Christmas has always been associated with over indulgence and piling on a few extra pounds. I have to admit, I do love the indulgent side of it too, but we can get a balance. We can look after our health during this festive time. Yes, we may go a little mad at the office party, or swig one too many egg nog’s on Christmas Day, but within all of that there is also the opportunity to do our health some good as well.
Healthy Seasonal Foods
One thing that may surprise you is that some of the seasonal ingredients associated with Christmas, have some really potent health benefits. Who knew?! It’s pretty hard to allude to any health benefits from buckets of chocolate and Christmas Cake, but many of the ingredients associated with a traditional Christmas dinner can have some amazing benefits to health. Have a look at this lot…
Wild Alaska Salmon – the new star
In recent years, people have been seeking alternatives to turkey for their Christmas lunch. Many are abandoning poultry all together and opting for fish. If this is something you have been toying with, I highly recommend trying wild Alaska salmon. This beautiful fish is extremely healthy – it will take well to the seasonal flavours and it will look stunning laid out on the Christmas table.
Wild Alaska salmon lives in an ultra-clean environment of three million lakes, 34,000 miles of coastline and 3,000 rivers in Alaska. Having such long distances to swim means that these are extremely fit fish! Low in fat and high in protein means the taste and texture is meaty – not greasy. Wild means no artificial colouring, preservatives, pesticides, antibiotics or GMOs and the fish is frozen within six hours of being caught to protect its superior quality. Did you know there are five different types of wild salmon; king, sockeye, keta and coho – all ranging in texture and taste, do look out for this when you next buy salmon.
Having said all this, the best thing about opting for wild Alaska salmon is the omega 3 fatty acids that it contains. These have so many health benefits, it could easily fill a book. Omega 3 fatty acids are the building blocks that the body uses to manufacture its own in built anti-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins. Increased omega 3 intake can deliver a significant anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3 fatty acids are also a vital for the maintenance of cell membranes, keeping them flexible and functioning properly. They have also been very strongly associated with healthier HDL/LDL Cholesterol ratios. They are important for healthy skin, healthy eyes, and a healthy brain.
Wild Alaska salmon is also rich in trace elements such as selenium that is used by the body to manufacture enzymes within cells that protect the cells from damage and clean up shop.
This gorgeous staple contains a substance called Fructo-Oligo-Saccharide or FOS for short. This is a very large molecular weight sugar that gets broken down by our gut bacteria. It is broken down by means of fermentation. When this fermentation process happens, the bacterial colony increases in number. The bacteria also release by products from this fermentation process, such as short chain fatty acids like butyrate. These substances can stimulate repair mechanisms within the gut wall. FOS basically helps to maintain the long-term health of the gut and microbiome. This makes it a PRE-biotic.
Tip: To cut down on excess oil, why not try making a parsnip puree by boiling in a little vegetable stock, with some sautéed garlic. When the parsnip is soft, use a stick blender to make a smooth puree.
Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are a nutritional powerhouse. They have vast amounts of vitamin C and magnesium in them. However, the thing that really makes them a powerhouse is a group of substances called ‘isothiocyanates’. These are substances that are found in plants that give them a slightly fiery nature. The extreme end of this scale is mustard, with its powerful heat. But if you have ever bitten into a raw Brussels sprout or some very dark cabbage, you will notice heat there. That is the isothiocyanates doing their thing. What is so special about these fiery substances? They have been found to be antimutagenic. This means that they can help to protect DNA within our cells from damage. They also stimulate the activity of certain intracellular enzymes involved with ‘cleaning house’. Long story short, they protect our cells from damage.
Tip: to make Brussels sprouts less boring, try halving them, coating them in olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven until turning golden brown on the edges. Trust me… it is magical!
I am an absolute sucker for red cabbage. Love the stuff! With a little balsamic vinegar, cinnamon, and some red onion, all stewed down together as a side for Christmas dinner. Lovely. As well as being rich in isothiocyanates as above, they are also rich in a group of compounds called anthocyanins. These are responsible for the deep purple colour. They belong to the family of phytochemicals called flavonoids. These substances have been widely studied in the UK and they have been shown to have an interesting effect upon cardiovascular health. They help to protect the endothelium, the skin that lines the inside of blood vessels, from damage. They also cause the endothelium to release substances that relax the muscular walls of blood vessels, helping to lower blood pressure.
So, even though Christmas is associated with decadence and indulgence, and I DO think you should enjoy some of that, it is also abundant in healthy, versatile, flavoursome ingredients. Fill up on these fabulous staples, and have fun!