Make Christmas dinner a little bit healthier (without losing all the fun)

What to avoid if you want to stay in shape this festive season

Turkey, stuffing, sausages, gravy, roast potatoes, bread sauce, cranberry sauce - and lets not even start on the Christmas pudding and brandy cream, mince pies and after dinner chocolates. We consume, on average, a whopping 6,000-7,000 calories over the course of a traditional British Christmas Day- and boy does it tastes good - but that’s four times a woman’s daily recommended intake and more than three times a man’s. 

It’s no wonder that on average people gain about 5lb over the festive season. It takes just 3,500 extra calories to put on 1lb in weight and with all those little ‘treats’ it’s easily done. The main course alone can add up to 1,000 calories.

The good news is that you don’t have to cut out all the fun stuff – many festive foods can be healthy – so tuck into Santa’s superfoods and just watch those calorie-laden ‘little extras’. 

Turkey and all the trimmings

A few careful swaps mean you can still eat your festive fill without consuming enough calories for the entire family in one go
A few careful swaps mean you can still eat your festive fill without consuming enough calories for the entire family in one go


A great source of lean protein, iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. Contains tryptophan, an amino acid which the body converts to serotonin, a brain chemical known for its mood-boosting properties (useful if the family’s already stressing you out!). 

Make it healthier: Eat a 100g serving, without skin (104 calories, 2g fat). Removing the skin saves you 40 calories and over half the fat per serving. Light meat has fewer calories but darker meat contains more iron.

Stuffing and trimmings 

Sausages, meat stuffing and bacon are calorie-, salt- and fat-laden. Just one rasher of bacon contains up to 6g fat and 90 calories. Add a serving of stuffing with gravy and you’re eating over 320 calories and 20g fat!  

Make it healthier: Swap the sausage meat for a nut and fruit based stuffing to save up to 90 calories per serving.

Roast potatoes

A carb lover's dream plus a great source of potassium and B vitamins. Don’t drench them in oil or you’ll end up stuffing down 149kcal and 4.5g fat. 

Make it healthier: Boil or bake and save 40 calories per serving. Alternatively par boil then use an olive oil spray before roasting.

Cranberry sauce

Tasty, sweet, but there's a calorie penalty too
Tasty, sweet, but there's a calorie penalty too

Rich in flavonoids, these red gems will help your immune system and keep urinary tract infections at bay. 

Make it healthier: Shop-bought versions can be sugar-laden so make your own by simmering fresh cranberries with orange juice and red wine.

Brussels sprouts and other veg

Love them or hate them, it's worth piling the sprouts on your plate. Bursting with cancer-fighting sulforaphane, folate, vitamin C and fibre, they have been shown to reduce DNA damage. Cover your plate with a rainbow selection of steamed veggies and boost your antioxidant intake.

Sweet treats


They make look delightful, they taste amazing, but wow - how many calories?!
They make look delightful, they taste amazing, but wow - how many calories?!

Mince pies

They contain dried fruit but that doesn’t make these healthy. One mince pie = 203 calories and 10g fat.

Christmas pudding

A typical serving will set you back over 300 calories and 11g fat. Add a dollop of brandy butter and you are talking serious calories – over 450 and 20g fat. 

Make it healthier: Use low fat custard or zero percent fat Greek yoghurt and save over 120 calories per serving.  


A low-calorie treat bursting with vitamin C – two satsumas contain just 36 calories. Scoff away!

Box of chocs

A typical 250g box adds up to 1180 calories. 

Make it healthier: Choose dark chocolate made from 70 percent cocoa solids. Eating chocolate was associated with a 66 per cent reduction in cardiac mortality, according to recent research in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Don’t overdo it – pick mini Green & Blacks 20g bars for 100 calories.

Red wine or mulled wine

Mulled wine: the quintessential Christmas beverage
Mulled wine: the quintessential Christmas beverage

Rich in heart protective antioxidants, particularly resveratrol. Adding cinnamon to your mulled wine can help stabilise blood sugar levels; one glass contains 122 calories. The highest content of antioxidants are found in pinot noir varieties.

Christmas cake

A slice with marzipan and icing will set you back 250 calories and 8g fat.

Handful of mixed nuts

Rich in monounsaturated and essential fats, vitamins and minerals (a study into cancer and nutrition found just 2-4g a day cut cardiovascular disease risk by 12 percent). A 1oz (28g) helping contains 174 calories.

Work it off

Here's how much cycling you need to do to work off those little treats (based on average person weighing 154lb/70kg and cycling leisurely at 12mph):

  • Mince pie with cream – 38 minutes
  • Slice of Christmas cake – 27 minutes
  • Six chocolates – 29 minutes
  • Serving of cheese and biscuits – 43 minutes
  • Portion of Christmas pudding and cream – 62 minutes
  • Bowl of trifle – 25 minutes

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