The British Dietetic Association estimates the average adult gains 5 to 7 lbs during the festive season. The good news is it doesn’t have to be so. If you plan ahead, you can have tasty nibbles around the house that won’t go straight to your waistline. And the full traditional Christmas fayre is all there for the taking; yes it’s true, provided you follow some simple guidelines.

Perhaps surprisingly, many of our traditional Christmas treats are healthy foods, low in calories and high in health-promoting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Smoked salmon, roast turkey, lean ham, and a wonderful variety of fruit and vegetables all contribute to our enjoyment of Christmas.

The important thing to remember about holiday eating is to forget about the ‘’all or nothing’’ approach. Trying to lose weight during the holidays is likely to be a self-defeating goal. Instead, strive to maintain your weight. Depriving yourself of festive foods or feeling guilty when you do enjoy them isn’t part of a healthy eating strategy. Instead, balance party eating by choosing lower calorie foods at other times of the day. If you do treat yourself to the odd high calorie food that you can’t resist, eat a small portion, eat it slowly, and enjoy every bite. Check out my blog post on how to enjoy festive treats at a buffet.

So, what’s in a Christmas dinner?

You can enjoy the Xmas festive fayre by thinking before you indulge. Think about the portion size – by the time you’ve got all the trimmings on your plate it’ll be overflowing with extra calories. So serve yourself larger portions of the sprouts and carrots and turkey breast without skin – choose the bigger roast potatoes, as they will have absorbed less fat. And Boxing Day is a way to start making up for the over-indulgence, no need to feel stuffed again. Choose small meals and space them out with bouts of activity like walking.

The traditional Christmas day meal is packed with hidden benefits.  Roast turkey without skin is high in protein and low in fat with only 150 kcalories in an average portion and potatoes provide lots of vitamin C as well as fibre. Believe it or not, on Christmas day most people will have their ‘5 a day’ portions of fruit and vegetables without even trying. Orange juice (or bucks fizz!), brussels sprouts, peas, carrots and satsumas all provide important health promoting compounds (anti-oxidants and phytochemicals). Just glance at this list to see how those tempting mouthfuls can be good for you too:

  1. Smoked salmon – This tasty treat provides only 80 calories per portion, and is a good source of protein and the health promoting omega-3 fats.  Ideal as a starter.
  2. Roast Turkey – Rich in protein and low in fat, especially if you discard the skin and choose light-coloured meat – only 150 kcalories in an average portion.
  3. Potatoes – A delicious source of vitamin C and other nutrients.  If roasting, use vegetable oil or spray oil rather than lard to cut saturated fat. Keep the skins on if you want added fibre.
  4. Brussels Sprouts – An average serving (9 sprouts) provides half of your daily needs for folic acid and all the vitamin C you need.
  5. Carrots – Rich in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. This and the other carotenoids act as potentially disease-beating antioxidants. Choose them steamed or boiled, or as crudite before you each the main course.
  6. Peas – Popular with the kids and a good source of vitamin C, iron, fibre, folic acid and other B vitamins. Steam them in the minimum of water using a tight fitting lid.
  7. Bucks Fizz – In moderation (1 to 2 glasses per day), any type of alcoholic drink may help protect against heart disease.  And the orange juice adds vital vitamin C.
  8. Christmas Pudding – The dried fruit gives plenty of potassium, and it’s a reasonable provider of iron and fibre. If you’re making your own, you may not even need to add sugar, as there’s plenty of sweetness in the dried fruit.
  9. Custard – A comforting and low fat alternative to brandy butter, and a good source of calcium too. Choose skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
  10. Peanuts – A great source of unsaturated oils, fibre and the antioxidant vitamin E.  Research shows that peanuts can lower blood cholesterol and that nut consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes in women. The research used about a handful or an ounce a day as part of a healthy lifestyle.
  11. Satsumas – Each of these handy stocking fillers provides half your daily needs for vitamin C. Try some in between meals when you feel peckish.
  12. Chestnuts – The only low fat nut in existence and great for roasting by the fireside.