The surprising benefits of your Christmas dinner - and how to make it healthier!

'Tis the season to tuck in

Credit: Getty | Health benefits of Christmas dinner
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's the biggest food occasion of the year, and a time most of us tend to overindulge. But, you'll be glad to hear there are many surprising health benefits of your Christmas dinner.

Christmas Day often means a big booze blowout, a gigantic dinner and one too many trips to the chocolate tin – and that’s before you hit the cheese and biscuits.

But it's time to quit the guilt, because the annual festive feast might actually be good for you after all. Love Christmas Dinner? Here, nutritionist Rob Hobson explains why indulging yourself could actually be quite healthy…

The surprising health benefits of Christmas dinner

1) Turkey

Turkey is a lean meat high in protein and contains a rich source of vitamin B2, required to keep your skin, eyes and nervous system healthy. It’s also high in selenium, which protects cells from damage. One portion is two slices (80-100g).

Make it healthier: When cooking a turkey, remove the skin to reduce the saturated fat content and opt for the breast meat, which has fewer calories than the darker flesh of the thigh.

2) Pigs in blankets

Pigs in blankets are high in protein, which the body needs for growth and repair of tissues. They’re also a good source of vitamin B12 in the pork, which helps to make red blood cells and keeps the nervous system healthy. One portion is equal to two or three small sausages.

Make it healthier: Try to roast these on a cooling rack over a roasting tray in the oven to remove some of the fat during cooking.

Credit: Getty | Health benefits of Christmas dinner

3) Brussels sprouts

These are rich in vitamin K, which is required for blood clotting – to help heal cuts and wounds – and good bone health. These vegetables are also rich in zeaxanthin and lutein, two antioxidants that are beneficial for eye health. One portion is four or five sprouts.

Make it healthier: Try steaming your Brussels sprouts, rather than frying in oil, and cook with herbs instead of bacon.

4) Stuffing

If the stuffing is made from fresh, add ingredients such as nuts, seeds and dried fruits. These can add fibre to the stuffing and other key nutrients, such as vitamin E and magnesium. Aim for 30-50g per portion.

Make it healthier: Replace breadcrumbs with quinoa, which is packed with amino acids and calcium.

5) Parsnips

Parsnips (one portion is two parsnips) are a good source of fibre and folate, required for the body to form healthy red blood cells. They are also high in vitamin C, which aids the process of healing wounds.

Make it healthier: Try roasting your parsnips in light olive oil or steaming.

Credit: Getty | Health benefits of Christmas dinner

6) Potatoes

Roast potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, which allows the body to use and store energy from the protein and carbohydrates found in a variety of foods, as well as maintaining healthy skin. If you keep the skin on potatoes, then they are also a great source of fibre. One portion is two medium potatoes (around 200g).

Make it healthier: Try roasting baby potatoes with the skin on as they require hardly any oil. When serving, choose the bigger potatoes – they’ll have absorbed less fat during roasting.

7) Red cabbage

Rich in anthocyanins (the antioxidant that gives red cabbage its colour), they help to reduce the risk of heart disease. A single serving (80g-100g) has almost 100% of your RDA of vitamin C.

Make it healthier: Try steaming rather than cooking with red wine. This cabbage also makes a delicious raw slaw that works well with leftover meat on Boxing Day.

8) Gravy

If gravy is made using the stock from a meat carcass, then it may contain a decent amount of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin and B6. These vitamins help support the nervous system and convert the food you eat into energy.

Make it healthier: Skim the stock as you cook it to remove some of the fat, and stick to 50ml per portion.

Credit: Getty | Health benefits of Christmas dinner

9) Cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce is rich in vitamin C, which helps to protect cells from damage, maintains healthy skin and helps with wound healing. One portion is 2tsp.

Make it healthier: Some brands are lower in sugar but if you make your own, you can watch how much you add. Swap out sugar for a little honey, or a sweetener such as stevia.

10) Carrots

Carrots are high in vitamin A, which is important for immunity as it helps to maintain strong mucus membranes (which line your nose and windpipe) that act as a first line of defence against germs.

Make it healthier: Roast carrots (one medium carrot, around 80-100g is a portion) with cumin seeds or steam them. Stick to olive oil and limit the amount used.

11) Christmas pudding

Although high in sugar, Christmas pudding is rich in fibre from the dried fruit and nuts. Fibre is essential for healthy digestion and reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Make it healthier: Serve with yogurt or low fat crème fraîche instead of cream and stick to 80-100g per portion.

Faye M Smith
Senior Health and Lifestyle Writer

Faye M Smith is a Senior Health And Lifestyle writer working across Woman & Home, Feel Good You, Woman’s Own and Woman magazine.  Having gained an NCTJ postgraduate diploma, Faye has worked for 15 years in journalism, covering a range of lifestyle topics for companies including the BBC, Press Association, News UK and Hachette.