The health pros - and cons - of Christmas lunch

Turkey and Brussels sprouts are highly nutritious, but limit the mince pies. [Photo: Getty]

Many of us indulge in festive treats over the holiday season.

Christmas is a time to let our hair down, however, the Independent reported the average Briton puts away nearly 6,000 calories on December 25 - three times the NHS’ recommendation for women.

While mince pies and yule log will do your waistline no favours, other festive favourites - like turkey and Brussels sprouts - are highly nutritious.


Some find turkey bland, but the Christmas classic is very healthy.

“Turkey is a great choice,” dietitian Juliette Kellow told Yahoo UK. “It’s packed with protein, which helps to improve that feeling of fullness, and provides plenty of vitamins and minerals.

“A large portion of roast turkey (140g) provides 87% of our daily protein needs, a third of our requirements for zinc, and around half the phosphorus and vitamins B6 and B12 we need.

“To get the best mix of nutrients, eat both the light and dark meat. The light meat is richer in potassium and vitamin B3, while dark meat has twice as much iron, copper and zinc.”

Turkey’s health credentials are long, but it is important not to overload your plate.

“Our digestive system has to go into overdrive to digest a large amount of food,” Ms Kellow said.

“A side effect is excessive gas, which can cause belching, bloating, flatulence and discomfort.”

Some worry too much turkey may make them nod off, with the bird being rich in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan.

“Turkey contains tryptophan, however, it does not contain enough to cause sleepiness,” Lisa Stubbs, dietitian at The Hospital Group, told Yahoo UK.

Brussels sprouts

Some can’t imagine Christmas without them, while others can’t stomach the bitter vegetable. If you manage to get them down, Brussels are full of nutrients.

“Sprouts are packed with folate that’s important for our mental wellbeing,” Ms Kellow said.

“Plus, they add potassium and vitamin C to our diet, and are rich in two eye-friendly antioxidants called lutein and zeaxanthin, good intakes of which have been shown to protect against age-related macular degeneration.

“They also contain antioxidants called glucosinolates, which have been shown to form a cancer-busting compound called sulforaphane.”

Undoubtably good for you, sprouts have an “anti-social” reputation.

“Sprouts are notorious for creating flatulence,” Ms Kellow said.

“The natural sugars they contain are fermented in the lower intestine by bacteria and this produces gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as a side effect.

“Added to this, they also contain sulphur, which when broken down creates gases, such as hydrogen sulphide. It’s this that’s partly responsible for large amounts of smelly wind.”

If sprouts “don’t agree with you”, Ms Kellow recommends “less wind-inducing veg”, like carrots and swede.

Mulled wine

“Christmas is a time when booze is flowing but no matter how hard you want to party, to stay healthy and avoid hangovers, it’s important to drink sensibly,” Ms Kellow said.

Both men and women are advised to have no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

While it comes down to the size of the glass and strength of the tipple, this equates to around six glasses of wine.

Overindulging could leave you with a headache the next day, while also expanding your waistline.

“Booze is also packed with calories,” Ms Kellow said. “A glass of wine has 250 calories.”

Sophie Matthews - dietitian from The Hospital Group - stresses, however, much of the alcohol is lost during the mulling process.

“During heating, some of the alcohol is evaporated off,” she told Yahoo UK.

“There are alcoholic foods available during the festive season, including brandy butter or Irish liqueur creams, but unless you consume these in very large quantities, the alcohol you consume is very little.”

Christmas is also a time to let your hair down.

“The odd glass here and there over the Christmas period can be enjoyed,” Heather Fry, dietitian at The Hospital Group, told Yahoo UK.

Christmas pudding and mince pies

The perfect end to Christmas lunch, when enjoyed in moderation.

“While a small portion of Christmas pudding or the occasional mince pie is unlikely to do much harm to waistlines, constantly overindulging can soon start adding lots of extra sugar and calories to our diets,” she said.

If you feel you have had one slice too many, turn to festive fruits like satsumas or snack on almonds.

“You can add some festive spices and flavours to them,” Ms Kellow said. “Cinnamon or mixed spice work especially well.”

Treating yourself on Christmas Day is unlikely to do any long-term damage, as long as it doesn’t become a regular occurrence.

“Many of us spend the whole of December overindulging,” Ms Kellow said.

“We validate it by saying it’s only once a year but there are many other times when we also allow ourselves to overindulge.

“Valentine’s day, Easter, the barbecue season, Halloween, Bonfire night, birthdays and anniversaries are all times we ‘throw caution to the wind’.

“The key is to remember Christmas day is exactly that, a day.”