A Nutritionist’s Verdict On 6 Healthy Christmas Supermarket Foods

From meat-free mains to plant-based puddings, the choice of vegan and vegetarian festive food has never been better – but some options are better for you than others. Here’s what two nutritionists want you to know and their top tips for putting a healthier spin on your festive feasting…
By Tor West

Vegan Luxury Mince Pies, £2.95 | Oggs

VERDICT: These mince pies are a good vegan-friendly option for those looking to avoid animal-based products this Christmas, says nutritionist Lauren Windas, but don’t mistake them for a healthier alternative. “It can be tricky to find commercially made mince pies that use 100% health-conscious ingredients, and at Christmas we mustn’t beat ourselves up for a little bit of food pleasure. These mince pies are high in sugar and contain emulsifiers and preservatives, but if you are vegan, enjoy them mindfully and in moderation.”

MAKE IT HEALTHIER: To minimise the sugar spike, nutritionist Sophie Trotman recommends serving with a couple of spoons of full-fat Greek yoghurt, some cheese or nuts. “This will ensure the sugar is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, helping you avoid a sugar and energy rollercoaster. Many people believe vegan certification makes a food instantly healthier, which isn’t always the case, but you can be savvy about it and minimise the sugar spike.”

Available at Tesco.com

Plant Kitchen No Cheese Board Selection, £6.50 | M&S Food

VERDICT: A vegan platter of mature, smoked, mixed cranberry and crumbly French-style cheese, this plant-based option is best avoided, according to both experts. “Plant-based cheese is notoriously low in protein but high in fat – and not always the beneficial fats we should be eating more of,” says Lauren. “These cheeses are high in coconut oil, which we should be eaten in moderation, and also contain E numbers, which come with potential health hazards.”

MAKE IT HEALTHIER: If you aren’t vegan, you’re better off eating the real thing, says Sophie. “Dairy products contain healthful micronutrients and are a great source of protein,” she tells us. “If you don’t eat dairy, opt for healthy fats in the forms of pistachios, walnuts and pecans.”

Available at Ocado.com

Vegan Panettone, £12 | Vergani

VERDICT: “It’s a misnomer that vegan dishes are healthy simply because they carry the vegan label,” reiterates Lauren. “This vegan panettone may not contain animal products, but it does provide nearly 30g of sugar per 100g, which is very high. The ingredient list features sugar in various forms, including added sugar cane and glucose-fructose syrup. It may serve well as a Christmas dessert for those with dietary preferences, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a healthy option.”

MAKE IT HEALTHIER: “High in sugar and calorie dense, it’d be a good idea to serve this alongside some protein,” says Sophie. “Some protein-rich yoghurt, nuts or cheese would help balance blood sugar levels and reduce energy crashes later in the day.”

Available at Waitrose.com

Banging Buffalo Cauliflower Nuggets With BBQ Dip, £5.50 | M&S Food

VERDICT: Like the prawn canapés, these cauliflower nuggets aren’t the healthiest option, but they’re less processed than meat-based alternatives. “Cauliflower is a great source of fibre and vitamin C,” says Sophie. “But the rapeseed oil-rich batter and sugary barbecue sauce mean this dish isn’t so nutritious.” Lauren is also wary of the sugar content: “These nuggets contain five types of sugar – including molasses, dextrose and caramelised sugar syrup.”

MAKE IT HEALTHIER: Cauliflower is nutrient dense and can help support liver function at this time of the year, so Lauren recommends making your own version by roasting florets in the oven with fresh herbs like fennel, salt and pepper. “If you don’t have time to make your own, serve as they are but avoid the dip and make a speedy yoghurt dip with lemon juice and garlic,” says Sophie.

Available at Ocado.com

Plant-Based Brandy Cream, £1.75 | The Coconut Collaborative

VERDICT: Dairy-free options have never been better, and this coconut-based cream pairs well poured over Christmas pudding, or whipped and served with mince pies. “This is a good option for those looking to avoid dairy,” says Lauren. “It contains coconut oil and is lower in fat than standard double cream, although it does pack in a considerable amount of sugar and starch. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this should be a staple in your diet, but it’s certainly a more suitable option to enjoy occasionally.” 

MAKE IT HEALTHIER: Stick to the serving size – around a tablespoon – but for more health benefits, Sophie says use yoghurt instead. 

Available at Tesco.com

Medjool Dates, £3.49 | Specially Selected

VERDICT: Whether served as part of a cheeseboard or alongside nuts as a snack, dates are a delicious, sweet treat to enjoy over the Christmas season. “You can also use them as an alternative to refined sugar when baking or making desserts,” suggests Lauren. “Dates are naturally high in fructose and glucose, but they also offer some fibre and work well paired with nuts. You can even try stuffing them with nut butter and sprinkling with cinnamon – the fibre in the dates and protein in the nuts and seeds will support blood sugar control.”

MAKE IT HEALTHIER: For a savoury spin, Lauren recommends stuffing dates with goat’s cheese, chopped cranberries and walnuts. 

Available at Aldi.co.uk

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