Counting calories this Christmas? Beware the pigs in blankets

Average person will consume 6,000 calories on Christmas Day, report says – but you can cut down and still eat well

A short stroll on Christmas Day is the antidote for many a gluttonous festive feast. But according to health experts, a post-dinner walk would have to last four and a half hours to work off the calories of a typical Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.

Figures released by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) on Wednesday reveal that the average person will consume about 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone, nearly three times the recommended daily intake for women and more than twice the recommended amount for men.

According to researchers, one mince pie would take 37 minutes of frenetic ice-skating to work off the calories, while a large glass of mulled wine would take about 44 minutes to walk off.

As those tasked with cooking Christmas dinner buy their ingredients this week, research shows that where you buy each component could also significantly affect your calorie intake.

The Guardian looked at eight big supermarkets and compared the fat, sugar and calorie content of key ingredients in a typical Christmas dinner, using the supermarket’s own luxury brand.

While turkey is a lean white meat – notoriously easy to dry out if left a little long in the oven – there was more than four times as much fat in a Marks & Spencer’s bird than one from Lidl, which also had the fewest calories.

Graphic shows main course meats, calories per 100g

The most calorific cranberry sauce from the supermarkets surveyed was Aldi’s Scandi-inspired lingonberry and cranberry sauce, 60% of which was sugars, compared with only 18.5% of M&S’s cranberry sauce.

Graphic shows sauces, calories per 100g

Aldi shoppers are the least likely to feel out of pocket when they get to the checkout, after it was found to have the cheapest festive meal in the annual Good Housekeeping magazine festive shopping basket cost survey. It found that all the ingredients for Christmas dinner for eight cost just £22.03. Lidl came in at second place (£24.57), while Iceland came third. The most expensive basket was from Marks & Spencer (£49.40) followed by Waitrose (£40.02).

But those looking to get as much fat for their money as possible might want to get stuck into those cosy pigs in blankets. If bought from Tesco they will contain 325 calories per 100g, or 58 calories per little pig. The lowest calorie version could be found in M&S, where there was still nearly 22g of fat per 100g of the things.

We consume plenty of vegetables on Christmas Day, even if younger – and sometimes older – family members will employ ingenious tricks to hide overcooked sprouts. However, ready-to-roast frozen potatoes and parsnips tend to contain more calories than fresh items.

Graphic shows vegetable side dishes, calories per 100g

Aldi’s frozen roast potatoes (cooked, of course, in goose fat) contain 201 calories per 100g, with 9.3g of fat, while the healthiest are from Sainsbury’s, at 117 calories per 100g. Aldi’s Four Seasons parsnips with a honey glaze are also the most calorie-laden of the bunch, with 253 calories per 100g, while there are only 118 calories in Morrison’s own-brand version.

Among Christmas puddings, Aldi’s version has the most calories, at 347 per 100g, while Tesco’s version has the most sugar (44g) and Marks & Spencer’s the most fat.

Graphic shows desserts, calories per 100g

Lidl’s own-brand Snowy Lodge mince pies sold out in many parts of the UK last year after coming second in a Which? taste test, but each little pie contains 257 calories, including 9.4g of fat.

According to RSPH, when we put all of that together we are likely to consume 1,450 calories during Christmas dinner, and then another 820 if we have space for Christmas pudding with cream. That’s about seven hours of walking, if you wanted to work off the lot in one day, according to Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH. “Trying not to over-indulge too much and keeping active over the holidays might help a little when it comes to avoiding a nasty shock on the scales and a lot of hard work in the new year,” she said.

Dr Frankie Phillips, dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson, said there was another way. “Christmas dinner has a bad reputation, but it can actually be a very healthy meal,” she said. “It could be the one time of year where people actually pile up a lot of vegetables of their plate.”

Brussels sprouts contain folate, potassium, fibre and vitamin C, parsnips provide fibre and folate, while cabbage also has folate as well as calcium, iron, fibre and vitamin C.

To make Christmas dinner just that touch healthier, Phillips recommends not overcooking the vegetables, and using the cooking water to help make gravy so that no nutrients are lost. And, quite simply, not eating until you are fit to burst.

“Stopping eating when you feel satisfied is the way to go; no one feels great if they have overeaten,” she said. “And just try and bear in mind how much you are eating – and drinking during the day. If you are going to have a mince pie, try to just have one.”


Alexandra Topping and Marianna Spring

The GuardianTramp

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