Okay, so Christmas dinner isn’t really the time to be over thinking the health benefits of what’s on our plates. Especially when we dedicate the rest of the year to eating well. Yet we do think it’s worth knowing that you actually are getting the micronutrients in amid the Christmassy treats. The seasonal ingredients associated with Christmas have some really potent health benefits. Who knew?!
It’s pretty hard to allude to any health benefits from eating Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Christmas cake for days on end, but many of the ingredients associated with the traditional Christmas dinner can have some amazing benefits to our health. Have a look at this lot:
This under-appreciated staple contains a substance called Fructo-Oligo-Saccharide, or FOS for short. This is a very large molecular weight sugar that gets broken down by our gut bacteria. It is broken down by means of fermentation. When this fermentation process happens, the bacterial colony increase in number. The bacteria also release by-products from this fermentation, such as short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. These substances can stimulate repair mechanisms within the gut wall. FOS basically helps to maintain the long-term health of the gut and microbiome. This makes it a PRE-biotic.
Tip: To cut down on excess oil, why not try making a parsnip puree by boiling in a little vegetable stock, with some sauteed garlic. When the parsnip is soft, use a stick blender to make a smooth puree.
Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are a nutritional powerhouse. They have vast amounts of vitamin C, and magnesium in them. However, the thing that really makes them a powerhouse is a group of substances called ‘isothiocyanates’. These are substances that are found in plants that give them a slightly fiery nature. The extreme end of this scale is mustard, with its powerful heat. But if you have ever bitten into a raw Brussels sprout or some very dark cabbage, you will notice heat there. That is the isothiocyanates doing their thing. What is so special about these fiery substances? They have been found to be antimutagenic. This means that they can help to protect DNA within our cells from damage. They also stimulate the activity of certain intracellular enzymes involved with ‘cleaning house’. Long story short, they protect our cells from damage.
Tip: to make Brussels sprouts less boring, try halving them, coating them in olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until turning golden brown on the edges. Trust me…..it is magical!
I am an absolute sucker for red cabbage. Love the stuff! With a little balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, and some red onion, all stewed down together as a side for Christmas dinner. Lovely. As well as being rich in isothiocyanates as above, they are also rich in a group of compounds called anthocyanins. These are responsible for the deep purple colour. They belong to the family of phytochemicals called flavonoids. These substances have been widely studied in the UK and they have been shown to have an interesting effect upon cardiovascular health. They help to protect the endothelium, the skin that lines the inside of blood vessels, from damage. They also cause the endothelium to release substances that relax the muscular walls of blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure.
Whether it’s beef, lamb, chicken or turkey, a roast is a great source of carnitine. Carnitine is an amino acid produced in the liver and its main role is to transport fatty acids to the cells. Once fat is in the cells, it can be utilised for energy production. The more carnitine we have available, the more we can use fat as an energy source. Carnitine also helps with the digestion process by stimulating the secretion of important gastric and pancreatic juices which help to break down our food, ensuring we can absorb the nutrients present. In a nutshell, the carnitine present in your roast helps you digest your food, and makes sure you are burning fat as an energy source.
In recent years, people have begun to seek alternatives to turkey for their Christmas lunch. Many are even abandoning poultry all together and are opting for fish as a meat alternative. If reducing red meat and poultry consumption is something you have been toying with, we highly recommend bringing salmon to your Christmas dinner plate. This beautiful fish will take so well to the seasonal flavours far better than many of the stronger-flavoured fish will.
However, the best thing about opting for salmon is the amazing omega 3 fatty acids that it contains. These have so many health benefits, it could easily fill a book. Omega 3 fatty acids are the building blocks that the body uses to manufacture its own inbuilt anti-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins. Increased omega 3 intake can deliver a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3 fatty acids are also vital for the maintenance of cell membranes, keeping them flexible and functioning properly. They have also been very strongly associated with healthier HDL/LDL Cholesterol ratios. They are important for healthy skin, healthy eyes, and a healthy brain.
Salmon is also rich in trace elements such as selenium that is used by the body to manufacture enzymes within cells that protect the cells from damage and clean up shop.
Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that may protect the body from oxidative stress, and as a result, protect against cardiovascular disease. So a few glasses this winter is nothing to stress about. Research focuses on moderate red wine intake, and it’s important to note that high consumption (!) of any alcoholic beverages can cause chronic health issues.
So, even though Christmas is associated with decadence and indulgence, and we do think you should enjoy some of that, it is also abundant in healthy, versatile, flavoursome ingredients – without you even having to adapt the feast you know and love. So fill up on these fabulous staples, and have fun!