What’s in your Christmas meal?

Roast turkey for Christmas dinner with all the trimmings
Roast turkey for Christmas dinner with all the trimmings
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The festive season of overindulgence is nearly here for many Scots. Keep yourself healthy during the festive season with advice from nutritionist and consultant Natasha Alonzi on typical Christmas Day courses.

STARTER

Nutritionist Natasha Alonzi has some health tips for the Christmas Day meal.

Nutritionist Natasha Alonzi has some health tips for the Christmas Day meal.

Smoked salmon is a popular choice across Scotland’s Christmas Day dinner tables thanks to its widely-known reputation as a source of Omega 3 fatty acid. However, the food has been found to have nitrates and nitrites within it, of which some can be carcinogenic. Farmed salmon can also be a source of carcinogenic Polychlorinated Biphenols (PCBs), with organic or wild-farmed salmon recommended.

Natasha says: “On the whole, this is a healthy starter for Christmas Day. Poached, steamed or oven-baked salmon is a better alternative for consuming more regularly.

“I would add a salad or vegetables to go alongside the smoked salmon; fennel and clementine are a nice combination as is avocado and tomato.”

Cock-a-leekie soup - the Scottish dish of leeks with chicken stock flavoured with thyme - is another popular starter, yet it’s all too easy to overdo the salt and make the restorative dish full of sodium.

Turkey and salmon are good sources of protein, and try to avoid using white refined products such as white sugar and bread.

Natasha Alonzi, Arco Baleno Nutrition

MAIN COURSE

The staple of the Christmas Day meal is linked to happiness in more ways than one. As well as being the centrepiece of the typical Christmas meal, turkey is a source of tryptophan, which in turn creates serotonin. Natasha reveals that serotonin is a neurotransmitter that generates feelings of happiness in the brain, which may explain why you feel contented and sleepy after your meal.

As a lean meat, turkey is also less fattening than options such as roast beef. Natasha adds: “Some might say roasting in butter might be fattening but I disagree - butter and coconut oil are good sources of saturated fats, and are more stable when heated at high temperatures compared to sunflower oil.”

Along with the turkey, an array of roast, boiled and steamed vegetables accompany a good Christmas Day meal. It is advisable to roast your potatoes in a medium chain fat alternative such as coconut oil, which is a saturated fat and is used by the body almost immediately for energy. Skin-on roast potatoes contain more nutrients than skinless, and you can also include garlic and/or rosemary to increase nutrient levels.

Cranachan is a relatively healthy dessert for Christmas Day. Image: Malcolm McCurrach

Cranachan is a relatively healthy dessert for Christmas Day. Image: Malcolm McCurrach

Parsnips - as a source of B vitamins, potassium, and calcium - are also great to have with Brussel sprouts, as their isothyocinates speed up the body’s detoxification processes.

When it comes to sauces, Natasha recommends homemade gravy with bone broths rich in protein and amino acids. Cranberry sauce may assist the urinary tract, but this potential benefit is voided if too much sugar is used.

DESSERT

The final course of the Christmas meal is usually the most excessive, and Cranachan provides a healthy balance between sweet enjoyment and healthy eating (if you can tear yourself away from sticky toffee pudding, that is).

As it contains oatmeal, Cranachan helps to prolong feelings of being “full up” thanks to their slow-release carbohydrates. They’re also full of soluble fibre which can assist digestion.

Raspberries rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can be teamed with plain natural or non-dairy coconut yoghurt. However, for Natasha, cream still reigns supreme - “Cream is rather indulgent, however, that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Mince pies can also be made healthier if you replaced the butter, white sugar and flour with coconut butter, xylitol and gluten-free flour such as buckwheat. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol which does not raise blood sugar as high as white sugar does. It’s even been found to help remove plaque from teeth, too.

AN EXPERT’S ASSESSMENT

So what of the Scottish Christmas Day meal as a whole? What impact can a day’s gluttony have on our health?

“In general, I think Christmas Day food in Scotland can be really healthy,” Natasha says.

She recommends that coconut butter with olive oil is a good substitute for butter, as well as cream being swapped for natural yoghurt.

“ The Christmas meal has a good mixture of protein, fats and carbohydrates. If it’s all home-cooked then it’s an opportunity for the whole family to get together and eat well.

“As far as energy is concerned, eating protein at each meal and cutting out white refined carbohydrates may improve energy levels, turkey and salmon are good sources of protein and try to avoid using white refined products such as white sugar and bread.