Christmas dinner - watch those calories

Caroline Cassidy

It's almost time for the annual Christmas feast and many of us will be looking forward to a day of indulgence and excess. Though the turkey itself is a surprisingly healthy choice, the calories in all those trimmings soon mount up and for those watching their weight lunchtime can be a minefield of butter-drenched spuds and calorie-laden sauces.

calories in Christmas dinner
calories in Christmas dinner

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So if you are keen to enjoy your Xmas fare but can do without the extra pounds, here's a breakdown of where the calories lie and how you can keep the damage to a minimum.

Calorie breakdown
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, the average Christmas lunch totals a whopping 956 calories - and that's without snacking on chocolates and nuts and knocking back the booze.
Over the course of the day, we're expected to put away nearer 6,000 calories.

The basic components of a traditional turkey lunch are reasonably healthy: a 90g serving of turkey amounts to 149 calories, a standard portion of roast spuds totals 127 calories, roast parsnips 102 calories, Brussels sprouts (32 calories), boiled carrots are 14 calories and gravy 17 calories.

Add seasonal extras - cranberry sauce at 45 calories, bread sauce 42 calories, sausages wrapped in bacon 197 calories and stuffing, a high-fat 231 calories - and you've already reached almost half the daily recommended 2,000 calories for women (2,500 for men).

And that's before you even start on the Christmas pud with custard and brandy butter (587 calories), Christmas cake (249 calories per 70g slice) and cheese and biscuits (394 calories for a standard portion).

Keeping the calorie count down
Christmas comes but once a year and there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy yourself. For those keen to avoid the festive bulge, however, a few simple tips could help to keep the calorie count down.

Turkey, for instance, is a healthy lean meat packed with protein but the skin, lovingly smothered in fat during the cooking process, accounts for much of the calorie count. A 15g portion could contain a sizeable 70 calories and 6g of fat (depending on your basting choice) so opt instead for a skin-free meal.

As the breakdown shows, all those extra trimmings are also responsible for a large proportion of the Christmas dinner calories so it's wise to pile the healthy veg onto your plate before reaching for the pigs in blankets. By loading up on nutrient-packed sprouts and carrots and filling up with potatoes and parsnips, you'll be less likely to dive into the sausages and stuffing. Just remember not to drench your veg in butter - just one teaspoonful will add 35 calories to your plate.

If you're the one doing the cooking, try chestnut stuffing rather than the sausage meat variety and you'll remove around 29g of fat per 100g serving.

Now for the pudding - if Christmas doesn't feel right without the brandy-soaked sweet treat but you're worried about the calorie count and fat content, opt for a small portion and be careful what you pour over it.

Surprisingly, custard is the worst calorie culprit, containing 165 calories per serving when made with full-fat milk. The good news is that double cream (67 calories) and brandy butter (98 calories) both fare better. However, the fat content of each is high, 7.2g for cream and 8.4 for brandy butter, so stick to just one dollop.

There's no reason why you can't enjoy a little excess on December 25 but by making the right choices you can dine without feeling deprived... and there's always that long post-lunch walk to burn off a few unwanted calories!

Are you worried about piling on weight this Christmas? What's your top tip for enjoying the festive season without ruining your diet? Leave your comments below...