Festive Fuel: Five Christmas Favourites

We all expect our waistbands to expand a little over the festive season – in fact, the average Briton eats more than 4,000 calories on Christmas Day alone.

Flick through our slideshow to discover the healthiest seasonal nibbles - and how a standard portion should look. And if you’re planning to throw away the healthy eating rulebook during the party season, we’ve charitably included a few recovery and detox tips. Season's eatings!

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Turkey

Benefits: The perennial Christmas centrepiece, turkey is low in fat and high in muscle-building protein. Turkey is also an excellent source of B-vitamins, needed for energy production. Both the red and white meat is good for you; the white meat is slightly less calorific, whilst the red meat is a richer source of iron.

Make it healthier: Place a trivet or wire rack on the bottom of your roasting tin to drain away excess fat from around the turkey. Save extra calories by resisting the lure of the crispy skin. “The skin is where the fat is mostly stored, so by removing it you can save approximately 40 calories per 100g,” says Henrietta Bailey, nutritionist with Pure Sports Medicine (puresportsmed.com).

Detox: None needed. You might get bored of turkey by New Year’s Eve, but your body loves this super healthy meat.

Recipe idea: Tuck into our bacon topped British turkey recipe or discover how to make the most of turkey leftovers.

Brussel sprouts

Benefits: Sprouts might be a lesser-loved vegetable but they are the nutritional stars of the festive season. Along with other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, they contain powerful antioxidants and may offer protection against cancer. Even a concise list of all their nutrients is impressive, including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamins C and E and folic acid.

Make it healthier: Steam your Brussels instead of boiling them to retain more of their nutrients. Another top tip is to keep cooking time to a minimum (less than eight minutes) so they won't release the bitter compounds responsible for those off-putting aromas.

Detox: Make sure you get a second portion, as these bite-sized vegetables help counterbalance seasonal overindulgence. “Brussel sprouts actually help your body to detox, so eat plenty of them,” says Matt Lovell, a sports nutritionist who has worked with the England Rugby Team (sportsnutritionvlog.com).

Recipe idea: Make Brussel sprouts one of the most mouth-watering options on your Christmas dinner table with our delicious croquette recipe.

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Roast potatoes

Benefits: Christmas dinner just wouldn’t be the same without those crispy skins bursting with moreish soft potato. Admittedly, they aren’t the healthiest offering at the festive feast but roast potatoes do offer some nutrients that’ll help with your running. As well as being packed with carbohydrates, they offer vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Make it healthier: Many people love the flavor of roasties cooked in generous amounts of goose fat. However, there are healthier and equally flavoursome options. Henrietta Bailey recommends lightly coating the potatoes with olive oil and adding some fresh rosemary, which also offers antioxidant properties. Another top tip is to keep the potato skins on to preserve more of their nutrients.

Detox: After scoffing roast potatoes on Christmas Day, make the most of your carb intake – and burn off some of those calories - on a Boxing Day run.

Recipe idea: Use any leftover roasties in our quick, tasty Boxing Day frittata recipe.

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Cheese

Benefits: As well as being delicious, cheese contains protein, bone-strengthening calcium and B-vitamins. Unfortunately cheese is also extremely high in saturated fat, so watch your portion size to keep your heart healthy. Government guidelines suggest you stick to a matchbox-sized portion per day.  

Make it healthier: Add goat's or sheep’s cheese to your selection - they are lower in fat than those made from cows’ milk. You can also cut the calorie content by ditching the hunks of bread and complementing rich cheeses with the sharpness of fruit or chutneys. “Instead of having cheese with biscuits, why not have it with sliced apple,” says Henrietta Bailey.    

Detox: “Line up the running shoes and go for a run the day after Christmas to burn off some of those calories,” says Matt Lovell.

Recipe idea: Enjoy a delicious Stilton starter that packs a flavour punch without jaw-dropping calories.

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Whisky

Benefits: A warming tipple can banish winter chills; or at least, that’s our excuse. We’ve even got science on our side, as a small amount of alcohol (1-2 units a day) can improve circulation.

Make it healthier: Your liver can only handle one drink an hour, so try to drink in moderation. You can limit hangovers by lining your stomach beforehand with slow-release carbohydrates that’ll keep your blood sugar levels stable (read: oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread) or by drinking milk, which helps protect your stomach lining. Discover more easy ways to drink sensibly this festive season.

Detox: Stock up your bathroom cabinet before party season starts, so you can have a hangover fix close at hand. “The herb milk thistle and the omega-6 fatty acid GLA may help some people with hangovers” advises Matt Lovell. If you’re not sure where to find sources of GLA, head to your nearest health foods store and ask for borage oil, blackcurrant seed oil or evening primrose oil.

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