We all expect our waistbands to expand a little over the festive season – in fact, the average Briton eats more than 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone.
We’re not for a minute suggesting you don’t indulge over the holidays, but if you’re keen to pace yourself, and maybe even choose the healthiest seasonal options, check out the tips below. And if you’re planning to throw away the healthy eating rulebook during the party season, we’ve charitably included a few simple detox tips. Season's eatings!
Benefits: The perennial Christmas centrepiece, turkey is low in fat and high in muscle-building protein. Turkey is also an excellent source of B-vitamins, needed for energy production. Both the red and white meat is good for you; the white meat is slightly less calorific, while the red meat is a richer source of iron.
Make it healthier: Place a trivet or wire rack on the bottom of your roasting tin to drain away excess fat from around the turkey. Save extra calories by resisting the lure of the crispy skin. “The skin is where the fat is mostly stored, so by removing it you can save approximately 40 calories per 100g,” says Henrietta Bailey, nutritionist with Pure Sports Medicine (www.puresportsmed.com).
Detox: None needed. You might get bored of turkey by New Year’s Eve, but your body loves this super-healthy meat.
Benefits: Sprouts might be a lesser-loved vegetable but they are the nutritional stars of the festive season. Along with other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, they contain powerful antioxidants and may offer protection against cancer. Even a concise list of all their nutrients is impressive: calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamins C and E and folic acid.
Make it healthier: Steam your Brussels instead of boiling them to retain more of their nutrients. Another top tip is to keep cooking time to a minimum (less than eight minutes) so they won't release the bitter compounds responsible for those off-putting aromas.
Detox: Make sure you get a second portion, as these bite-sized vegetables help counterbalance seasonal overindulgence. “Brussels sprouts actually help your body to detox, so eat plenty of them,” says Matt Lovell, a sports nutritionist who has worked with the England Rugby Team (www.sportsnutritionvlog.com).
Benefits: Christmas dinner just wouldn’t be the same without those crispy skins bursting with moreish soft potato. Admittedly, they aren’t the healthiest offering at the festive feast but roast potatoes do offer some nutrients that’ll help with your running. As well as being packed with carbohydrates, they offer vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Make it healthier: Many people love the flavour of roasties cooked in generous amounts of goose fat. However, there are healthier and equally flavoursome options. Bailey recommends lightly coating the potatoes with olive oil and adding some fresh rosemary, which also offers antioxidant properties. Another top tip is to keep the potato skins on to preserve more of their nutrients.
Detox: After scoffing roast potatoes on Christmas Day, make the most of your carb intake – and burn off some of those calories – on a Boxing Day run.
Benefits: As well as being delicious, cheese contains protein, bone-strengthening calcium and B-vitamins. Unfortunately cheese is also extremely high in saturated fat, so watch your portion size to keep your heart healthy. Government guidelines suggest you stick to a matchbox-sized portion per day.
Make it healthier: Add goat’s or sheep’s cheese to your selection – they are lower in fat than those made from cows’ milk. You can also cut the calorie content by ditching the hunks of bread and complementing rich cheeses with the sharpness of fruit or chutneys. “Instead of having cheese with biscuits, why not have it with sliced apple?” says Bailey.
Detox: “Line up the running shoes and go for a run the day after Christmas to burn off some of those calories,” says Lovell.
Benefits: A warming tipple can banish winter chills; or at least that’s our excuse. We’ve even got science on our side, as a small amount of alcohol (one to two units a day) can improve circulation.
Make it healthier: Your liver can only handle one drink an hour, so try to drink in moderation. You can limit hangovers by lining your stomach beforehand with slow-release carbohydrates that’ll keep your blood sugar levels stable (read: oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread) or by drinking milk, which helps protect your stomach lining. Discover more easy ways to drink sensibly this festive season.
Detox: Stock up your bathroom cabinet before party season starts, so you can have a hangover fix close at hand. “The herb milk thistle and the omega-6 fatty acid GLA may help some people with hangovers,” advises Lovell. If you’re not sure where to find sources of GLA, head to your nearest health foods store and ask for borage oil, blackcurrant seed oil or evening primrose oil.