The festive season poses a risk of overindulgence for some of us. Nutritionist Natasha Alonzi tells Sofiane Kennouche how the traditional Christmas dinner stacks up
Smoked salmon is a popular choice across British Christmas Day dinner tables thanks to its widely-known reputation as a source of Omega 3 fatty acid.
However, the food has been found to have nitrates and nitrites within it, of which some can be carcinogenic. Farmed salmon can also be a source of carcinogenic Polychlorinated Biphenols (PCBs), with organic or wild-farmed salmon recommended.
Natasha says: “On the whole, this is a healthy starter for Christmas Day. Poached, steamed or oven-baked salmon is a better alternative for consuming more regularly.
“I would add a salad or vegetables to go alongside the smoked salmon; fennel and clementine are a nice combination as is avocado and tomato.”
The staple of the Christmas Day meal is linked to happiness in more ways than one.
As well as being the centrepiece of the typical Christmas meal, turkey is a source of tryptophan, which in turn creates serotonin. Natasha reveals that serotonin is a neurotransmitter that generates feelings of happiness in the brain, which may explain why you feel contented and sleepy after your meal.
As a lean meat, turkey is also less fattening than options such as roast beef.
Natasha adds: “Some might say roasting in butter might be fattening but I disagree – butter and coconut oil are good sources of saturated fats, and are more stable when heated at high temperatures compared to sunflower oil.”
Along with the turkey, an array of roast, boiled and steamed vegetables accompany a good Christmas Day meal.
It is advisable to roast your potatoes in a low-fat alternative oil such as coconut oil, which is a saturated fat and is used by the body almost immediately for energy. Skin-on roast potatoes contain more nutrients than skinless, and you can also include garlic and/or rosemary to increase nutrient levels.
Parsnips – as a source of B vitamins, potassium, and calcium – are also great to have with Brussel sprouts, as their isothyocinates speed up the body’s detoxification processes.
When it comes to sauces, Natasha recommends homemade gravy with bone broths rich in protein and amino acids. Cranberry sauce can assist the urinary tract, but this benefit is voided if too much sugar is used.
Mince pies can also be made healthier if you replaced the butter, white sugar and flour with coconut butter, xylitol and gluten-free flour such as buckwheat. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which does not raise blood sugar as high as white sugar does. It’s even been found to help remove plaque from teeth, too.
“Cream is rather indulgent, however, that’s what Christmas is all about”
An expert’s assessment
So what of the Christmas Day meal as a whole? What impact can a day’s gluttony have on our health?
“In general, I think Christmas Day food can be really healthy,” Natasha says.
She recommends that coconut butter with olive oil is a good substitute for butter, as well as cream being swapped for natural yoghurt.
“ The Christmas meal has a good mixture of protein, fats and carbohydrates. If it’s all home-cooked then it’s an opportunity for the whole family to get together and eat well.
“As far as energy is concerned, eating protein at each meal and cutting out white refined carbohydrates may improve energy levels, turkey and salmon are good sources of protein and try to avoid using white refined products such as white sugar and bread.”