Ho Ho Ho - Raise a Toast and Let’s Feast

The traditional Christmas meal has the unfortunate reputation of being heavy, unhealthy and ensuring we’re all comatose by the time the Queen delivers her speech.

However if we moderate the portion sizes it doesn’t have to be heavy, and if you watch your mince pie intake it doesn’t have to be unhealthy either.

The Main Event

The main event, turkey, is a low-fat, high protein meat that is a great source of tryptophan. This amino acid helps synthesise our happy hormone serotonin, which may go some way to explaining why we actually laugh at the pretty awful jokes that fall out of the crackers. The vegetarian’s at the table may giggle even louder if their nut roast is heavy on cashews as these easily rival turkey in tryptophan levels. Serotonin itself is a precursor of melatonin, the hormone which governs our sleep cycle, which might explain why we’re snoring come time for Her Majesty.

Turkey is also a good source of B vitamins and the minerals selenium and zinc. B Vitamins are the building blocks of energy and help us cope with stress and also, possibly, visiting relatives. Selenium is a potent antioxidant and, with zinc, helps our immune system cope with all the other not-so good things that visitors bring with them, all those sneezes and snuffles that come through the door at this time of year.

Pork is also rich in vitamin B and there won’t be many Christmas diners missing out on their chipolatas or pork stuffing. So if your smile is starting to feel more like a grimace, grab a chipolata, chew and exhale. Life is good.

Side Action

And, of course, the other players on the table are the vegetables. Make sure your plate is half full of vegetables before piling anything else on and you’re already on the way to a healthy new year.

First off, obviously, is the notorious sprout. They contain a particularly pungent phytonutrient glucosinolate which does make them “love-‘em-or-loathe-‘em” but also makes them particularly excellent for the health of our livers which work so hard over the Christmas period. Apparently one Brussel sprout contains as many glucosinolates as a whole head of cabbage. They are also rich in sulphur which might, ahem, explain another reason for their notoriety (just open that window behind your great uncle…).

However that sulphur is equally crucial for efficient liver function and is also found in onions. So go heavy on the onions in the sage and onion stuffing.

Roast potatoes may seem like the villain of the piece, so be moderate with the fat and make sure you use saturated fat such as duck fat which is more stable at high temperatures (coconut fat for vegetarians). This fat content will help make the most of absorbing the fat-soluble beta-carotenes from those carrots (and yes, they are good for eye health – just ask Rudolph as he chomps his way through all those left at fireplaces across the globe). Add the potato’s vitamin C content to that of the sprouts and carrots and you’ll give your immune system a boost too.

Don’t let us forget the cranberry sauce, keep the sugar content low and it might even count as one of your seven-a-day. Cranberries have a reputation for helping out with urinary issues as they are particularly high in antioxidants which may prevent bacteria from settling in the urinary tract. Potentially useful if our water intake is going down but our alcohol intake is going up…

And finally gravy (if made from home-made bone broth) can be stock full of minerals, amino acids and collagen. Nutritional Therapists are always extolling the wonderful healing nature of bone broths and gravy is an excellent opportunity to hide nutrition where your family won’t even notice it.

So, Christmas is a time for feasting but feasting doesn’t have to mean poor nutrition. Play your cards right, load your plate right and you can start next year healthier than the last.

Ho Ho Ho People, Happy Christmas.

By Saffron Rogerson

11 November 2016