How to eat healthily on Christmas Day

With the big day less than a week away, Yorkshire-based nutritional therapist Clarissa Nolan explains how you can enjoy a Christmas dinner that is healthy and delicious.

I love Christmas – and I love all the preparation for it; writing to people I sometimes only write to once a year, decorating the tree and making spiced orange pomanders with the children, singing in carol services, making Christmas crackers, getting together with family and friends, working out where guests will sleep, wrapping presents – the list goes on.

And, of course, all the cooking, baking and food preparation, savouring the tastes and smells of Christmas…

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One of the questions I get asked by clients in the run up to Christmas is, “How can I enjoy Christmas lunch/dinner and not feel as if I have eaten too much?” This is something that most of us will have had uncomfortable experiences of. So here are some ideas that I find helpful and I hope you might too.

Will you be watching what you eat on Christmas Day?

First of all, remember that you, and only you, are in charge of what you eat. Therefore, when you have had enough, stop, and don’t feel pressured to keep eating. There is no tradition about finishing all your Christmas food by Twelfth Night.

If you are feeling stressed, stop and take some deep breaths before you start eating. Being stressed is not conducive to good digestion.

Fill half your plate with those colourful vegetables, and keep only a quarter for protein, whether it is plant, fish, dairy or meat-based. Fill the last quarter with carbohydrates. When I say ‘fill’, I mean, keep to those ratios, it is never about feeling absolutely stuffed or heaping your plate high.

If you’re having a starter, keep to a similar pattern. Add a colourful leafy salad to this course, with a lemony salad dressing, which can help digestion. Or try a bowl of spiced celeriac soup, with a sprinkling of nuts, seeds or cheese, and a handful of rocket or seed sprouts as a garnish. Remember that the next course is yet to come.

The traditional dessert is Christmas pudding. This is seriously rich and full of dried fruit, which is essentially a form of sugar. You can omit added sugar if you make your own, but if you are buying it, try and choose one that does not contain any added sugar or corn syrup. Trust me, it will taste just as good, if not better. The flavours of the dried fruit and spices will come to the fore and you will never look back.

There are some in my family who cannot wait for the cheese board. Remember that cheese is protein, so in addition to the cheese and crackers, make up the board with masses of colourful fruit and juicy vegetables. Olives, gherkins, piccalilli, and jarred artichokes are good condiments for this course. Cheese keeps, just take a little and enjoy it, or have this at suppertime.

Have no more than one or two glasses of wine with your meal. More than this only hinders digestion, increases the work of the liver and impairs deep sleep. Too much also gets converted to fat, so reducing the amount you drink over this period will help to manage weight gain. Try infusing still or carbonated water with unwaxed lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, or cucumber, fresh herbs, such as parsley or rosemary, or a combination of these. Avoid bought flavoured water as these mostly have sweeteners added, which will also increase the load on the liver. Avoid fruit juice too, as it also has a high calorie load.

If coffee keeps you awake at night, try fennel, ginger or peppermint tea, which can help digestion and is warming for this time of year. Finish with a small piece of very dark chocolate, but save the rest for the other meals.

Enjoy your meal slowly, then stop and let it digest. But most of all, enjoy this time of year.

Clarissa Nolan is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, who qualified from the Nutrition Clinic at the Northern College of Acupuncture in York.