How to Have a Delicious Christmas and Never Gain a Pound

  • 7 Nov 2017
  • Reading time 12 mins
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The festive season requires some guerilla tactics if you don’t want to arrive at New Year wearing what you ate at Christmas!

So, here are some simple tips, plus my five favourite festive recipes to thoroughly enjoy the pleasures of good food, drink and company for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike and keep your weight in check.

1. Always eat protein with carbs. Combining protein with carbohydrate works because protein, being made of amino acids, makes the digestive environment more acidic, and this slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates. So, the food spends more time in your stomach, making you feel fuller for longer.

2. Add lemon juice and vinegar. If you increase the acid level of your food by adding lemon juice (citric acid) or vinegar (acetic acid) you get a similar effect. In a study on diabetics two tablespoons of vinegar to a meal lowered its glycaemic load (as measured by plotting the rise and fall in blood sugar levels after the meal) by 20%. The vinegar resulted in less high blood sugar spikes.

This study provides some scientific basis for the old wives’ tale about cider vinegar and weight loss. In practical terms, this might mean eating a salad with a vinegary salad dressing, drinking a citron pressé (minus the sugar) with food, or adding balsamic vinegar for flavour to a meal. For example, try ‘steam-frying’ Brussels sprouts and adding a little balsamic vinegar in the last few minutes of cooking. Research has also found that adding lemon juice or vinegar reduces the formation of ‘anti-glycation end-products’ (AGEs), the harmful oxidant compounds that are formed when food is cooked.

3. Load up on soluble fibre. Soluble fibre, for example the variety found in oats, barley and chia, really fills you up and lowers the GL of a meal. A study conducted by Dr Joseph Keenan of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, showed that eating barley makes you feel less hungry. So make the most of the colder weather to eat lots of porridge or make a warming dish such as my Mushroom and Barley Risotto (see recipe below). One of my favourites when I have guests staying is Chia Pancakes with Pear Compote (see recipe below). Also, have a teaspoon of Carboslow (glucomannan) fibre or three capsules, with a glass of water before a meal.

4. Wait 20 minutes before dessert. This allows your ‘appestat’ (your internal appetite gauge) to kick in. Even better, go for a stroll after your main meal, then have your dessert afterwards, which also helps stabilise blood sugar levels. If you eat immediately after exercise your body burns it off faster.

5. Drink ‘dry’ and limit juice. More and more evidence is linking regular consumption of both sweetened soft drinks and even ‘natural’ fruit juices with increased weight gain and diabetes risk. The same increase in diabetes risk was not observed in those drinking grapefruit juice, which has a low GL, or orange juice. Even so, you need to be careful not to overdo the orange juice.

The best fruit to eat, and drink, are those high in a type of sugar called xylose, which means berries, cherries and plums. So, if you need to use a juice, maybe in a dessert recipe, use Cherry Active. For example, have a Plum Crumble, sweetened with a little Cherry Active (which you can buy online at or make some delicious Plum Amaretti Slices (see recipe below).

For alcohol, choose the driest drinks – for example, a dry red or white wine or Champagne or a neat spirit such as whisky. For a real treat try Faust, my favourite organic champagne, available from Vintage Roots.

Here’s my favourite recipes for vegetarians and non-vegetarians for the festive season, taken from Delicious, Healthy, Sugar-Free, marked DHSF below and The Ten Secrets of Health Cookbook, marked TS below, plus the ingredients and instructions for some of the recipes.

Treat breakfast:
DHSF Salmon and asparagus omelette - page 86

Main meals:
TS Venison and chocolate stew - page 132
TS Monkfish wrapped in Parma ham - page 148
TS Braised kale with almonds as an accompaniment - page 176


Treat Breakfasts
DHSF Raw chocolate and goji granola - page 78
TS Chia pancakes with pear compote - page 90

Main Meals
TS Curried pumpkin soup as a starter- page 100 (could be starter)
TS Bean and mushroom bolognese - page 154
TS Baked sweet potato topped with goat's cheese and sun dried tomatoes - page 162
DHSF Mushroom and pot barley risotto - page 132

Desserts and Afternoon Treats for All
DHSF Polenta citrus cake - page 158
DHSF Chocolate hazelnut brownies - page 164
DHSF Autumn teabread - page 171

From the 10 Secrets of of 100% Healthy Cookbook

Venison and Chocolate Stew

Chocolate complements gamey venison, and by using cacao (raw chocolate) or dark, high cocoa-solid chocolate, you can substantially increase the ORAC value. Serve with spring greens cabbage with Chestnuts.

