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 for many of us is overindulgence, with festive treats, tipples and too many mince pies leaving many of us feeling rather sluggish and unhealthy come January.


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

Snack smart

  • The main event on Christmas Day may be the lunch, but making sure you have breakfast will help to 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 some fresh, wholegrain bread or toast – it might just stop you reaching for those mid-morning chocolates!
  • Make mine mini: smaller portions mean fewer calories, provided you don’t eat twice as many! Choosing bite-sized mince pies is a great idea. Top the pie with a star or holly leaf shape rather than a pastry lid to reduce the total amount of pastry and saturated fat.
  • Don’t leave clementines languishing at the bottom of your Christmas stocking – seasonal fruits will help you towards your 5-a-day.

The big festive feast

  • Turkey meat is naturally lean, but the skin adds to the saturated fat content considerably. Remove it before you serve the turkey and you’ll cut the fat by up to half.
  • Even if you’re not keen on sprouts, make sure you have a good helping of other seasonal vegetables like carrots and parsnips. Boil or steam them rather than roasting to keep the calories down.
  • Watch out for salt in sauce: the salt content of bread can vary widely, so make sure you read the nutrition information when you’re selecting one for your bread sauce and try to go for a loaf with less than 1g of salt per 100g.
  • 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 can leave you uncomfortably full, not to mention the extra calories, saturated fat and salt that come with a bigger portion.

Be a healthy host

  • 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...
  • 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 the spicy sauce tomato based. It will go further and give your guests a healthier twist on a post-Christmas classic.
  • 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 help them to get their 5-a-day.
  • Avoid adding salt when you’re cooking and don’t automatically put the cellar on the table – your 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 simply freshly ground black pepper.

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.
  • Running on empty? Arriving at a party hungry will mean you’re more likely to overindulge. An empty stomach is also not sensible if you’re thinking of having an alcoholic tipple. Have a small snack before you leave the house, to take the edge off your appetite and make sure you drink safely.

Plan ahead

Why not try these recipes for classic Christmas food with a healthy twist?

Honey-roasted swede with chilli & cumin
Sprouts with green beans, lemon & pine nuts
Jewelled cranberry & juniper red cabbage
Turkey noodle soup

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. It 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.

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