It may sound too good to be true, but the best Christmas treats can be healthy too. Discover 10 hidden health benefits in your favourite festive foods.
1. Smoked salmon
An excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids – which are great for heart health – smoked salmon also contains only 185 calories per 100g portion. Smoked salmon is higher in salt than poached or baked salmon, but they're all a good source of protein, with useful amounts of vitamin B3 (niacin), which helps your body break down food for energy.
High in protein and low in fat – as long as you don't eat the skin! A 100g (cooked weight) portion of light meat contains just 2g of fat, while the same sized portion of dark meat contains 6.6g of fat. As well as being rich in protein, turkey is a good source of selenium, which is important for the normal function of the immune system, while the dark meat is a good source of iron.
Cranberries contain good amounts of vitamin C as well as the beneficial antioxidant proanthocyanidin, which gives the berries their jewel-like red colour. Research from Finland suggests that drinking cranberry juice may help beat urinary tract infections, although no work has been carried out on cranberry sauce.
4. Red cabbage
Surprisingly high in calcium, which is required for healthy bones and teeth and a good source of folate. Red cabbage is richer in vitamin C and protective anthocyanins than the green varieties making them helpful for maintaining skin health and potentially lowering the risk of heart disease.
A rich source of beta-carotene which your body makes into vitamin A, which is important for eye and skin health. The darker in colour the carrot, the more beta-carotene it contains. Carrots are also a good source of potassium – needed to regulate fluid balance in the body – and, like most vegetables, are low in calories. Research shows that cooked carrots are beneficial for your health – cooking aids your absorption of carotenoids.
A good source of folate, parsnips contain almost a third as much fibre as an equivalent portion of carrots – and twice the number of calories, although they are still low-calorie, as long as you don't add fat through roasting.
7. Roast potatoes
Roasting potatoes in oil piles on the calories, about twice as many as plainly boiled potatoes – but it is Christmas after all! Thankfully potatoes are still low in saturated fat, if cooked in vegetable oil, and are a reasonable source of all sorts of nutrients including potassium and magnesium, as well as folate. Plus they contain reasonable amounts of fibre which helps keep you full and satisfied after your meal.
8. Brussels sprouts
A rich source of folate and vitamin C, sprouts also contain vitamin B6 which is involved in the metabolism of amino acids, the formation of red blood cells and a healthy nervous system. Along with many green vegetables, Brussels sprouts also contain a pigment known as lutein, which may stop blood vessels clogging up and so help prevent strokes and heart disease – and they're reasonably high in fibre.
9. Mince pies
It's the pastry that piles on the saturated fat and calories – in general, the more expensive the pies, the thinner the pastry and the greater the fruit content. The dried fruit means there will be some contribution to potassium intake.
10. Christmas pudding
A lot of Christmas puddings, especially shop bought ones, are likely to be quite high in both saturated fat and calories, but the dried fruit is a source of potassium – and a generous portion will also provide a reasonable amount of iron and fibre. But it pays to shop around or make your own – puddings with more nuts and fruit are likely to have a lower saturated fat content.
Healthy Christmas recipes
Pot-roast beef with French onion gravy
Herb roast pork with vegetable roasties & apple gravy
Make ahead Prosecco & wild mushroom gravy
Cranberry & chestnut falafel
Savoy cabbage with shallots & fennel seeds
Glazed sprouts with caramelised red onions
Best-ever roast potatoes
Butternut, chestnut & lentil cake
This page was last reviewed on 2nd November 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.
What are your favourite feel-good foods for Christmas? Let us know in the comments below...