Nutrition scientists’ top ten festive foods for a delicious, nutritious Christmas

The festive season is just around the corner and the British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF) team of nutrition scientists has compiled its top ten Christmas foods to help the nation enjoy a delicious variety of nutritious seasonal fare.

The top ten highlights a range of seasonal, nutrient-rich foods that are synonymous with Christmas time and BNF also provides suggestions for new ways to prepare some old favourites.

Sara Stanner, Science Director, British Nutrition Foundation, comments: “The festive season is filled with a whole range of delicious foods, many of which are also nutrient rich and can make a great contribution to the diet. From vitamin C in clementines and fibre in nuts and dried fruit, to omega 3 fats in salmon and B vitamins in turkey. Many of these nutritious, festive foods are also very versatile, making it easy incorporate the flavours of Christmas into your cooking this holiday season.”

The BNF’s top ten Christmas foods for 2019

1. Brussels sprouts: Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamin C and folate, and also provide fibre, which is needed to keep the gut healthy. Although many people will have bad memories of over-boiled sprouts, there are plenty of delicious ways to prepare them – the BNF suggests par boiling and then roasting them with flavourful ingredients such as: chestnuts and nutmeg; pecan and dried cranberries; pistachios and pomegranate seeds; hazelnuts and orange zest; or garlic, chilli and lemon zest and juice.

2. Carrots: Carrots provide beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A – important for normal vision and a healthy immune system. They can be prepared in lots of different ways – roasted with herbs like rosemary and thyme, grated in salads, mashed with cumin – also delicious steamed or serve raw with hummus for a vegan Christmas party dip.

3. Chestnuts: The perfect accompaniment to your Brussels sprouts, chestnuts are in season and are delicious added to stuffing, soups and sauces. Naturally low in saturated fat, chestnuts contain fibre and provide potassium which can contribute to the maintenance of normal blood pressure.

4. Clementines, satsumas and tangerines: Easy to eat at home and on the go, these are all rich in vitamin C, which is important for supporting the immune system, helping to keep you well during the cold months. A tasty contribution to your 5 A DAY – and the perfect addition to Christmas stockings!

5. Cranberries: Fresh or frozen cranberries are packed with vitamin C but because they are sharp, cranberry products can have a lot of added sugar. Try making your own cranberry sauce so that you can use less sugar, or make a mocktail with no-added-sugar cranberry drink mixed with orange juice.

6. Dates and figs: Another fruity festive favourite, dried figs and dates can be added to cereal or porridge for a warming winter breakfast. With their versatile flavour, figs can be incorporated into a variety of sweet and savoury dishes – try fresh or dried figs in salads or with cheese. Dried figs provide potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium and can also count towards your 5 A DAY – three dates or two dried figs count as one portion.

7. Nuts and nut roast: Whether you are vegetarian or just cutting back on your meat-intake, a nut roast is a delicious centre-piece or addition to the Christmas dinner table, providing a range of nutrients including potassium, iron, zinc, B vitamins, folate and vitamin E. For those catering for a variety of dietary requirements, there are plenty of gluten-free and vegan nut roast recipes available too. Nuts are also a source of monounsaturated fats, which can be beneficial for heart health and a small portion of unsalted nuts is a great healthy snack.

8. Roast potatoes and parsnips: Christmas isn’t Christmas without some roasties! In the UK, potatoes make a good contribution to potassium and vitamin C intakes and parsnips are also an excellent source of fibre, manganese and folic acid. Opt for a mixture of roasted potatoes, parsnips and other vegetables for greater variety. The BNF also suggests leaving the skins on for more fibre, and advises roasting using plant-based oils like rapeseed oil (often labelled as vegetable oil).

9. Salmon: Salmon is rich in long chain omega-3 fatty acids which are important for heart health. It is recommended to include a portion of oily fish in the diet each week, but the average person has less than half a portion. Christmas is the perfect time to boost your intake – canned salmon still counts as an oily fish – you could try mixing it with reduced fat cream cheese, lemon and pepper as a dip or mashing up with leftover potatoes and some herbs to make fishcakes. If your preference is smoked salmon, be aware that this can be high in salt and so should be consumed in moderation. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, walnuts and flax seeds are good sources of the shorter-chain plant omega-3s and can be easily added to porridge or baked into many of your festive dishes.

10. Turkey: Traditional turkey without the skin is a lean source of protein and is also a source of B vitamins (vitamins B6 and B12) which help to support a healthy immune system. Turkey doesn’t have to be only for the big day (or using up the leftovers) – it’s also great for burgers, Bolognese or stir fries.

For more of the BNF’s advice on healthy eating during the festive season, please visit www.nutrition.org.uk

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