Christmas calorie countdown
Research by food historian Dr Annie Gray revealed that the average person in wartime Britain consumed 3,500 calories (kcal) on Christmas day - half of today’s estimate which is a staggering 7,000 calories. With the recommended daily intake being 2,000kcal per day for women and 2,500 for men, Christmas day has certainly become a time of huge indulgence. So what can we do to reduce the calorie burden during the festive season without spoiling the fun?
Studies have shown that consuming your calories as sugar leads to significantly more weight gain than the same number of calories taken as fat. Sugar is also highly addictive so starting the day with jam on toast could result in a downward spiral for the rest of the day. Start instead with a protein based breakfast, such as yogurt or poached eggs, which will keep you satisfied for longer.
Alcohol is also very calorific and is one of the main reasons that our Christmas calorie intake is so much higher now than during wartime. For example: a small sherry while cooking, a glass of wine and a flute of champagne at dinner and 50ml cream liqueur in the evening adds up to a over 500kcal. And considering that a pint of lager contains 180kcal it’s easy to see how the calories soon stack up.
Christmas dinner calorie countdown*
No-one wants to go without on Christmas day, but having a bit of knowledge about the calorie content of different food choices might influence what you decide to eat.
- Turkey and chicken are the least fatty options for meat, with beef, duck, lamb and goose all slightly higher depending on the cut. Regardless of the type of meat, eating more than the recommended portion size (about 75g) can add an extra 100 calories or more to the meal.
- Three mini ‘Pigs in blankets’ provide 120kcal – this is around 30% more than the same weight of cooked sausage meat, and double the calorie count of vegetarian sausages
- Potatoes and parsnips are more calorific than other vegetables and also absorb fat during roasting, so use as little oil as possible and blot the excess with kitchen paper before serving
- Gravy made with flour and meat juices can contain more than three times the calories of gravy made from granules (25kcal per 100ml)
- A full-size Yorkshire pudding might seem like it is mostly air but contains around 120kcal – twice the calories of a 50g sage and onion stuffing ball.
- For dessert, fruit salad has to be one of the best choices averaging 30kcal per 100g, compared with Christmas pudding (320), Yule log (340), Christmas cake (380) and Mince pies (400)
- Double cream contains more than double the calories of single cream (460kcal per 100ml compared to 190kcal). Custard is lower with 100kcal per 100ml.
- Beware of the cheeseboard! Cheddar, Wensleydale and Stilton all contain over 400kcal per 100g, while lower calorie options include Brie (350), Edam (310), Camembert (310) and Feta (275)
- A snack of colourful vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, sweet peppers) with homemade tomato salsa averages less than 40kcal per 100g - a huge difference to the 400kcal provided by the same amount of tortilla chips and creamy dips
- Olives also make a great choice for a snack, at about 6 kcal each, compared with around 50 kcal for a foil wrapped sweet
*approximate calorie values based on standard supermarket products.
Top tips for Christmas day
The way you eat can be just as significant as the food itself. Follow the tips below to avoid over-indulgence:
- Eating while standing leads to mindless eating so if you are going to have that mince pie make it a conscious decision; get a plate and sit down to enjoy it properly.
- Buy an appropriate amount of food for the number of people you are expecting, and if there are leftovers divide them between your guests so you are not left with excessive food
- Increase the percentage of the plate that is taken up by vegetables, leaving less space for high calorie items
- Start with a glass of water and eat until you are satisfied - if you feel uncomfortable then you have eaten too much
- If you are not ready for dessert after the main meal then go for a walk or open presents first
- Instead of coffee and cream, try a cup of ginger or peppermint tea to help soothe the digestion after a big meal
- Stick to one or two choices for dessert – having five different items on the table encourages people to eat more
- Once dinner is over clear away the leftovers or move to another room to avoid temptation
- Keep nibbles out of sight and avoid passing tub of sweets and chocolates around the room – human nature encourages us to take one out of politeness
- Keep occupied in the evening with a board game or other activity to take the focus away from the leftovers
It is not always the obvious foods like sweets and desserts that stack up the calories but by being more aware and keeping an eye on portion sizes you can still indulge in a few Christmas treats without overloading your digestive system.
If you would like to learn more about what’s in the food we eat, consider signing up for a course in Nutrition in the New Year.