buy them in their shell. Walnuts are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. These nuts are also rich in the omega 3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, a valuable source of these essential fats for people who don’t eat oily fish.
Good source of: omega 3, potassium, selenium and vitamins B1, B3, B6, B12, D and E
Many people are not fans of oily fish, but salmon is definitely the most commonly eaten variety. This group of fish is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the body, which is good for your heart health. Salmon is also one of the very few foods to contain a natural source of vitamin D, which is lacking in most people’s diets during the winter months.
Smoked salmon can be used to make seasonal buffet foods. Smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis are a great choice. Drowning smoked salmon in lemon juice and garnishing with chopped dill is another good option that can be served with small chunks of wholemeal bread.
Good source of: calcium and iron
This spice is synonymous with Christmas and is usually combined with cloves and nutmeg. Cinnamon can be added to festive drinks such as eggnog or cocktails such as an apple martini. This spice is a valuable source of calcium and iron, which is required for good immunity and maintaining healthy red blood cell production. Research suggests this spice may also help to lower blood sugar levels.
Good source of: calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium
There was a time when dried fruit was part of everyone’s Christmas shopping basket. While they may have become less popular in favour of chocolate, they can still be included in the festive menu and offer many health benefits.
Dried fruits such as apricots, figs, and cranberries are a good source of essential minerals, including potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Together these nutrients help to support many different areas of health, including immunity, red blood cell production, energy metabolism, and bone health.
Aside from snacking, dried fruit can be used to make Christmas stuffing, vegetarian roasts, and puddings. To make a tasty boxing day salad, you can also combine dried fruits with leftover turkey and shredded seasonal vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, beetroot, and kale.
Good source of: calcium, iron, potassium and vitamins A, B6, C, E, K and folate.
This dark green leafy vegetable remains the darling of the wellness world and quite rightly so. The term ‘superfood’ is misleading as it is the whole diet that counts and not a single food. However, this leafy vegetable does excel on the nutrient front, so it is well worth including in your diet.
If boiled kale doesn’t float your boat, then try something different. Use it raw and shredded in winter salads, stir-fried alongside leftover shredded turkey, or slow roasting it in the oven to make kale chips which can be seasoned with spices such as smoked paprika and served as a healthier snack during the festive season.
While Christmas is all about indulgence, you could try to create a little balance during the festive season by making the most of seasonal superfoods, which are packed full of health-giving nutrients. Get creative and explore the many different ways you can start to include these foods into your diet at this time of year.