I think we’ve all come to terms with the fact that around Christmas we’ll be guilty of eating unhealthily. That’s something we seem to simply accept, with a firm resolution that after Christmas – or maybe after the New Year’s – we’ll get back on track, eat whole, clean foods, hit the gym and put an end to all of our unhealthy habits. And although the majority of festive treats are, indeed, full of fat and sugar (both are fine when consumed in moderation, but the sin we’re most often guilty of is overeating – especially bad when you overeat on unhealthy food), demonizing Christmas food as a whole is a bit unfair. Here are a few health benefits of Christmas food, which you might have never thought about. And when you end up feeling guilty after this year’s Christmas dinner, think back to reading this article and don’t be too harsh on yourself.
1. Dried fruits
Dried fruits are a common ingredient of Christmas desserts. Raisins in cakes and cookies? Mince pies or puddings literally filled with dried fruits? Chances are, you’re going to consume a fair amount of them. And although they’re rich in sugar, they also come packed with vitamins and minerals. For example, raisins are rich in fiber, which helps aid your digestion, iron, necessary for red blood cell production, potassium, which plays an important part in regulating blood pressure, and calcium, which keeps your bones strong and healthy. Prunes, another common ingredient of Christmas puddings and pies, provide a good amount of vitamin A (important for keeping healthy immune system and vision) and vitamin K (great for heart health). And just like raisins, they come with loads of fiber too.
Tip: if you do your baking at home, always try to use high quality ingredients. Avoid dried fruits with loads of added sugar or oil – they’re already sweet enough!
Just like dried fruits, nuts are widely present in Christmas desserts. They may be extremely high in calories (after all, they mainly consist of fat), but don’t let that overshadow the undeniable health benefits they come with. First of all, the kind of fat you’ll find in nuts is among the healthiest ones, so don’t think of it in the same categories as butter or lard. Nuts contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as the prominent Omega-3 fatty acid. They reduce the risk of heart disease and decrease inflammation. They are also believed to prevent cancer. Beside halthy fats, nuts bring other benefits too. For example, walnuts and almonds are rich in vitamin E and copper. Nuts are also a good source of protein.
If you want to include healthy snacks in your Christmas menu, try this simple dried fruits&nuts snack recipe:
When you think of Christmas in terms of spices, chances are the first things you’ll think about will be gingerbread – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves… You’ll find the above in cookies and cakes, but also mulled wine, ever so popular in winter. All of the above spices are not only tasty, but also insanely powerful in terms of health benefits they bring – and cinnamon certainly is among the spices widely known for that. It lowers blood sugar levels and helps prevent heart disease. It’s also a good source of dietary fiber and manganese. Keep in mind, though, that excess amounts of cinnamon can be toxic. Don’t try to overuse it, the amount you’ll find in your dessert will be just fine. 😉 Moving on to ginger, it’s known for its anti-inflammatory effects. It also helps relief muscle pain. Nutmeg is great for brain health, and it also treats insomnia and helps digestion. Cloves are high in antioxidants and vitamin C.
If you’re in need of a gingerbread cookie recipe, here’s one you might want to try out:
4. Tangerines & oranges
One of the things we associate with Christmas are oranges and tangerines. You’ll likely find them on the Christmas table. Don’t treat them as decoration! If you need a snack, pick one of them. 🙂 Oranges and tangerines contain less sugar than most fruits. Oranges do, however, bring loads of fiber, vitamin C, thiamine, folate and potassium. Tangerines contain less vitamin C and fiber, but have higher contents of vitamin A instead.
5. Roast dinner
Last – but by no means least – is the gem, the main star of Christmas celebrations: roast dinner. It can be a feast on its own. The good news is that it’s not as unhealthy as you might assume. Lean, white meat, turkey or chicken, ever so present on the Christmas table, are a great source of protein. And let’s not forget about the side vegetables! Brussel sprouts, for instance, aside from being high in fiber and antioxidants (like most fruits and vegetables) are rich in vitamin K and provide Omega-3 fatty acids. Carrots, on the other hand, are rich in beta-carotene – important for good vision and healthy immune system. So as long as you don’t go crazy with heavy sauces, butter and gravy, your roast dinner can actually be considered pretty healthy.
Bonus: mental bliss
As a bonus benefit, I’d list the mental profits from having a stress-free feast in the company of your nearest and dearest. The last days before Christmas are often hectic – we queue in supermarkets for hours, in desperate need to get the remaining presents and all ingredients for our Christmas dinner. Having a few days off and being able to spend them in a stress-free environment is priceless – try to lift some stress off your mind too. There’s no point in worrying about how unhealthy the food is and how much weight you’ll gain – after all, even if you massively overeat on two or three days in a row, you won’t gain significant amounts of fat (as long as you don’t let the overindulging habits roll over into next year, of course). So relax. Have that mince pie. Have that generously iced cookie. And enjoy your festive time. 🙂