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Healthy Christmas top tips

Gluten-free Christmas cake Christmas cake without added sugar. Would you?

The idea of a "healthy Christmas" is not for everyone, but for some people small changes make all the difference.

"Consuming a lot of excess calories over the Christmas period is easily done. For example, an extra 500 calories over a day is the equivalent to a handful of crisps, a mini sausage roll and a couple of glasses of wine," says Marie Murphy, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, based in London.

More healthy Christmas recipes

Bake gluten-free cake without added sugar

Whip up a chicory, pear and cheese salad

On average people gain around 5lbs in weight over the four week festive period, and Christmas day itself can equate to an intake of around 6000 calories.

Christmas can be a minefield of tempting foods full of salt, saturated fat and sugar. However vegetables and seasonal fruits such as satsumas, dates, cranberries and figs are also plentiful and are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Here are our top tips to having a healthier Christmas.

Make filo your friend

Filo pastry mince pies

Bake ever-so-light, filo pastry mince pies

Is your Christmas unthinkable without mince pies? A shortcrust mince pie contains around 250 calories, so try baking a batch using light, crunchy filo pastry for a healthier option.

Paper-thin filo pastry sheets are low on fat and contain fewer calories than shortcrust which is heavy on butter. When working with filo pastry you may need to brush the layers with melted butter or oil to brown them in the oven, so remember to do this sparingly.

For convenience, filo pastry can be bought from the shops, something even television cooks have admitted to doing in the past.

Choose your nuts carefully

Roast chestnuts

Roast chestnuts for a healthier party snack

Chestnuts are low in fat, so nibble a few of these and leave the handfuls of salted peanuts.

"Although nuts can be energy dense, they have a lot of healthy qualities," says Marie Murphy. "For example Brazil nuts and walnuts provide potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and vitamin E.

"But go for the unsalted varieties as the healthy choice - and avoid whole nuts for younger children as they can be a choking hazard."

Too many high-salt foods - salted and roasted nuts as well as gravy granules, bacon and cheese for example - can contribute to raised blood pressure, so it is advisable to eat these in small amounts.

Tackle your turkey...

"When cooking turkey, don't add oil or butter and prick the skin to allow some of the fat to drain out of the meat," says Sioned Quirke, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, based in Birmingham. She recommends avoiding eating the turkey skin, which contains most of the cooked bird's fat.

If you're making gravy using turkey juices, Ms Quirke recommends reducing the fat in the mixture by pouring the juice into a jug, letting it settle and skimming off the fat. "Use the juice that's left behind."

...and use leftovers wisely

Turkey salad with Chinese cabbage, beansprouts and Vietnamese mint

Add turkey to a cabbage and beansprout salad

Use leftover turkey in a zesty salad later. The cold meat works well with Chinese cabbage, beansprouts, carrots and Vietnamese mint leaves if you can get hold of them. Serve as part of an evening buffet for something a little different.

Turkey is a good source of protein and is low in fat if the skin is removed, says Marie Murphy.

"[It] also provides B vitamins which are needed to get energy from food."

Opt for popcorn and pretzels

Negotiate tempting nibbles carefully. "You can easily consume the equivalent calories of a full meal just in canap├ęs and snacks," says Ms Murphy.

Plain popcorn and pretzels are healthier alternatives to salted nuts. They can also make great snacks for children.

Veg first!

Roast root vegetables

Roast root veg as an alternative to potatoes

"Fill your plate up with vegetables first so there is less room for the more energy dense foods," says Marie Murphy. Vegetables will keep you full and are packed with vitamins and minerals, especially if cooked for a short length of time.

"Brussels sprouts are a good source of vitamin C and folate... [they] also provide fibre needed to keep the gut healthy."

Sioned Quirke advises: "Cut down down on a few potatoes and opt for extra veg."

If you can bear to forego your roast potatoes, try replacing them with roast root vegetables such as beetroot, parsnips and celeriac for a healthy alternative.

Smoked salmon breakfast

A bowl of porridge may not quite hit the right note on Christmas morning. For something more special Marie Murphy suggests trying scrambled egg with smoked salmon and chives on wholegrain toast. Eggs are a good source of protein and large ones contain around 77 calories each.

Starting the day with a healthy breakfast will keep you full enough to avoid the temptation of too much mid-morning snacking.

Salsa the night away

Raw salsa

Make your own low-fat, raw salsa dip

There's no buffet like a Christmas buffet. If you are into your dips but trying to stay healthy opt for the salsa over the sour cream and chive. Two tablespoons of salsa contain around 20 calories, while sour cream and chive equates to around 110, according to the British Nutrition Foundation.

Other dipping tips include eating breadsticks instead of cheese straws or even better heading for the raw vegetable crudites.

Ruling the roasties

"Potatoes are a good source of energy, fibre... B vitamins and potassium and are virtually fat free before roasting them," explains Marie Murphy. But once they reach our plates they have often been roasted in fat.

"Try roasting them with vegetable oils instead of solid fat like lard," she says. "[Vegetable oils] are lower in saturates and high in polyunsaturates [fats which have been shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels]."

Drink sensibly

Gin and tonic Alcohol consumption in Britain increases by 40% in December, says Marie Murphy

"Alcohol consumption in Britain increases by 40% in December," Ms Murphy adds.

Bad skin and weight gain are just two of the short term effects of drinking too much. Sioned Quirke says generally cutting the amount of alcohol is important for a healthier Christmas.

But if you're looking for low calorie alternatives to beer (which contains almost 200 calories per pint), a single measure of spirit and diet mixer provides around 60 calories.

A wine spritzer - white wine with soda water - is also a good option as it reduces the amount of wine you're drinking.

Ms Quirke adds: "A large glass of wine is around 180 calories whereas a small glass (which you would use for the spritzer) is only 90 calories."

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