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Christmas and New Year Friday, 25 December, 1998, 02:41 GMT
Christmas dinner: the healthy option?
The British Christmas meal, but is it healthy?
Christmas is synonymous the world over with good food and lots of it.

But is too much making merry bad for your health?

News Online presents a short rundown of dishes from around the world and an analysis of their health potential.

Europe

In the UK, families usually tuck into roast turkey, chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy on Christmas Day.

This is followed by Christmas pudding - a heavy fruit pudding laced with brandy. This is often eaten with brandy flavoured butter.

Optional extras include mince pies - pies made out of dried fruits.

Later in the day, if you have managed to save room, there is Christmas cake - a fruit cake covered in marzipan - and chocolate log, a chocolate cake topped off with a plastic robin. Consuming the robin is not recommended.

In many European countries - particularly eastern and central Europe, fish is the main Christmas fare.

In Austria and the Czech Republic, carp is the main dish. The Czechs eat it with black sauce.

In Austria, the carp is fried and followed by chocolate and apricot cake.

Italians - which has a strong regionalist tendency - fish is also big. In some regions, families may prepare as many as 20 different fish dishes for Christmas Eve.

In Rome, the traditional meal is roast, baked or fried eel.

However, in northern Italy, some families eat pork sausage packed in a pig's leg and smothered in lentils or roast turkey.

Italians also indulge in lots of sweet food, including torrone (nougat) and panettone (cake filled with glazed fruit).

Christmas pudding is rich in potassium
Christmas sweets tend to be made with nuts which are symbolic of the earth's fertility, and honey. In ancient Rome, honey symbolised that the New Year would be sweet.

Besides fish and turkey, the other main European Christmas dishes tend to involve ham or pork.

Latvians eat brown peas and bacon sauce, small pies, cabbage and sausage.

The Swedes tend to eat ham, herring and brown beans on Christmas Eve.

But the big Christmas pork eaters are the Germans.

Christmas Eve is traditionally known as Dickbauch or Fat Stomach.

According to legend, people who do not eat a lot will be haunted by demons on Christmas Eve.

The main meal consists of suckling pig, white sausage and macaroni salad, but there are many regional variations.

On Christmas Day, Germans tuck into fish or roast goose and an array of heavy fruit breads, marzipan and spice bars.

Americas

North Americans tend to eat roast turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes and gravy - the same as for Thanksgiving.

But because of the USA's multicultural tradition, there are wide variations in what people eat.

Virginians tuck into oyster and ham pie and in Louisiana Creole Gumbo is a favourite. It consists of ham, veal, chicken, shrimp, oyster and crabmeat.

In New Mexico, empanaditas - beef pies with apple sauce, pine nuts and raisins - are big while in Hawai Turkey Teriyaki, a kind of barbequed turkey, is traditional fare.

In Baltimore, sauerkraut is sometimes served with turkey, but in North Carolina people eat Moravian Love Feast buns, a sweet bread made of flour and mashed potatoes.

A healthy Christmas

According to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), Christmas dinner generally provides a balanced meal, as long as you don't go too wild.

Turkey is low in fat. Breast meat has only 2% fat. The thigh has slightly more fat and dark meat contains more iron.

Eating too much at Christmas is okay, as long as you burn off the calories
Roast potatoes provide carbohydrates and vegetables give you the fibre and vitamins you need if they are not overcooked.

"It is a very nutritious meal," said a spokeswoman.

She added that there was no harm indulging in the odd bit of Christmas pudding, which contains a lot of potassium.

However, the BNF advises people against slumping in front of the TV after the big meal.

It is better to do about 30 minutes of exercise to help burn off the food.

Other Christmas dinners are equally good for you. Fish is low in fat and some varieties, such as salmon, tuna and trout, help prevent heart disease.

Ham is a good source of iron and is particularly good for teenage girls who have just started their periods and women approaching the menopause.


Pork also gets the BNF seal of approval. Its fat content has been dropping dramatically in recent years.

"If you are always eating too much, then you may need to change your habits and diet, but it is fine if you are just overeating for a short period.

"Just concentrate on exercising more," said the spokeswoman.

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