Staying heart healthy AND enjoying Christmas food … a practical guide on how to do both
For many of us Christmas is all about enjoying the delicious festive fare with family and friends, but how do you do this at the same time as sticking to a heart-healthy diet? Follow our suggestions below and you can have the best of both worlds. Looking after your heart health in this way also means you are less likely to pile on the pounds over the festive season.
- Start the day with an oat-based breakfast. Having a good breakfast means you are less likely to pick at unhealthy snacks mid-morning or overeat at lunch time. Overnight oats, porridge or an oat-based muesli are particularly good choices as oats can help to lower blood cholesterol.
- Switch to rapeseed oil or olive oil for roasting and watch how much is used. Unsaturated fats such as rapeseed and olive oil are excellent for roasting your turkey and potatoes. Not only do they give beautifully crisp results, they're also heart healthy, unlike the saturated fat in butter. As all fats are high in calories, still watch how much you use.
- Make a tasty nut stuffing. Many stuffing recipes and ready-made stuffing options are high in saturated fat. Nut stuffing makes an equally delicious accompaniment to roast turkey but contains mainly the heart healthy unsaturated fat. Walnuts are well worth including in your stuffing as they have the added benefit of containing heart healthy Omega 3 fats. Try our Christmas nut loaf recipe.
- Be turkey savvy. Turkey is a healthy, low-fat meat which is high in protein and B vitamins. However, to keep the fat in your Christmas dinner to a minimum, opt for the white breast meat and avoid the skin. If you are making gravy from the meat juices, first spoon off the fat and include vegetable cooking water for extra flavour and nutrients.
- Keep a check on the roast potatoes. A Christmas lunch wouldn’t be the same without roast potatoes, but they tend to be high in fat so watch how many you eat. Replace some of those roast potatoes with boiled potatoes. You can cut down on your fat by roasting potatoes in larger chunks, as this reduces the amount of fat each potato absorbs.
- Go to town on the veg. Christmas is a great opportunity to include a huge variety of vegetables. Have serving bowls full of carrots, parsnips, red cabbage, peas, broccoli and of course Brussel sprouts on the table so everyone can pick and choose what they want. As a guide include enough vegetables to cover a third to a half of each plate. Serving them first makes sure you can pile them high. Be adventurous with the Brussel sprouts by stir-frying them in a teaspoon of rapeseed or olive oil, with walnuts.
- Opt for plant-based alternatives to dairy cream. There are several alternatives to dairy cream now available in the shops, including soya and oat alternatives to cream, so try these to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your Christmas deserts. Avoid creams that contain coconut or palm oil as these contain high levels of saturated fat. Other lower saturated fat options are 0% yogurt, lite crème fraiche or making your own custard with skimmed milk.
- Indulge in fruit-based puddings. Incorporating fruit-based puddings into your Christmas feast will bump up your fibre intake so you are less likely to get blood sugars highs and lows. Including tinned or frozen fruit such as raspberries or satsuma segments is a practical option as you can stock up on in the run up to Christmas. Try this mouth-watering Christmas desert. It’s also a good idea to have a fresh fruit salad in the fridge over Christmas as a light desert option following a big meal .
- Stock up on healthy snacks. Rather than having a tin of assorted chocolates or biscuits, have healthy snacks at the ready. Nuts in their shells displayed with a nutcracker look great amongst the Christmas decorations. Having to crack the nuts open takes time and means you don’t eat too many. A handful of nuts is known to be heart healthy and also helps with appetite control. Alternatively have a bowl of easy peel satsumas displayed for anyone who is getting peckish. Dates stuffed with a little peanut butter and chocolate are a fabulous sweet treat, while popcorn made with cinnamon and a little brown sugar are another tasty, high fibre snack alternative.
- Practice mindful eating to get maximum satisfaction from every mouthful. Christmas is typically a time to overindulge however did you know we get the most enjoyment from the initial mouthfuls of a dish and less satisfaction as we continue to eat? Therefore, opt for small portions over the Christmas period and really savour the lovely flavours and aromas of your dish. You can always go back for more. Eating slowly and mindfully will help to avoid overeating as it takes time for the message to get to your brain that your stomach is full.
- Get creative with leftovers. Rather than throwing food away, use your leftovers to make a delicious meal after Christmas. The flavours are often better second time round so treasure food left in the serving dishes and treat them as an environmentally friendly, cheap bonus meal. It is also worth boiling up the turkey carcass to get a nutritious tasty stock for future meals and soups.
- Take an after-dinner walk. Exercise is important for heart health and getting outside for a walk in the fresh air after a large Christmas meal will aid digestion and help you feel energised rather than sluggish. It is definitely worth planning into your Christmas Day agenda.
- Have a break from large meals with a bowl of soup. Having a bowl of soup is a great option when you need a break from big meals over Christmas. As long as you avoid creamy versions, they are normally low calorie and at the same time they are very satisfying and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Try our delicious soup recipes.
- Go easy on the Christmas Day tipple. Alcohol has an unhealthy effect on blood cholesterol and blood pressure and can also lead to weight gain. So, to look after your health, moderate your intake over Christmas. Decide in advance how much you are happy to drink and only have this amount in the house. Space out your alcoholic drinks by having a glass of water in between each glass of alcohol and have lots of non-alcoholic alternatives available. Try adding soda water or diet lemonade to wine to make a refreshing, long lasting spritzer. Perhaps consider making a healthy seasonal punch by gently warming a mixture of orange juice, grape juice and a little mixed spice, and adding orange or satsuma slices and cloves. This is a delicious drink for welcoming guests and makes the house smell wonderfully festive.