We all love the rituals that come with the Christmas season – getting together with family and friends to give gifts, watch classic TV and decorate the tree. Unfortunately, another Christmas tradition is, of course, overindulgence with festive treats, tipples and too many mince pies – all of which leave many of us feeling sluggish and unhealthy come January.

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However, Christmas doesn’t have to mean spending the new year clawing back to good health. Here's how to have a very merry Christmas while still being kind to your heart.

Next, have a look at our healthy Christmas recipes and read how to stay healthy over Christmas.

Snack smart

Clementines

The main event on Christmas Day may be lunch, but making sure you have a satisfying breakfast will help stop you picking at fatty and sugary foods during the morning. Make breakfast a treat by serving poached or boiled eggs or a fruit platter with yogurt and some wholegrain bread or toast – it might just stop you reaching for those mid-morning chocolates.

Smaller portions mean fewer calories (provided you don’t eat twice as many). Choose bite-sized mince pies and top the pie with a star or holly leaf shape rather than a lid to reduce the total amount of pastry and saturated fat, or use an alternative pastry such as the filo in our filo mince pies.

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Don’t leave clementines languishing at the bottom of your Christmas stocking – seasonal fruits contribute towards your five-a-day, support the immune system and help combat coughs and colds.

The big festive feast

Turkey meat is naturally lean, but the skin adds to the saturated fat content. Remove it before you serve the turkey and you’ll cut the fat by up to a third. See all our turkey recipes.

Even if you’re not keen on sprouts (although, with our delicious sprout recipes we think you'll change your mind), make sure you have a good helping of seasonal vegetables including carrots and parsnips. Boiling or steaming keeps the calories down but roasting in a little oil helps our bodies absorb protective nutrients like, beta-carotene more effectively.

Watch out for salt – your Christmas dinner can contain as much as 15g of salt – that’s over twice the recommended daily amount. Cooking from scratch and reading labels are the two key ways to help manage your salt intake.

Portion distortion: if your best plates are much bigger than your everyday ones, you might want to think twice about getting the fancy China out. Bigger plates mean bigger portions, which may leave you uncomfortably full, not to mention the extra calories, saturated fat and salt that come with a bigger portion.

Be a healthy host

Slow cooker turkey roast for Christmas

If you’re having people over, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re not stuffing your guests as well as the turkey...

  • If you’re planning a three-course meal or a meal that comes with lots of accompaniments, serve smaller portions.
  • Make sure you provide plenty of vegetables or a salad alongside the main dish so your guests can fill up on these and you help them reach their five-a-day.
  • Avoid adding salt when you’re cooking and don’t automatically put the cellar on the table – guests may not think about adding it if it isn’t there already. Try having little dishes of flavourings that complement your meal, such as fresh herbs, chopped chillies, lemon wedges or freshly ground black pepper.
  • Use your turkey leftovers wisely – a turkey curry can come laden with cream and salt but it doesn’t have to be an unhealthy option. Add lots of vegetables and lentils and make a spicy, tomato-based sauce. Try this healthier twist on the post-Christmas curry.

Hearty partying

  • Don’t give up before you’ve gone out. Think positively about yourself and know that you can stop at one or two treats – you don’t need to go crazy at the buffet table just because it’s party season.
  • Buffets can be a disaster zone, so aim to fill half your plate with salad and vegetables, and the rest with protein-based canapés like salmon and chicken. Take time selecting and move away from the table as soon as your plate is full to avoid non-stop grazing.
  • Running on empty? Arriving at a party hungry makes you more likely to overindulge. An empty stomach is also not sensible if you’re thinking of having an alcoholic tipple. Have a small snack, like a yogurt, before you leave the house, this will take the edge off your appetite and make sure you drink safely.

Plan ahead

Throwing a party may seem a daunting task but with some planning ahead the party can be both a success and an enjoyable, good-for-you event.

Try these recipes for a healthier take on Christmas classics:

Healthy gravy
Healthy stuffing
Chilli-charred sprouts

More on heart health

For more information on heart health visit the British Heart Foundation

Try recipes and read our top tips to keep your heart healthy:

Heart-healthy recipes
Spotlight on… heart disease
Heart-healthy portions
Heart-healthy baking tips


This article was written by Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation. This article was reviewed on 11 December by registered nutritionist, 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.

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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.

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