How festive food keeps you healthy

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Free-range turkeys are rich in protein and contain amino acids that support cell repair, according to nutritional studies. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

London - Your Christmas dinner may have left you splayed on the sofa with a tum you fear will take all of January in the gym to work off.

But despite its button-bursting reputation, that festive meal could actually have done you no end of good.

Here, we reveal how Christmas foods will keep you hale and hearty long after the strange relatives have gone home.

So raise a glass to the knowledge that enjoying them all in sensible moderation - or in moderate moderation at least (it is the season of goodwill, after all) - will keep you going through the bleak midwinter.

Turkey sharpens up your brain

Free-range turkeys are rich in protein and contain amino acids that support cell repair, according to nutritional studies. The dark meat is a good source of iron and turkey is low in fat, too, if you don’t eat the skin.

Turkey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which produces mood-boosting serotonin and plays an important role in strengthening the immune system. The chemical also makes us less impulsive and improves our decision-making abilities.

Sprouts protect you against cancer

Sprouts contain cancer-fighting chemicals that protect our DNA against damage and may be effective against breast and colon cancer.

The International Journal of Urology found that the more sprouts men eat, the lower their risk of prostate cancer. Sprouts are also an excellent source of immunity-boosting vitamin C and have high levels of vitamin A, which promotes supple skin. Sprouts are also loaded with folic acid, important if you’re planning to become pregnant, and are high in fibre.

Sprouts also protect against arthritis. Steam them to retain their anti-cancer chemicals; boiling diminishes them.

Cranberries save your heart and gums

Cranberries are a source of antioxidants - substances that help neutralise free radicals, which are the by-products of metabolism in the body that can damage cell membranes and DNA.

A laboratory study found that cranberries can help to protect against cancer and heart attacks. In tests, people who drank two glasses of cranberry juice a day reduced their levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol. An experiment also discovered that women who drank the juice suffered fewer urinary infections such as cystitis.

Cranberry juice was also seen to reduce dangerous strains of bacteria in the women’s bodies.

Other studies have shown the juice to have anti-viral properties that may reduce the risk of gum disease and stomach ulcers.

Potatoes put your tum in tip-top shape

Carrots are excellent, not least for their eyesight-boosting beta carotene. They also have cancer-fighting properties. And, if you have them with a splodge of mayonnaise, their nutritional powers are strengthened.

Those humble-yet-tasty glazed parsnips also have anti-cancer properties - thanks to a group of chemicals called polyacetylenes that kill off leukaemia cells.

Then there are mashed and roast potatoes, which are a source of B vitamins and carbohydrates to keep your gut healthy.

Red wine controls your cholesterol

Every week there seems to be some new finding about the health-giving powers of red wine.

Principally, its antioxidant nutrients protect against heart disease. Moderate wine drinkers have higher levels of HDL, the so-called ‘good cholesterol’, says cardiologist Geoffrey Tofler.

His study of 3,000 people found that the blood platelets of people who drank three to six standard measures a week are much less likely to clump together in a way that could cause clotting.

Christmas pud is good for your joints

All the fruit in Christmas pudding offers a potassium-rich energy boost that helps to regulate blood pressure.

Meanwhile, spices bring a healthy balance to the mix. Cinnamon stabilises blood-sugar levels and softens the post-prandial crash big meals can cause.

Cinnamon may also reduce inflammation in joints. Arthritis patients given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder with honey every morning suffered significantly less pain after one week.

Nutmeg oil has been used to treat stress, pain, menstrual cramps and indigestion. Studies have shown that nutmeg’s key component, isoeugenol, has very powerful antibacterial properties - particularly against germs in food.

Cloves also contain eugenol and possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have found this ingredient can kill cancer cells in melanoma, leukaemia, and stomach tumours. Cloves are also used in folk medicine to treat nausea and toothache.

On top of all this, scientists have found that nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves may all prompt our bodies to produce two groups of chemicals called allylbenzenes and propenylbenzenes. These give us an amphetamine-like energy buzz.

Clementines keep your skin healthy

Reach for the satsumas and clementines to fill up with fibre and get a rapid fix of vitamin C.

Just one satsuma can provide nearly half your daily allowance of vitamin C, which is not only good for your digestive health, but also for nails, hair and complexion. Fruit fibre makes you feel fuller, quicker, so oranges can help you to stay within sight of your normal daily calorie consumption.

Walnuts help cut the risk of stroke

Nuts contain a kind of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid (ALA). This has benefits for body and brain, helping us to deal better with stress.

A 2010 study showed the ALA in walnuts and walnut oil damp down the cardiovascular reactions that occur when we feel under pressure. Such heightened responses can put us at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Other research has found that walnuts have high levels of antioxidants - more than any other type of nuts. These antioxidants are also particularly effective, protecting our brains and helping circulation.

Chocolates stop blood clots

Chocolates have proven to be another stress-reliever. Cardiologists have found that polyphenols in dark chocolate may help inhibit the formation of blood clots. So, come on... there’s still room for another piece or two from granny’s selection box. - Daily Mail

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