For many people, Christmas isn't just about gifts and festive lights: it's also about a turkey dinner with stuffing, pigs in blankets, Christmas pudding and all the trimmings. But more and more of us are rejecting the idea of a traditional Christmas dinner than ever, causing us to crack out the best vegan cookbooks and opt for vegetarian and vegan alternatives.
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Research commissioned by UK & Ireland mushroom producers found those opting for plant-based meals have grown by over 50% this year, with 20% of the study's respondents aiming for a vegan or vegetarian Christmas roast.
A nut roast, a vegetarian loaf made up of nuts, whole grains, mushrooms and other fillings, seems to be one of the most popular choices for an eco-friendly Christmas dinner.
The Vegan Society (opens in new tab) charity found the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, and the number of vegetarians has risen to include over 11% of the population by the end of 2020, according to Finder (opens in new tab). Although around 80% of the UK has no formal diet, there has been a recorded rise in "flexitarianism", in which people have meat-free meals for a few days every week.
While some people skip out on meat for health reasons, it's worth noting that turkey, on its own merits, is an excellent source of lean protein and tryptophan, an amino acid which helps produce the hormone known as serotonin in our brains. This helps us sleep better and wards off anxiety, depression and periods of low mood.
The calories in a Christmas dinner don't necessarily come from the turkey (or the veg) but all the trimmings: stuffing, roast potatoes, thick gravy, sausages wrapped in bacon, Christmas pudding... and of course, a few glasses of wine to wash it all down. A vegetarian nut roast may replace the main event, but most of the heavy-hitting calorie bombs will still be on your plate.
However, thinking of a once-a-year dinner in terms of calorie consumption is a bad idea – after all, it's Christmas! Some people are more concerned with the environmental impact of their food, as a vegetarian Christmas dinner is said by Satsuma Loans to have used half the CO2 emissions to get on your plate as a regular turkey dinner.
Vegan diets have been found to be better on our hearts than omnivorous diets in several studies. However, the American Dietetic Association (opens in new tab) found "poorly constructed vegan diets...might predispose individuals to macronutrient (protein) and micronutrient (vitamin B12 and vitamin D; iron, zinc, calcium, iodine) deficiencies", so you'll need to be careful with your meal plans.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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