‘Tis the season to be jolly!
Well, not yet anyway, but close enough. Christmas is almost upon us this year, and you know what that means — presents, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and all the glorious Christmas food. From roast turkey to yule log cakes, the festive season brings plenty of delicious treats every year.
However, being the end of the year, many of us tend to overindulge on food and drink as a way of celebrating, and we end up stuffing ourselves silly. But did you know festive meals are usually high in sugar and unhealthy fats? If you live for the holidays and the food, brace yourself — this might be hard to swallow.
First of all, a disclaimer — we’re not here to ruin the holidays for you. Far from it. What we’re trying to do is make you aware of how unhealthy some of these foods can be, so you’ll be able to make better choices, and hopefully, it will lead to a healthier you — which could mean you live longer and have more Christmases ahead to celebrate. If that happens, you’re welcome. Now onto the meat (literally) of the matter.
Ho Ho Ho? More Like No No No
Roast turkey. Honey-baked ham. Roast beef. Mashed potatoes. Gingerbread cookies. Chocolate log cake. Eggnog and champagne.
Just picture these in your head and you might start salivating, and we don’t blame you. They’re all wonderfully delicious, but as the saying goes, “if it tastes good, it’s probably bad for you”. This does not always hold true though, so let’s analyze them one by one.
Usually the centrepiece on most Christmas dinner tables, traditional roast turkey is actually very nutritious as it contains lots of lean protein. It is also rich in tryptophan — a nutrient that our brains need to produce serotonin, the hormone that makes us feel happy. Turkey meat is also low in sodium, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about second helpings. You may want to choose white meat instead of dark meat though, as dark meat has a higher fat content. Another tip is to avoid eating the skin and sausage stuffing, as these tend to be high in fat and sodium.
Honey-glazed, or honey-baked, ham is another common Christmas food. Usually made from pork, ham is processed meat, which means that it was made to last longer through preservation. This process usually involves using high amounts of salt and sugar, so it’s no surprise that ham is very high in sodium. For comparison, 100g of turkey meat contains about 103mg of sodium, while 100g of ham can contain as much as 900mg of sodium. An excess of sodium can increase blood pressure, and also increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease – so think twice before you reach for some honey-glazed goodness.
Roast beef can sometimes be present at the dinner table too. It is a good source of protein and amino acids, which helps to maintain muscle and tissue growth, and also stimulate your immune system. Beef also contains iron, which your body needs to keep your red blood cells healthy. However, it is processed meat — similar to ham — so it contains preserving agents like nitrates, which are harmful carcinogenic substances that can raise your risk of cancer. Saturated fat is also present in beef, and this increases the risk of heart disease. The key to enjoying roast beef is portion control — take a few slices but don’t overdo it.
You might not think of it, but the gravy you drizzle on to your meats can be quite unhealthy. Homemade gravy is usually thickened with the addition of white flour or cornstarch, which only adds excess sugar and carbohydrates to it. Some even add the fat drippings from the turkey into the mixture, and that adds unhealthy fats and sodium to it. Our advice — use whole wheat flour as a low carbohydrate option instead, and skip the fat drippings entirely.
Made with sugar, eggs, whipped cream, and bourbon, eggnog is easily one of the most unhealthy beverages of the Christmas season. A single cup can contain as much as 21g of sugar, 11g of fat, and up to 343 calories — almost a full day’s worth of the daily recommended intake. For a healthier version, swap out the whipped cream for almond milk or yoghurt, or skip it entirely and get yourself a piping hot cup of hot chocolate instead.
Christmas log cakes are usually smothered with chocolate fudge and sugared icing, so it’s a no-brainer what it can do to your body. A single slice can contain as much as 420 calories and 47g of sugar — that’s almost double the recommended daily intake. If you don’t watch your portion sizes, the high-calorie content and excessive amounts of sugar are going to make you gain weight and have an adverse effect on your waistline.
It’s Not All Bad
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? You don’t have to completely give up your favourite Christmas treats for good. As with almost all things, remember that moderation is key. Cut down a little on your portion sizes, swap out a few unhealthy ingredients for healthier alternatives, and your body will be thanking you for years to come. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!