As we prepare for the traditional family Christmas dinner gathering, our expert nutrtionist takes a moment to highlight some of the most nourishing traditional ingredients.
Is it possible to eat healthily at Christmas? By Glen Matten
I get it; what are we even doing talking about healthy eating at Christmas? I mean, all that healthy eating stuff is supposed to come after Christmas, not before, and only when we’ve gorged on at least our own body weight in mince pies. January is diet season for a reason…
So I’ve no intention of breaking with tradition at this most festive time of year, say by urging restraint at the buffet table (impossible), reminding you to alternate your alcoholic drinks with a glass of water (who even remembers that after the second drink?), or suggest you opt for buying a low-fat pavlova instead (just wrong in so many ways). Because here’s the thing; quite a few of our traditional Christmas favourites are actually brilliantly healthy foods in the first place.
Christmas is a time of celebration, so let’s not dampen that spirit by getting all holier than thou with food admonitions, and instead appreciate that some of our traditional and most cherished Christmas day faves are surprising healthy fare. Here’s my top 5:
Brussels Sprouts: Notable for being a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which are unique for their rich concentration of glucosinolates, natural plant compounds with cancer-protective properties. It is in fact the breakdown products of glucosinolates, known as isothiocyanates, which are primarily responsible for the cancer-busting effects of cruciferous vegetables, and why regularly consuming the likes of Brussels sprouts is linked with a reduced risk of numerous common cancers.
Chestnuts: Chestnuts are quite an oddball among nuts, due to a much lower fat content and much higher carb content than their counterparts. And unusually for a nut, they boast appreciable amounts of vitamin C. But where they do fall in line with other nuts is with their impressive level of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and on that front, they are right up there with very best of them, namely walnuts and pecans.
Clementines: Great for a winter vitamin C boost to help keep the immune system firing on all cylinders, and for supple skin thanks to the vital role of vitamin C in collagen formation. Of course, we can’t just reduce a complex food down to one or two nutrients, and the health benefits of citrus fruits such as clementines will have as much if not more to do with its rich collection of phytonutrients. These include flavonoids, with citrus fruits being a main dietary source of flavanones, consumption of which has been linked to a number of health benefits, notably a reduced risk for stroke.
Red cabbage: Like Brussels sprouts, red cabbage is another member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and thus chock full of glucosinolates. But red cabbage has another string to its nutritional bow, which is its rich content of anthocyanins, the natural plant pigments that put the ‘red’ into red cabbage. These are the same compounds found in berries, which have become hotly researched for their benefits for cardiovascular, metabolic and brain health.
Mulled wine: Whilst undoubtedly an indulgence, the combination of red wine and culinary spices packs a potent polyphenol-punch. When it comes to red wine, we hear mostly about its resveratrol content, but red wine provides a whole constellation of polyphenols which work synergistically to bring the health benefits of consuming it in moderation. Best news of all at this time of year is evidence to show that red wine appears to help ward off the common cold, with moderate drinkers having a greater than 40 percent reduction.