Is there a healthy alternative to Christmas Dinner?

December 2013

Spire Leeds Hospital dietitians, Glenda Pollard and Julie Leaper, give their tasty tips for a healthier festive feast.

It’s a time honoured tradition in many families to gather round the table for a hearty Christmas dinner filled with all the calories that make the holiday spirit. We all like to indulge during the festive season and on average we consume as many as 6,000 calories during Christmas day – about three times more than the amount we need. Yet, it’s still possible to enjoy turkey with all the trimmings, by substituting healthy alternative ways of cooking and avoiding the ingredients which could lead to weight gain or increased cholesterol. All you have to do is make a few adjustments, say Glenda and Julie. Follow their tips and you could cut around 500kcals from your traditional festive feast without sacrificing the taste.

  • Eat a proper breakfast of porridge or wholemeal toast to stop you from snacking before lunch is ready and serve Christmas lunch later in the day, say around 3pm so you are less likely to feel hungry in the evening when everyone else is tucking into leftovers. If you do get peckish try a festive salad of lean meat with strips of mango and mixed salad leaves drizzled with fat-free dressing.
  • Turkey – turkey is a good source of protein and is leaner than chicken and without the skin, is low in fat and provides B vitamins needed for energy production. Light meat has fewer calories than dark meat so choose breast over legs and thighs. Prick the skin before cooking to allow fat to drain out and place on trivet so it’s not sitting in fat. Remove skin before serving. 100 g of butter-basted turkey with the skin on has 146 kcal, 4.9g fat (2g saturates). Swap for 100g of skinless  turkey which has 104 kcal, 2g fat (0.2g saturates). Saves 42 kcal.
  • Stuffing – chestnuts are low in fat and a good source of vitamin C. Use instead of sausage meat in your recipe and add cranberries to add flavor. Omit some of the butter and use egg whites instead of whole eggs to save on fat and calories. 100g of sausage meat stuffing has 252kcal, 16g fat (7g saturates). 100g of chestnut stuffing has 199kcal, 12g fat (2g saturates).
  • Roast potatoes – potatoes are a good source of carbohydrate and are almost fat free (before they are roasted in fat) Baked potatoes with low-fat soured cream or crème fraiche are a tasty alternative or sweet potato mashed with a pinch of cumin is a healthy low GI alternative.
  • 100g potatoes roasted in oil have 149kcal, 4.5g fat (0.5 saturates) 100g sweet potatoes have 85kcal and 0g fat.
  • Gravy – gravy can be high in fat and salt. Too much salt may increase blood pressure. Pour the turkey juices into a jug and wait for fat to rise to the surface. Then pour or spoon off the fat before using the juices to make gravy. Alternatively, instead of using meat juices in your gravy use the juices from your vegetables – the water the vegetables have boiled in.  
  • Bread sauce – use semi-skimmed milk to make your sauce and add a clove of garlic to add extra flavour. Full fat milk has 9g fat per 250 ml, while semi-skimmed has 4.3g.
  • Vegetables – brussel sprouts are a good source of folate (a B vitamin) and vitamin C, which may help protect against heart disease and cancer. They contain fibre which helps keep the digestive system healthy. Don’t smother them with butter, instead use fresh herbs or lemon zest to add flavour. One teaspoon of butter adds 37kcal, 4.1g fat, (2.8g saturates). Herbs and lemon zest have almost no calories. 
  • Oils – use pure vegetable oils, olive oil or sunflower oil rather than lard. . If you have to roast then toss the potatoes in light coating of oil or use a brush to coat lightly. Spray cans of oil can also help reduce the amount used. Try cutting your potatoes into larger chunks so they will absorb less fat. 
  • Christmas pudding – Christmas pudding is fairly low in fat (it's not really due to added suet so I would take this out) and high in carbohydrate. It provides B vitamins, potassium, iron and calcium. Serve a small portion rather than your usual mound and use a low fat custard made with semi-skimmed milk. Or use fat-free Greek yoghurt instead of brandy butter or cream. 15g of brandy butter has 81kcal, 5.8g fat (3.9g saturates). 45g low fat custard has 27kcal, 0.6g fat (0.54g saturates).  30g of non fat Greek yoghurt has 16kcal, 0g fat.
  • Mince pies – mince pies can contain as many as 270 calories each. To reduce fat and calories, leave off the top layer of pastry or switch to filo pastry and use more apples in the filling instead of all mincemeat. A 70g mince pie can contain 10g fat and 25g sugar.
  • Chocolate – switch that box of soft centre filled chocolates for a high quality bar of dark chocolate with a high percentage cocoa content. Try to stick to two squares of good quality dark chocolate and savour each bite. Although, like milk chocolate, it's high in calories and fat, dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, which can help mop up harmful free radicals – unstable chemicals that damage our cells, making it healthier than milk chocolate for heart and cells. Alternatively choose a low calorie hot chocolate drink. Try a small handful of dried fruit instead which contain the same vitamins and minerals as fresh fruit. 40g or 4-7 squares dark chocolate that’s 85% cocoa has 227 calories, 12g saturated fat.
  • Alcohol – at drinks parties, slowly sip a glass of champagne or white wine. Make it last. For spirits, mix a single shot with diet soft drinks and top up with more soft drink to make it last. Alternate with non-alcoholic drinks throughout the evening. Or choose a non alcoholic wine or a diet soft drink as an alternative. Try to have a couple of alcohol free days each week to allow your liver to recover.
  • A 5 ounce (125ml) glass of white wine can contain as many as 122 calories, and red, as many as 129 calories. A glass of champagne can contain as many as 91 calories. An 25ml measure of gin can contains 52 calories and diet tonic contains zero calories, so a  gin and tonic will contain approximately 70 calories less. Non alcoholic wine typically contains one quarter to one third of the calories of wines with alcohol.


Glenda Pollard

Glenda Pollard, dietitian, Spire Leeds

Julie Leaper

Julie Leaper, dietitian, Spire Leeds

Glenda Pollard is senior dietitian and Julie Leaper is a dietitian at Spire Leeds Hospital. They are both members of the Health Professionals Council and British Dietetic Association.

Spire Leeds Hospital’s team of dieticians offer a range of in-patient and out-patient services including bariatric weight loss programmes, and support oncology services and hepatobiliary services, as well as diabetes types 1 and 2, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerance and allergies and nutritional and weight loss support. 

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