Is Christmas Dinner Healthy?

Christmas Is Coming

I am unashamedly giddy about Christmas. I love choosing thoughtful gifts, wrapping them and delivering. I always remember helping my Mum prepare the Christmas dinner components on Christmas eve….carrot batons sliced, sprouts slit across the bottom and all placed in water ready to cook the next day.

We have developed a few traditions with our little family including chilling out on Christmas Eve. This year I’m looking forwards to an easy dinner (Salmon and veg), putting on xmas PJs and snuggling on the sofa for a movie before the littlies head to bed. If last year was anything to go by our Christmas day could start very early (like 4am!)

It was while I was thinking about Christmas dinner (btw my favourite meal) that I reflected it’s actually pretty good from a gut health perspective. The traditional components offer up a pretty good balance of some great vitamins and minerals which are essential to our microbiome and overall gut health.


The Gut

The key to health and happiness is good digestion. Did you know that:

* 95% of your serotonin (our happy hormone) is manufactured in your gut, and

* 80% of your immune system is located in your gut? which is why something like leaky gut is such an issue for overall health, and is gaining so much traction these days.

It’s not known as your second brain for nothing; Stretched out, your gut is equal to the surface area of two whole tennis courts. The bacteria in the gut helps to digest food, vitamins and regulates other functions in the body. If the bacteria is out of balance you may experience a wide variety of symptoms including (but not limited to): IBS, bloating, constipation, headaches, skin issues, weight gain, sleep disturbance, low libido, ‘brain fog’ , trouble concentrating, poor memory, fatigue, joint & muscle aches, overuse injuries, anxiety, depression, mood swings. I mean seriously, the gut interacts with every other bodily system and is literally in charge of our heart health, bone health, brain health, musculoskeletal health, respiratory health, not just our digestive health.


So What Foods Are Good For Gut Health?

* Fibre (wholegrains, oats, bran, nuts, fruit, veg,) slows the absorption of sugars and maintains sugar balance. For women it also binds to excess oestrogen and assists bowel movements positively influencing oestrogen excretion

* Fermented foods; kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso soup, tamari as seasoning. These can assist the gut in their actions, and

* Phyto-oestrogens (chickpeas, lentils, seeds which give oil especially flax), alliums such as garlic, onions, leeks,

* Healthy fats and protein at every meal. If you’re craving something sweet after eating, it may be due to not eating enough protein, Omega 3 (good fats) optimise gut microbacteria and are also essential in hormonal production too. Nuts, seeds, oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, avocado; think brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, tahini,

* Cruciferous veg; dark leafy greens such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, (yes I know it’s not green but it is cruciferous), spinach,

* Complex carbs, especially resistant starch…think rice the day after it’s been cooked,

* Vitamin A in squash, pumpkin and carrots or pretty much any orange or red vegetable

* Vit D and Polyphenols. Found in dark berries, red grapes. They have prebiotic effect and also modulate inflammation too so extra brownie points if you have these regularly

and of course adequate fluid intake. 2-2.5l on average or 3-3.5l if you’re a breastfeeding mumma. Yes…I’m talking water, not alcohol, coffee, tea, or carbonated drinks. Kombucha for wild Friday nights; that’s about as exciting as I get these days! this can help balance out gut flora and also improve your bowel habits

Consider at this stage that an animal product based diet can be considered inflammatory and negatively affects other systems such as our thyroid, so opting for more plant based nutrition may improve things if you’re experiencing symptoms like the above. In the last 12 months I’ve been struggling with sudden onset migraines (likely hormonal as I enter perimenopause) and I’ve certainly found beneficial results in terms of how I feel having changed to a primarily plant-based diet, now experiencing less headaches, (and less bloating); though I still have a weak spot for cheese! It’s a work in progress that one….

Essentially a lot of nutritional research is now telling us that dieting isn’t great, but a balanced diet is. Eating little and often of balanced blood sugar foods is the best way to go. Take in protein and good fats each meal. If you’re hungry within two hours after eating, you haven’t had enough protein with your meal. Take in whole grains to steady the release of energy into the blood stream. Cut out triggers (caffeine, alcohol, sugar, dairy and of course…..stress).

So Christmas Dinner?

White meat is considered less inflammatory than red, loads of mixed veg including carrots, parsnips, potatoes, red cabbage, green beans, and even those sprouts give us a nice balance of essential nutrients. Toss in some apricot and almond stuffing, cranberries, and apple sauce and you’re on a winner. Like I said, it’s a pretty good achievement of a positive gut health plate all things considered.:


Holiday Eating

Consider not only what you’re eating, but also when. Skipping breakfast and eating late at night is really common over the holidays, and is associated with increased risk of weight gain and fluctuating blood sugars, meaning insulin resistance. There are lots of different things which cause weight gain or prevent weight loss; it’s not just a simple case of calories in and calorie expenditure out.

Chew your food! It lessens the chance of overeating, promotes feeling full, decreases feelings of hunger, releases the gut hormones and decreases amount of food intake overall. Insulin resistance is a favourite topic of mine so we’ll explore this a little more in future blogs