Christmas is a time of indulgence, and frankly that’s one of the great things about it. We think everyone should take this time to eat, drink, be merry and ride bikes!
But if you are trying to maintain a little balance in the face of the chocolate and mince-pie onslaught, there are a few little swaps you can make that will help keep your overall calorie intake in check, but still have plenty of festive fun and tasty treats at those Christmas parties, post-work drinks and team lunches.
First of all, remember that a few days of indulgence isn’t a bad thing. Even if you’re on a particularly strict training regime, a few days of tasty food isn’t going be a massive set back, especially if you’re riding too, and it’s easy to swap a few items here and there for lower calorie (but still delicious) options.
That said, if you want it, go for it! Ditch the guilt, embrace the spirit of the season, and go Full Christmas!
Christmas market food
The tempting aroma of German sausage at a Christmas market can be hard to resist Getty Images
Bedazzled by the twinkling lights and the smells wafting through the wooden cabin-lined streets, it’s easy to succumb to temptation when wandering around Christmas markets. These two swaps will give you maximum festive feeling and that traditional market experience.
1. Swap bratwurst for roasted chestnuts
Tasty though a freshly grilled German sausage is, they aren’t known for lean, low-fat properties. Add fried onions, a white bread roll and lashings of mustard and you’re looking at 390 calories, easy.
But what could be more traditional than chestnuts roasting on an open fire? And at only 170 calories for a bag of 10, they’re relatively low in fat for a nut and have good levels of other nutrients such as vitamins B and C. And they taste so good…. mmmmmm.
2. Swap a gingerbread latte for… a lighter gingerbread latte
Cradling a warm spicy beverage while perusing market stalls is a delight, but one gingerbread latte with whipped cream comes in at 320 calories. Opt for skimmed milk rather than whole milk, ditch the cream and use sweetener, and you’re down to 115 easily.
The Christmas party
Tasty, creamy, spicy, and absolutely packed with calories. Eggnog is nice but you might be better off going for a snowball Getty Images
With you’re having fun with your friends and colleagues it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation offered by copious amounts of booze, cheesy snacks and even cheesier music. If you’ve got several parties lined up and want to try and keep a bit of a check on things without missing out (of course!) then try these swaps.
There are also a few more alternate suggestions in our Christmas food article.
3. Swap cider for beer
Sorry cider drinkers (that’s hard cider, US readers), but the calorie content of this sweet alcoholic beverage is nearly double that of beer. You can cut nearly 100 calories easily by switching from a pint of cider (around 230kcal) to a pint of beer (around 160kcal).
4. Swap eggnog for a snowball
Eggnog may be a spicy festive favourite, but it’s also got a huge amount of calories packed into it — a small cup has around 320kcal. Opt for the equally festive snowball, a mixture of Advocaat and lemonade, and you’re down to a very reasonable 108kcal.
5. Swap mulled wine for sparkling wine
It’s perfectly acceptable at Christmas to drink sparkling wine at any point in the week (some would say, at any point in the day), which should cushion the blow of cutting back on the mulled wine. Mulled wine packs in 190 kcal for a small (120ml) glass compared with a relatively minuscule 80kcal for the same volume of chilled sparkling liquid.
That doesn’t mean we won’t indulge it in at all though!
Pigs in blankets… delicious but my-oh-my, the calories! Getty Images
Christmas dinner is the main event and there’s plenty in it that’s actually very good for you — think about the protein hit from the turkey or all those nutritious vegetables. Personally we’re going to go hard on those festive favourites, but if you are trying to keep things in check these little cheats and switches will have a small but cumulative effect.
And it’s Christmas, after all.
6. Turkey cheat
Tasty, tender turkey is packed full of lean protein. Pricking the turkey before you cook it and roasting it raised on a trivet allows more of the fat to drip out, and you can also reduce the calorie content further by avoiding the crispy skin.
7. Vegetable cheat
It’s tempting to coat your sprouts in bacon and butter, roast your potatoes in lashings of goose fat, and drizzle honey over your parsnips.
Roasting potatoes in olive oil rather than goose fat will help, but you’ll drop even more if you opt for oven baked potatoes instead. For your sprouts, add a flavour hit with some chopped fresh herbs and a little drizzle of olive oil instead.
Another great suggestion we’ve spotted is to swap out the pigs in blankets, those tasty little sausages wrapped in bacon, for asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto, which gives a similarly tasty bacon-type hit for around half the calories.
8. Sweet cheat
Christmas is all about the sweet treats; chocolate Yule log, Christmas cake and chocolate coils – yum!. While there aren’t really many tasty alternatives to Christmas pudding and mince pieces, swapping out cream for low-fat custard or Greek yoghurt (especially if it’s not full-fat) can drop hundreds of calories from each portion.
Likewise, ditching the tins of chocolates and sweets for a some high quality dark chocolate can give you similarly satisfying chocolaty hit.
Christmas dinner – choose wisely, and it’s a tasty meal that packs a nutritious punch Getty Images
Christmas dinner calorie comparison
It’s tempting to feel guilty about going all-out at Christmas, but if you live a healthy lifestyle and are an active person, there’s nothing wrong at all about having a few indulgent days. It does the body little-or-no harm, and it can be great for the mind to switch off analysis mode and just enjoy things. After all, as the saying goes Christmas comes but once a year!
There’s more good news: a good Christmas dinner will provide your body enough fuel to easily handle a good two or three hours on the road bike, or around two hours on the mountain bike.
For a quick comparison, we’ve put two Christmas dinners side to side so you can see both the differences certain swaps can make.
|Christmas food (quantity)
|| Alternative option (quantity)
| Roast, basted skin-on turkey (100g)
|| Skinless roasted turkey (100g)
| Roasted potatoes (100g)
|| Baked potato (100g)
| Sprouts with bacon (1/2 cup)
|| Sprouts with herbs (1/2 cup)
| Honey roasted parsnips (50g)
|| Roasted parsnips (50g)
| Marmalade glazed carrots (50g)
|| Steamed baby carrots (50g)
| Sausage meat stuffing (100g)
|| Cranberry and chestnut stuffing (100g)
|3 pigs in blankets
|| 3 asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
| Christmas pudding with brandy cream
|| Christmas pudding with low fat custard
| Small glass of mulled wine
| Pint of cider
|| Pint of beer
| 4 milk chocolates
|| 6 pieces of dark chocolate
| Road cycling / Mountain biking
||2.6 hours riding / 2.1 hours riding
||Road cycling / Mountain biking
|| 1.8 hours riding / 1.4 hours riding