The festive period is centred around big hearty meals, delicious cakes, a daily chocolate hit and rather too many glasses of mulled wine. The cold, wintery days also make exercise far from tempting. For many this can lead to a tightening of the jeans and a feeling of excessive tiredness, indigestion and low mood.
However, the holidays are to be enjoyed and this shouldn’t put you off your big Christmas roast. In fact, many of our favourite festive foods have surprising health benefits. Pile up your plate with these Christmas favourites and enjoy both delicious food and great gut health!
Why Brussel sprouts are the best present at Christmas
One of the main perks of Brussel sprouts is their rich source of fibre. According to research by the NHS, most adults in the UK are eating only 60% pf the fibre they need to stay healthy (around 30g per day). Fibre is important because it bulks out our stools, absorbs fluids and mops up other by-products of digestion, which helps to prevent constipation (1) and diverticular disease (2). It also regulates blood sugar levels, meaning it is often linked to decreased risk of diabetes (3).
Brussel sprouts are also full of vitamins. Vitamin K is an essential nutrient for blood clotting and bone health (4), whilst vitamin C is an important antioxidant vital for bone formation, metabolic function, infection prevention, wound healing and gum maintenance (5). Vitamin C is also found in high levels in broccoli, parsnips and potatoes.
On top of this, that portion of sprouts on your plate is delivering antioxidants. They are high in kaempferol, an antioxidant that has been found to have important health benefits. Studies have found it may potentially reduce cancer cell growth (6), reduce inflammation (7) and improve heart health (8).
How Parsnips can reboot your gut, boost your mood and save your heart
Parsnips are packed with minerals such as potassium, manganese, magensium, zinc phosphorous, and iron. These bring a range of important health boosts for the body. For example, potassium acts as a vasodilator which reduces blood pressure and stress on the heart (9). Whilst manganese helps to produce enzymes vital for digestive health, antioxidant function and wound healing (10).
Zinc and the vitamin folate are also prevalent in parsnips and have been identified as commonly being low in patients with depression (11,12). As a result parsnips may help to boost these levels which have been associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Although of course the link isn’t quite as simple as recovering from depression with lots of parsnips!
High levels of folate also reduce homocysteine levels in the blood which are associated with a higher risk of heart disease (13). As well as containing vitamin B9 and iron which are crucial for increasing blood flow and preventing anaemia.
What is more, important antioxidants are found in parsnips, such as as falcarinol, falcarindiol, panaxadiol, and methyl-falcarindiol. These help to boost the immune system.
In addition, much like Brussel sprouts parsnips have high levels of soluble fibre. They are also low in carbohydrates and calories meaning they fill you up and aid in weight loss.
Why homemade cranberry sauce is more than just a tasty side
Although many store bought cranberry sauces are packed with sugar, if made fresh, cranberry sauce can be a highly nutritious burst of flavour on your plate.
Cranberries are packed with several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C. They are also very high in antioxidants, particularly flavanol polyphenols (14,15).
How leftover potatoes improve your gut microbiome
If you happen to have any leftover potatoes after your big Christmas roast you’ll be happy to hear that potatoes left in the fridge overnight become a nutritious source of prebiotics!
When you leave potatoes to cool, they form resistant starch which provides important food for the good bacteria in the microbiome. (14, 15).
Additionally, resistant starch has been found to decrease inflammation and prevent colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. (16, 17).
Other research suggest that resistant starch increases feelings of fullness as it is not broken down as quickly as a hot potatoes, this may help you to not overeat. (18)
The secret benefits of that sprinkle of cinnamon
Cinnamon is commonly added to many recipes over the festive season. It has been used as an ingredient throughout time and hailed for its medicinal properties. Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants (19, 20). It is also holds powerful anti-inflammatory properties (21) and reduces levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (22), helping it to decrease risk of heart disease and have an anti-diabetic effect.
Why dark chocolate shouldn’t be full of guilt
Whilst it should be eaten in moderation, a little bit of indulgence can bring benefits to your gut.
The flavanols in dark chocolate can produce nitric oxide which relaxes the arteries and thus reduces blood pressure (23, 24). Cocoa powder has also been found to decrease oxidised LDL cholesterol and increase HDL in those with high cholesterol (25). This protection against the oxidation of LDL can cause much less cholesterol to build up in the arteries and as a result lowers risk of heart disease. One study found cocoa reduced the risk of heart disease death by 50% in 470 elderly men over 15 years (26).
To find out more about some of the health benefits of chocolate, check out this blog post.
The antioxidant effect of a glass of red wine
Like dark chocolate it should also only ever be consumed in moderation but if you find yourself reaching for a glass this festive season, red wine may not be all bad.
It is rich in many antioxidants such as resveratrol, catechin, epicatechin and proanthocyanins. (27) These have been associated with cardioprotective effects. Some studies have shown that drinking small amounts of red wine may reduce the risk of heart disease by increasing the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol in the blood and reducing the oxidation of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol (28).
The importance of butternut squash in your festive diet
Squash is a great food source that is low in calories and high in key minerals and vitamins, as well as providing a large amount of fibre.
Beta-carotene in butternut squash has been linked to supporting the natural functioning of the immune system, whilst vitamin A plays an important role in preventing infections.
Why turkey is part of a healthy gut plan
Turkey is a fantastic source of protein which is needed for synthesising amino acids in the body.
Turkey is also high in B vitamins, such as B3, B6 and B12, which are essential for brain health. B3 is important for energy production and transmission between cells. Vitamin B6 supports amino acid formation within our body and helps to produce neurotransmitters (35). Whilst B12 is vital for DNA production and the creation of red blood cells.
As you can see the festive season is full of healthy foods that can reboot your gut and improve your gut microbiome. Over the festive period the Reset Your Health plan will keep you supplied with lots of seasonal recipes to show you how both you and your gut can enjoy the festivities together and reboot your gut health ready for the new year.
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