There is no denying it …Christmas is upon us in all its booze filled, sugar laden and chocolate coated glory! Not the best time for a health conscious lifestyle you might think; in fact, many see it as an opportunity to indulge in sweet naughtiness.
There will always be January and plenty of New Year resolutions to lose those extra festive pounds and try out a variety of diets and detox regimes.
You might be surprised that underneath the Christmas tree, obstructed by chocolate Santas and selection boxes, lie a number of traditional, seasonal nutritional treats which make an appearance almost exclusively on Christmas Day!
There is really no need to give up all hope of a festive season that is also kind to your health. Sure, we will drink one too many glasses of mulled wine, eat far beyond the point of satisfaction and dive far too deep into an ocean of mince pies because, after all, it is Christmas and why shouldn’t we?! Just a few savvy choices can not only save you from sugar oblivion but also nourish your organs along the way. Below are my favourite seasonal “super foods”, so stack your plates high with these special treats and, come the new year, you will still recognise the same healthy YOU in the mirror!
There is really more to love than to hate! These are just tiny little cabbages waiting to deliver their nutritious might. When served steamed rather than boiled or roasted alongside your Christmas lunch, their abilities to lower cholesterol are second to none. Surely this will offset all those mini sausages wrapped in bacon and golden roast potatoes dripping with goose fat! Slightly steamed Brussels sprouts are more effective in binding bile salts and excreting cholesterol than the raw variety. There is really no excuse when it comes to Brussels sprouts so eat and enjoy, in the knowledge that they are helping you out with the naughtier stuff on your plate.
Their secret weapon, however, comes in the form of glucosinolates. These compounds have long been attributed to broccoli and credited with incredible effectiveness in fighting and preventing cancer. Brussels sprouts contain more cancer fighting compounds than common favourites such as kale, mustard greens and cabbage.
If this is not reason enough for you to fill at least half your plate with these green gems, here is another one: they will keep your liver safe from the assaults of Bucks Fizz, mulled wine and all other Christmas tipples. Rich in sulphur, they mop up dangerous alcohol metabolites and should really be part of a dry Martini instead of an olive!
History could not have chosen a more fitting bird for the big occasion! Besides being super lean, your Christmas turkey contains phenomenal amounts of tryptophan. Once this amino acid reaches your brain, it is rapidly converted into serotonin and melatonin.
Christmas lunch will make you feel both happy and sleepy at the same time thanks to these clever neurotransmitters. And what better way to relax than with a belly full of tryptophan on the sofa! Serotonin also has a secret life away from its neurotransmitter duties. 90% of serotonin is actually found in the gut regulating peristalsis, smooth muscle contraction and gastric emptying, which is always helpful in digesting a big Christmas meal. Melatonin has another ace up its sleeve as well. You would not necessarily see turkey as a free radical scavenger but melatonin is one of the most powerful, naturally occurring antioxidants!
Once you have piled your plate high with Brussels sprouts and turkey, chestnuts are a popular addition to the festive meal. These ‘nuts’ are more similar to our staple starchy foods such as sweet potatoes or plantain. Although lower in protein, they are still brimming with nutrition and a far better source of carbohydrates than roast potatoes. Surprisingly, they are an almost unrivalled source of Vitamin C with 43mg per 100g – that’s very similar to strawberries! Fatty acids contained in these ‘tree nuts’ support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In fact, they are more similar to olives than to any other nut.
Besides chocolate and other sweets, marzipan is a popular indulgence, enjoyed as part of a Christmas Stollen or just by itself. At its best, marzipan only contains two ingredients – almonds and honey.
Much has been written about the health benefits of almonds but here is a quick recap: overall cardiovascular support, improving digestion and elimination, supporting cognitive function, aiding in blood sugar control, and contributing to bone and tooth health. Honey too can have some health benefits, especially if it is wild and raw but – let’s not forget that it contains 82% sugar.
Instead of buying already wrapped and readymade marzipan, make it in your own kitchen in next to no time!
200g grams of blanched almonds, 200g of honey and 2 egg whites blended in a food processor to form a smooth paste makes the most delicious (and almost medicinal) marzipan. Use Manuka honey to give your confectionary antibacterial and antiviral properties. Traditionally, marzipan is used as a lung tonic and can help with sore throats and chest infections!
So you see, with just a little thought of what goes onto your plate and into your stomach, you can eat, indulge and still do yourself a power of good in the process. Here’s a cheer for the Christmas superfoods and a Merry Christmas to you!