Serves 4

75g (3oz) streaky bacon, diced, or smoked bacon lardons (optional)
600g (1lb 5oz) diced venison stewing steak (haunch, neck or shoulder)
2 tbsp seasoned plain flour
mild or medium (not extra virgin) olive oil, or virgin rapeseed oil, for frying
150g (51⁄2oz) shallots, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1 glass red wine, about 250ml (9floz)
2 tbsp tomato purée
300ml (10floz/1⁄2pint) hot chicken, beef or vegetable stock
30g/11⁄4oz dried wild mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes or according to pack instructions
2 bay leaves
sprinkle of sea or rock salt
freshly ground black pepper
20g/3⁄4oz cacao or dark decent chocolate
A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°f/Gas 3. fry the bacon, if using, in a frying pan, then remove from the pan. Clean the pan if it was sticking. 
  2. Put the venison and seasoned flour into a clean plastic food bag or freezer bag and shake to coat. Remove any excess oil. 
  3. Add some oil for frying to the pan, add the meat and brown (in batches if necessary).
  4. Remove the meat and add the shallots and garlic to the pan. Fry for 2 minutes then add the celery, carrots and herbs. Cook for a further 5 minutes. 
  5. Return the meat and bacon to the pan and add the wine to deglaze. 
  6. Add the tomato purée, stock, mushrooms, bay leaves and seasoning. Bring to the boil then cook in the preheated oven for 11⁄2–2 hours or until the meat is meltingly tender. Remove the herb sprigs and bay leaves and stir in the cacao or chocolate, plus parsley. Check the seasoning before serving. 

Cook’s Notes: Allergy suitability: gluten/wheat/dairy free (depending on stock) Can be made in advance • suitable for freezing

Braised Kale with Almonds

Kale never sounds desperately exciting, but this dish has converted me completely. Braising it in bouillon makes it wonderfully soft and well flavoured, with the almonds providing a little crunch. Kale is, of course, a cruciferous vegetable and its dark green colour shows how rich it is in antioxidants.

Serves 2

50g (2oz) flaked almonds
1 tbsp butter or dairy-free spread suitable for cooking, or coconut oil (see Cook’s notes)
1 garlic clove, crushed
115g (4oz) curly kale, stems removed, sliced
4 tbsp hot vegetable bouillon
freshly ground black pepper

  1. Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan over a low heat for a few minutes or until lightly browned, taking care not to let them burn. 
  2. Add the butter, spread or oil and swirl it about the pan to coat (take the pan off the heat temporarily to stop it burning), then throw in the garlic and stir. 
  3. Add the kale and bouillon to the pan, stir, then cover and allow to steam-fry for about 2 minutes or until the kale is tender. If the pan runs dry, throw in a little more stock or water. Season with black pepper, then serve. 

Cook’s Notes
Butter gives the best flavour to this dish by far. Allergy suitability: gluten/wheat/dairy/yeast free (depending on butter and bouillon) V • Can be made in advance.

Chia Pancakes with Pear Compote

These little pancakes make an interesting alternative to a traditional pancake or drop scone, replacing processed white flour with milled oats and chia seeds. They are just as moreish but wheat-free, low GL and high in antioxidants. If you cannot get hold of chia seeds. Substitute ground almonds or flax seeds, or simply use double the quantity of oats instead. This recipe makes enough for four people, but the pancakes keep well for a couple of days in the fridge or can be frozen.

