It’s the most wonderful time of the year – just not for your waistline!

With research suggesting the average adult demolishes 5,373 calories on Christmas Day* (that’s equivalent to nearly 10 Big Macs and almost three times the recommended daily allowance for a woman!) it’s no surprise gyms and health clubs see membership enquiries spike each January.

But, says nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert, with a few smart swaps, you can slash thousands of calories before December’s even over. 

Drink smart

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a festive tipple or two, but choosing your drinks wisely can make a big difference.

“Swap drinks and mixers for lower-calorie alternatives,” says Rhiannon.

“Using a low-calorie tonic water can save around 40 calories and 9.5g sugar. Plus, did you know that a pint of beer contains around the same number of calories as a slice of pizza?

"By drinking one less each time you go out in December, you could save thousands of calories over the month.

"Drink bottled beers instead, as it will encourage you to have fewer and drink slower.

"Also, opt for single spirit measures. These tweaks can significantly reduce the number of calories you consume.”

Veg out

When it comes to all the trimmings with Christmas dinner, swapping sausagemeat stuffing for a veggie alternative can work wonders for your waistline.

“It can reduce your fat intake by 5g and save around 50 calories per serving,” says Rhiannon.

“Packet mixes are often packed with added salt, so try making your own vegetarian stuffing using chestnuts, onion, herbs, and breadcrumbs.”

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Don’t skip breakfast

On Christmas Day, resist the temptation to skip breakfast and run on chocolate and Bucks Fizz until the main event.

While it might seem like a “diet trick”, skipping meals often leads to overeating and can promote bingeing.

“Chocolate calories soon add up and are empty. You’ll just be hungry again within an hour or so,” warns Rhiannon. “You can easily save 300 calories by eating breakfast rather than a large bag of chocolate coins first thing.”

Good breakfast options to fuel the gift unwrapping are porridge or high-fibre cereals, such as Weetabix or Bran Flakes, suggests Rhiannon.

“They provide slow-release energy and are low in added sugar.

"If cereal isn’t your thing, scramble or poach a couple of eggs and serve them on wholemeal or seeded bread. Add tomatoes for a boost of vitamin C.” 

Rethink your roasties

Roast potatoes are arguably the star of the show at Christmas lunch. But, Rhiannon has some simple hacks to make them better for you.

“Try keeping the skins on to boost your fibre intake,” she says. “Swap goose fat for olive oil when you cook them, and try to make sure your dinner plate is at least half full of veg.”

Graze guilt-free

Snacking is inevitable during December’s festivities, but simple swaps will help in the battle of the bulge.

Opt for breadsticks over cheese straws – they’re lower in saturated fat, says Rhiannon.

“One cheese straw could contain up to 150 calories compared to just 20 for a breadstick. Prepare some vegetable crudités and houmous for an even healthier option.”

And if you’re guilty of demolishing a sharing bag of crisps, go for nuts.

“Leave bowls of unsalted nuts and a nutcracker around,” adds Rhiannon. “The effort it takes means you’re likely to eat slower and eat less.”

It can also pay to dip smart, so rather than loading snacks with sour-cream-based dips, opt for a home-made salsa or try Greek yoghurt.

Keep your cake naked!

It’s all the rage for couples getting hitched, but the trend for naked cakes can make the holidays healthier, too.

“Make your Christmas cake lower in sugar by leaving off the icing and marzipan,” suggests Rhiannon.

“The dried fruit makes it much more nutritious than some other sweet treats, but it is still high in fat and sugar.

"Try to keep slices small, too, aiming for a piece roughly the size of a pack of cards.”

Get fraiche!

If you’re a fan of brandy butter, this tip is for you! Try swapping it for half-fat crème fraiche, says Rhiannon.

“Brandy butter is extremely high in saturated fat and comes in at around 89 calories per tablespoon.

"Half-fat crème fraiche is only 49 calories, so this is a great little swap! Add a splash of vanilla extract to make it taste even more delicious.”

Love your leftovers

“Many families will have a ham as their Boxing Day centrepiece,” Rhiannon says.

“But unfortunately, ham is processed, high in fat and salt, and the World Health Organisation classes it as a carcinogen, which means it could contribute to causing cancer.

"Why not tuck into leftover skinless cooked turkey or chicken instead, as they have less fat and salt?

"To make your buffet spread even healthier, include tomatoes and cucumber slices and wholegrain bread.

"Home-made slaws are another easy way to boost your vegetable and fibre intake, too.”

Cheesy does it!

A festive spread just isn’t complete without a decent cheeseboard. But a few smart choices when you’re doing the big shop can make a big difference.

“They might be popular, but deep-frying cheeses, such as mozzarella, only adds more fat,” explains Rhiannon.

“Camembert is better for you than stilton, while ricotta or cottage cheese can be healthier swaps.

"The most important thing to remember is to keep servings small – a 30g matchbox-size slice is perfect.

"By not eating stilton this Christmas, you could save yourself a whopping 10g of fat per serving, and around 150 calories.”

Tweak your trifle

If your family are trifle fans, take note of Rhiannon’s tips for saving hundreds of calories and sugar per portion without sacrificing taste.

“Try making it with sugar-free jelly, low-fat custard and fresh fruit, or tinned fruit in juice rather than syrup. This will save around 10g fat and 5g sugar per serving.

"Be mindful of the cream on top – here’s where half-fat crème fraiche can come to the rescue again – or add small blobs of cream, rather than a full slathering to help to reduce the calories by around 150 per serving.”

Pick your pies

We know mince pies aren’t ever going to win any awards for being healthy, but fear not, there are some better-for-you options.

“An open mince pie, rather than one with a pastry or iced top, will save you around 50 calories and 5g sugar,” says Rhiannon. “If you can’t resist a lid, opting for filo pastry will mean it’s lower in fat.”

Ho-ho-how about that? 

  • The Science Of Nutrition: Debunk The Diet Myths And Learn How To Eat Well For Health And Happiness by Rhiannon Lambert (£20, DK) is out December 30

Source: *Wren Kitchens

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