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Christmas food: beating the bulge

Patsy Westcott / 20 November 2018

Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry. So we’ve found the season’s brightest food stars to counterbalance the seasonal surfeit of food.

Sprouts, cranberries and caramelised walnuts
Sprouts, cranberries and caramelised walnuts

Brussels sprouts

One of the top 20 powerhouse foods by nutrient density, they are high in glucosinolate plant chemicals whose breakdown products, isothiocyanates (ITCs), may help protect against oxidative stress, certain cancers, cardiovascular problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. Retain nutrient value by using them up quickly (11%-27% of those healthy plant chemicals are lost after a week stored at room temperature or in the fridge) and steam, microwave or stir fry briefly – they should keep their bite. Incidentally, turkey is a perfect partner: those ITCs are 1.3-fold higher when eaten with meat.

Recipe: Brussels sprouts with nutmeg

Recipe: Honey-glazed Brussels sprouts with beetroot, blue cheese and walnuts

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Low-calorie, low-fat and packed with protein, turkey is a good source of minerals, including iron (needed for healthy red blood cells) and zinc, as well as B vitamins for a healthy nervous system, and other vitamins. We need more protein as we get older to help to preserve muscle mass and strength, so turkey is a good choice of lean meat. If you’re weight-watching, cut off the skin but be aware that turkey fat consists mainly of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Help yourself to a portion of drumstick meat for an extra boost of heart and blood-vessel friendly omega-3s.

Cooking turkey guide

Five delicious turkey sandwich ideas


Roasted on an open fire, à la Bing Crosby, or added to stuffing, chestnuts are the lowest in fat and calories of all nuts. They are a source of high-quality protein, rich in starch and dietary fibre, needed for gut health, as well as antioxidant vitamins C and E, B vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals. Roasting makes them more digestible and helps increase antioxidant properties, as well as reducing plant chemicals called tannins that render them bitter and astringent.

Pork and chestnut stuffing recipe

Mini chestnut nut roasts with sage gravy


Research suggests these quintessential sauce ingredients are a rich source of plant chemicals and have antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic effects. And that’s not all. Recent studies suggest that prebiotic carbohydrates called oligosaccharides found in cranberries may help quell production of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), thought to be culprits in chronic diseases including Type-2 diabetes, kidney failure and neurodegenerative conditions.

Cranberry sauce recipe

Brown and wild rice pilaff with cranberries

Weighty matters

A carefree mood, social get-togethers, plus the sheer abundance of tempting calorific treats all add up to temptation. So it’s no surprise that we gain just under two pounds on average over the holiday period. And while there’s nothing wrong with a blow-out on the big day itself, overindulging on a daily basis is a recipe for a girth to rival Santa’s. Here’s how to beat the bulge:

Slow down

Eat slowly, chew well and put down your fork between bites. This gives you the chance to savour each mouthful as well as time for your brain to register when you’re full.

Move it

The tendency to veg out in front of festive TV is another reason for seasonal weight gain. Plan some long, brisk winter walks, play with the kids or grandkids and practise your Strictly moves to counteract the surfeit.

Eat before you party

Eating something nutritious and sustaining before you hit the party will help you resist those calorific canapés.

Watch the tippling

Alcoholic drinks are packed with empty calories. Steer clear of the high-cal creamy liqueurs in favour of a lower-cal gin and slimline tonic, and alternate alcoholic drinks with water.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.