Christmas dinner can be healthy, according to a study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. The festive season is often seen as a time of overindulgence, but a team of researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, argue that parts of the Christmas meal may actually improve our health.
First, the team defended that we should avoid over-boiled sprouts and have them steamed instead. This cooking method helps the vegetable retain its glucosinolates, which help the body fight chronic conditions such as diabetes and cancer. The same applies to broccoli, cabbage, and kale; these vegetables contain high levels of glucosinolates, which interact with proteins that repair damaged DNA and promote cell death in cancer tumours.
The team assessed how different ways of cooking sprouts affected their levels of glucosinolates, including roasting, boiling, and steaming. “If you boil the Brussels sprouts then you lose a lot of the important compounds into the water,” said Dr Kirsten Brandt, Senior Lecturer in Food and Human Nutrition at Newcastle University. “If you roast them, they are being broken down during the cooking, so steaming is the one that gives most of these tasty and healthy compounds in the final product.”
After analysing the eating habits of almost 5 million participants, the team also found that regular consumption of carrots — five servings per week — can help reduce the risk of cancer by nearly a quarter. Even just one serving per week can still significantly reduce the chances of developing cancer, with a 4% lower chance of the disease compared to those who never eat the vegetable.
“Many researchers have noticed the benefits of carrots previously, and this is a reason why there was so much data for us to analyse. However, most of the previous studies focused on beta-carotene, one of the orange carotenoid phytochemicals, which give the orange carrots their colour,” said Charles Ojobor, from the Human Nutrition and Exercise Research Centre at Newcastle University.
“Unfortunately, beta-carotene did not show much beneficial effect on cancer in controlled experiments. As a result, we studied carrots due to their content of a different type of phytochemicals, polyacetylenes, which are colourless but have strong effects on cancer. For our study, we looked at different types of cancer, and our analysis showed that people who eat five portions of carrots per week had a 20% reduced risk of developing the disease.”
Finally, the Newcastle team assessed more than 250 varieties of potatoes, looking at different qualities including ability to resist stress and tuber characteristics. They revealed that potatoes rich in fibre are ideal for air fryers, which is the healthiest way to cook roasties to a golden crisp. “Rooster potatoes are perfect for making the best roast potato. They have a nice red skin and, when peeled, they reveal a lovely golden colour underneath – perfect for your roasties on Christmas day,” said Sophia Long, also from the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering at Newcastle University.
Ojobor C et al. (2023) Carrot intake is consistently negatively associated with cancer incidence: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2023.2287176