Serves 4 (makes 8 pancakes)

For the pear compote
2 large pears, cored and diced
dash of water
1 tsp ground mixed spice or cinnamon, or to taste xylitol (or brown sugar), to taste (optional)
45g (11⁄2oz) oats
45g (11⁄2oz) milled chia seeds
35g (11⁄4oz) xylitol (or sugar)
1 free-range or organic egg
225ml (8oz) milk or non-dairy milk
Virgin rapeseed oil for frying

  1. To make the pear compote, first stew your pears by putting them in a small pan with a tiny dash of water and the spice. Bring to a simmer, cover and leave to cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Taste and add more spice if you like. You could sweeten the mixture with xylitol or brown sugar if you feel it needs it. Set aside, with the lid on, while you make the pancakes.
  2. Grind the oats with the chia into as fine a flour as you can. If your food processor leaves the mixture coarse, try a hand blender to achieve a smoother finish. 
  3. Mix the xylitol into the flour. 
  4. Whisk the egg and milk together and stir into the flour mixture to form a smooth batter. The chia absorbs liquid, so it will thicken more than a standard pancake batter. 
  5. Heat 1–2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan, then spoon in tablespoonfuls of the batter, spreading each out into a rough circle and taking care not to let them touch. Do this in batches and cook each pancake for 1–2 minutes per side, or until golden and firm. Press down in the pan to flatten the cooked pancakes. Cover with a tea towel to keep warm while you work. Serve with the stewed fruit. 

Cook’s Notes: Allergy suitability: wheat/dairy/yeast free (if using non-dairy milk) • V • Can be frozen Health scores per serving.

From Delicious, Healthy, Sugar Free

Raw Chocolate and Goji Granola

Did you know that many shop-bought granolas contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar? My chewy, chocolatey granola may seem far too decadent for breakfast, but in fact it’s a cunningly disguised healthy option. It is packed with seeds, to provide omega 3 and 6 essential fats which boost brain, heart and hormone function, not to mention the vitamin C and amino acid-packed goji berries. The cacao (or raw chocolate) powder adds a rich, chocolate flavour, but none of the added fat and sugar of processed chocolate. Cacao is also a good source of magnesium, nature’s relaxant mineral, which will put everyone in a good mood for the rest of the day. Serve the granola with fresh berries, such as blueberries or strawberries, live natural yoghurt or even kefir.

Serves 4

3 tbsp coconut oil or mild or medium (not extra virgin) olive oil
150g (51/2oz) whole oat flakes
3 tbsp tahini
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp sesame seeds
3 tbsp poppy seeds
3 tbsp desiccated coconut
3 tbsp goji berries
3 tbsp xylitol (or brown sugar)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3–4 tbsp cacao powder, according to taste

  1. Gently heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the oat flakes, and cook for a few minutes, stirring to coat them with the oil. Then mix in the tahini for about 1 minute, spreading it around the oats fairly evenly. 
  2. Turn off the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust the flavour by adding more xylitol, cinnamon, ginger or cacao if necessary. 

Cook’s Notes
Wheat-free, dairy-free • V • Can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

Mushroom and Pot Barley Risotto

Barley is a traditional ingredient in Scottish cooking, where it appears in hearty, warming broths and stews. Here, it’s used in the Italian equivalent – a risotto. In fact, it makes a much easier risotto than rice, as barley doesn’t need nearly so much attention during cooking – just pour on the stock and leave it to simmer. Pot barley (unlike pearl barley) is the whole grain and is a good source of protein, fibre and niacin (vitamin B3), as well as the trace minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It needs to be soaked for at least six hours, as this makes it more digestible and reduces the cooking time.

Serves 4

2 tbsp coconut oil or mild or medium (not extra virgin) olive oil or butter
2 white onions, finely chopped
300g (101/2oz) assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced
300g (101/2oz) pot barley, soaked overnight and drained
25g (1oz) dried porcini mushrooms, soaked for
30 minutes and drained (add the soaking liquor to the stock)
1.2L (2pt) hot vegetable stock, including the soaking liquor from the dried mushrooms
freshly ground black pepper
a little sea salt to taste
50g (2oz) grated Parmesan
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

  1. Heat the oil or butter in a heavy-based saucepan and gently sweat the onions for 3–4 minutes to soften them. Add the fresh mushrooms and sweat for another 6–8 minutes until they soften as well. 
  2. Pour in the pot barley and stir frequently for a couple of minutes to toast the grains. 
  3. Add the dried mushrooms and stir for a few minutes. Now add the hot stock and let the barley simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has absorbed all the liquid. This should take around an hour. 
  4. Season to taste with black pepper and a little salt, then dollop onto plates, and scatter with the Parmesan and parsley. 

Cook’s Notes
Wheat-free if you use a wheat-free stock, dairy-free if you omit the Parmesan, yeast-free • V • Can be made in advance, but warm the risotto through and add the parsley when you’re ready to serve.