Good health is rarely at the forefront of anyone’s thinking during Christmas dinner (aside from when you’re toasting), but even by the flimsy nutritional standards expected of festive food, the UK is behind most of the rest of the world.
According to Christina Merryfield, Lead Dietician at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, only the US has an unhealthier Christmas dinner than the UK, with our American cousins scoring 2/10 compared to the UK’s 3/10.
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At the other end of the scale we have Poland, who notch an impressive 7/10 in the heath stakes for what is traditionally the most indulgent meal of the year, while Australia and New Zealand are awarded 6/10.
France, Spain and Germany come in the middle of the pack, while there’s no mention of Japan, where the tradition of eating KFC at Christmas has become widespread.
So what make a Polish Christmas so healthy? According to Merryfield, it comes down to the starring role of fish and the extra cast members on the plate.
“The food is varied and based on a variety of vegetables, fruits and nuts. Fish is the main source of protein in Polish Christmas meals, making it [the source of] healthier fats compared to red meat.”
Australia and New Zealand 6/10
Summer weather makes it a little easier to keep things healthy at Christmas in Australasia, with a standard meal consisting of cold meats, seafood and salad or roasted vegetables, with pavlova to follow. All of which sounds great, but hardly the hearty fare required in a northern hemisphere winter.
High-fat treats like foie gras and cheese are counteracted by healthier foodstuffs like seafood, oily fish and salad, thus ensuring France’s mid-table rating.
Spain and Germany 4/10
They’re just ahead of the UK, but Spain and Germany can hardly brag about the healthiness of their Christmas meals. The mains in Spain might be fairly healthy, but the array of sugary puddings are decidedly not, while the Germans opt for goose or fish accompanied by sausages and potato salad.
Sure, we chuck a few token vegetables on the plate, but they’re mainly there to provide a splash of colour compared to the vast amounts of meat and trimmings. This might shock you, but wrapping cocktail sausages in streaky bacon isn’t healthy.
“Typically, Christmas dinner includes vegetables,” says Merryfield, “but not enough to get the right level of fibre and keep fat levels down. The other elements like roast meat, stuffing, gravy and Yorkshire puddings are high in fat or have added saturated fat.”
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The USA claim the unhealthy kings of Christmas crown by virtue of a meal based heavily around carbohydrates, including plentiful amounts of refined sugars from puddings and pies.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.