Nutritionists choose the best options from high street Christmas menus
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ll have noticed that we’re quite excited about Christmas food here at MAN v FAT. Pigs in blankets, turkey, cranberry sauce – what’s not to love?
We’re big fans of treating ourselves to a turkey sandwich with all the trimmings as we escape the slug of office meetings (all within our calorie allowance of course) but do we know the real nutritional cost of our favourite high street Christmas lunch?
We asked two nutritionists what they would choose from some of the most popular Christmas menus on the high street, and what they would avoid.
Choose: Festive Winter Salad or Smoked Salmon, Soft Cheese and Dill sandwich
Avoid: Veggie sandwiches, Melvin the Gingerbread Man
Michela Vagini, nutritionist: My first choice would be the Festive Winter Salad. It has a good combination of vegetables, is low in salt, high in fibre and has a moderate amount of sugars (probably coming mainly from caramelised pecans, which makes you wonder why not use plain pecans?!) There is also a good amount of protein and it’s a low-calorie option if you avoid the salad dressing.
Cassandra Barns, nutritionist and writer: I’d also go for the Festive Winter Salad. It’s packed with vegetables and is low in carbs so it’s a good lunchtime choice. But if you’re going for a sandwich, I recommend the Smoked Salmon, Soft Cheese & Dill. You may not get as many veggies as some of the other sandwiches, but there’s a decent amount of protein to balance out the carbohydrates in the bread which will help balance your blood sugar. And of course you’re getting healthy omega-3 fats from the salmon.
Perhaps surprisingly, I would avoid the vegetarian sandwiches, simply because they contain so little protein in relation to the carbohydrates. They’re more likely to play havoc with your blood sugar, leaving you hankering for sweet treats later on to keep your energy up.
Michela: I’d definitely avoid Melvin the Gingerbread Man. Ok, so Christmas is all about food, but these little things are chock-full of sugar and empty calories. One gingerbread contains 29.6g of sugar per 60g serving. That means almost half of it is sugar! Not the best idea to indulge in them if you are trying to lose weight.
It’s also not a good choice if you are at work and need steady energy and a sharp mind. All that sugar could cause a sugar crash which will leave you tired and with a foggy mind. Maybe go for their lovely fruit salads and mixed nuts instead. Add some cinnamon and ginger to it and the Christmas flavour is back!
Choose: Ham Hock & Spiced Plum Chutney Gluten-Free Roll
Avoid: Brie, Bacon and Cranberry Panini, Amaretti Muffin
Michela: When it comes to food I have to say that Caffé Nero has the healthiest option when it comes to Christmas sandwiches. Their Ham Hock & Spiced Plum Chutney Gluten-Free Roll is my favourite option so far. It has 4.9g of sugar and 5.7g of fibre per serving and as a general rule having more fibre than sugars is a good option. Salt is also on the low side with only 1.2g per serving and 12.8g of protein is a good amount.
Cassandra: Yes, for a good savoury option I’d go for the Ham Hock & Spiced Plum Chutney Gluten-Free Roll too. As well as being gluten-free, it’s lower in calories and carbohydrates than the other options.
Michela: The Brie, Bacon and Cranberry Panini may be Christmassy but it has a very low nutritional profile. White bread and bacon are the main ingredients, giving it a high level of sugar, at 9.4g per serving and a relatively low fibre content.
Cassandra: If you’re after a treat, avoid the Amaretti Muffin. Perhaps the most reasonable alternative is the Chocolate & Hazelnut Slice – you’ll save yourself around 120 calories and over 25 grams of sugar – equivalent to around 6 teaspoons.
Choose: Turkey Hot Pot
Avoid: Pigs In Blankets, Turkey, Stuffing and Crispy Onion Baguette.
Michela: The Turkey Hot Pot is probably one of the healthiest options on the menu. There is a good mix of vegetables and turkey. It has a lower salt content per serving, lower carbs and lower calories compared to the rest of the menu.
It is probably not a surprise to see that the pigs in blankets are very high in salt with 3g per serving (max recommend per day is 6g) and it’s also very high in sugars too for a savoury dish with 11g per serving.
Cassandra: I’d definitely go for the Turkey Hot Pot – no question. The calories and carb content are reasonable at around 500 calories and 35g respectively. The fact that it’s served hot is great too, it’ll warm you up and encourage good digestion on a cold winter day. It’s also great for those who need or want to steer clear of gluten.
I’d be most likely to avoid the Turkey, Stuffing & Crispy Onion Baguette: it contains 635 calories and a whopping 79g carbs – likely to send you to sleep at your desk. It is offset by a good protein content, however, which is one point in its favour.
Choose: Turkey Feast Panini
Avoid: Three Cheeses & Cranberry Panini
Michela: The Turkey Feast Panini has a relatively average amount of calories per serving at 435Kcal and with 4.6g sugars per serving it is on the low side compared to the alternatives. Its high protein content is also beneficial as this will help keep you fuller for longer.
The Three Cheeses and Cranberry Panini, is not as bad as others I have seen, but the sugars are on the high side, with an average of 9g per serving.
Cassandra: There’s not a great deal to choose between the savoury options here, as they’re all sandwiches. But the winner – by a margin – is the Turkey Feast Panini. Despite the name, it’s lower in calories and higher in protein than the other two sandwiches on offer so should keep you feeling fuller for longer and give you more bang for your buck (where the ‘buck’ is calories) in terms of nutrient content.
I’d be least likely to go for the Three Cheeses & Cranberry Panini, as it will give you 85 more calories, 10g of extra fat, 3g more sugar, and 6g less protein than the Turkey Feast.