Christmas dinners aren’t usually known for healthy offerings, and instead bring to mind thoughts of Uncle Fred loosening his belt after a third round of helpings.

But there are traditional offerings that can be healthy, if prepared in the proper way, researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom report.

For example, Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, which can aid the body in fighting chronic conditions like diabetes and cancer.

However, maximum benefit from Brussels sprouts is derived when the veggies are steamed, rather than boiled or roasted, said Kirsten Brandt, a senior lecturer in food and human nutrition at Newcastle University.

“If you boil the Brussels sprouts, then you lose a lot of the important compounds into the water,” Brandt said in a university news release. “If you roast them, they are being broken down during the cooking.”

“Steaming is the one that gives most of these tasty and healthy compounds in the final product,” Brandt continued.

A side of carrots also can help reduce a person’s risk of cancer.

Five servings of carrots each week has been linked to a 20% reduction in cancer risk, according to a new evidence review from Brandt’s team that was published Dec. 17 in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

Even serving still lowers cancer risk by 4%, researchers said.

Carrots contain a wide array of different compounds associated with health benefits, most prominently beta-carotene — the plant chemical that gives carrots their orange color.

However, the new review — which included data from nearly 200 studies involving 4.7 million participants — concluded that the whole carrot provides an anti-cancer effect, not just carotenes on their own.

“Unfortunately, beta-carotene did not show much beneficial effect on cancer in controlled experiments,” said lead researcher Charles Ojobor, a doctoral student at Newcastle University’s Human Nutrition and Exercise Research Center. “As a result, we studied carrots due to their content of a different type of phytochemicals, polyacetylenes, which are colorless but have strong effects on cancer.”

Potatoes also appear on many Christmas dinner tables — and the Newcastle researchers say there’s one variety that’s the best for roasting.

Researchers evaluated more than 250 different varieties of potatoes, and concluded that red “rooster” potatoes are the tops.

Red potatoes are rich in fiber and ideal for popping in an air fryer, said Sophia Long, a doctoral student with Newcastle University’s Department of Science, Agriculture and Engineering.

“Rooster potatoes are perfect for making the best roast potato,” Long said. “They have a nice red skin and, when peeled, they reveal a lovely golden color underneath – perfect for your roasties on Christmas day.”

More information

Consumer Reports has more on healthy holiday foods.

SOURCE: Newcastle University, news release, Dec. 18, 2023

What This Means for You:

Christmas dinners can feature healthy offerings, if hosts plan their meals carefully and prepare veggies properly.