Avoid piling on the pounds this Christmas with these 8 festive food swaps

Keep the Christmas spirit without wasting your winter training

Christmas is a time of indulgence, but what can you do if you don't want to ruin your hard-earned winter fitness? All those Christmas parties, post-work drinks, shopping trips to Christmas markets and team lunches you'll face over the course of December will put you in the path of temptation.

If you're trying to avoid piling on the pounds, a few simple swaps can help you enjoy the festive period and all it has to offer without taking quite as hard a calorie hit.

First of all, it's good to remember that a few days of indulgence isn't going be a massive set back, provided you don't go overboard with the tempting treats and try to keep riding where possible — but this is where the problems arise.

It's often hard to squeeze time to ride in among back-to-back parties, Christmas shopping and family commitments… and there are usually unhealthy but delicious foodstuffs within reach. 

By swapping a few items here and there for lower calorie options you can make major calorie savings, and every little helps!

Christmas market food

The tempting aroma of German sausage at a Christmas market can be hard to resist
The tempting aroma of German sausage at a Christmas market can be hard to resist

Bedazzled by the twinkling lights and the smells wafting through the wooden cabin-lined streets, it's easy to succumb to temptation when wandering around Christmas markets. You can mitigate some of the calorie damage by cycling to and from the market, but these two swaps will give you maximum festive feeling with minimum calorie intake. 

1. Swap bratwurst for roasted chestnuts

Tasty though a freshly grilled German sausage is, they aren't known for lean, low-fat properties. Add fried onions, a white bread roll and lashings of mustard and you're looking at 390 calories, easy. Doesn't look quite so tempting now, does it? (Actually, it does, but....)

But what could be more traditional than chestnuts roasting on an open fire? And at only 170 calories for a bag of 10, they're relatively low in fat for a nut and have good levels of other nutrients such as vitamins B and C. 

2. Swap a gingerbread latte for... a lighter gingerbread latte

Cradling a warm spicy beverage while perusing market stalls is a delight, but one gingerbread latte with whipped cream comes in at 320 calories. Opt for skimmed milk rather than whole milk, ditch the cream and use sweetener, and you're down to 115 easily. 

The work Christmas party

Tasty, creamy, spicy, and absolutely packed with calories. Eggnog is nice but you might be better off going for a snowball
Tasty, creamy, spicy, and absolutely packed with calories. Eggnog is nice but you might be better off going for a snowball

With your friends and colleagues (or just your colleagues) having fun all around you, it can be hard to resist the temptation offered by copious amounts of booze, cheesy snacks and even cheesier music. These simple swaps will save you loads of calories and if you want to know more there are plenty of party foods listed in our Christmas calorie counting article.

3. Swap cider for beer

Sorry cider drinkers (that's hard cider, US readers), but the calorie content of this sweet alcoholic beverage is nearly double that of beer. You can cut nearly 100 calories easily by switching from a pint of cider (around 230kcal) to a pint of beer (around 160kcal). 

4. Swap eggnog for a snowball

Eggnog may be a spicy festive favourite, but it's also got a horrifically huge amount of calories packed into it — a small cup has around 320kcal. Opt for the equally festive snowball, a mixture of advocaat and lemonade, and you're down to a very reasonable 108kcal. 

5. Swap mulled wine for sparkling wine

It's perfectly acceptable at Christmas to drink sparkling wine at any point in the week (some would say, at any point in the day), which should cushion the blow of cutting back on the mulled wine. Tasty though it is, mulled wine packs in 190 kcal for a small (120ml) glass compared with a relatively minuscule 80kcal for the same volume of chilled sparkling liquid. 

Christmas dinner

Pigs in blankets… delicious but my-oh-my, the calories!
Pigs in blankets… delicious but my-oh-my, the calories!

Christmas dinner is the main event and although there's plenty in it that's actually good for you — think about the protein hit from the turkey or all those nutritious vegetables — add up all the trimmings and you're looking at a serious amount of calories.

Chances are, you'll probably be chowing down on this after a sizeable breakfast and several snacks, so even a few swaps and tricks to reduce calories here and there can cumulatively make a big difference. 

If you can get out for an hour or two on the bike beforehand, you'll have worked off a good number of the calories in advance so while you might still end up with a calorie surplus, it won't be as huge as it might have been. And it's Christmas, after all.

6. Turkey cheat

Tasty, tender turkey is packed full of lean protein. Pricking the turkey before you cook it and roasting it raised on a trivet allows more of the fat to drip out, and you can also reduce the calorie content further by avoiding the crispy skin. 

7. Vegetable cheat

It's tempting to coat your sprouts in bacon and butter, roast your potatoes in lashings of goose fat, and drizzle honey over your parsnips, but the calories quickly mount up.

Roasting potatoes in olive oil rather than goose fat will help, but you'll drop even more if you opt for oven baked potatoes instead. For your sprouts, add a flavour hit with some chopped fresh herbs and a little drizzle of olive oil instead. 

Another great suggestion we've spotted is to swap out the highly calorific pigs in blankets, little sausages wrapped in bacon, for asparagus spears wrapped in prosciutto, which gives a similarly tasty bacon-type hit for around half the calories. 

8. Sweet cheat

Christmas is all about the sweet treats, but this is also where another major calorie pile-up can happen. While there aren't really many tasty alternatives to Christmas pudding and mince pieces, swapping out cream for low-fat custard or Greek yoghurt (especially if it's not full-fat) can drop hundreds of calories from each portion.

Likewise, ditching the tins of chocolates and sweets for a few pieces of quality dark chocolate can give you similar satisfaction for far fewer calories and much less fat. 

Christmas dinner – choose wisely, and it's a tasty meal that packs a nutritious punch
Christmas dinner – choose wisely, and it's a tasty meal that packs a nutritious punch

Christmas dinner calorie comparison

Are you planning a healthy Christmas dinner or thinking 'to hell with the diet!' and planning on digging into the Christmas pudding? By making some of the food swaps we've mentioned above, you could cut nearly 700kcal from your Christmas dinner. 

If you're planning on riding extra to burn off the calories, we estimate that you're looking at between roughly two and three hours on the road bike, or 1.5 to 2 hours on the mountain bike, though you can get a much more accurate idea of your calorie burn if you ride with a heart-rate monitor.

Christmas food (quantity) kcal Alternative option (quantity) kcal
 Roast, basted skin-on turkey (100g) 146 Skinless roasted turkey (100g) 100
 Roasted potatoes (100g) 149 Baked potato (100g) 109
 Sprouts with bacon (1/2 cup) 130 Sprouts with herbs (1/2 cup) 70
 Honey roasted parsnips (50g) 150 Roasted parsnips (50g) 40
 Marmalade glazed carrots (50g) 30 Steamed baby carrots (50g) 20
 Sausage meat stuffing (100g) 252 Cranberry and chestnut stuffing (100g) 160
3 pigs in blankets  245 3 asparagus wrapped in prosciutto 132
 Christmas pudding with brandy cream 463 Christmas pudding with low fat custard 357
 Small glass of mulled wine 190Sparkling wine 80
 Pint of cider 230 Pint of beer164 
 4 milk chocolates 200 6 pieces of dark chocolate 130
 Total 2,180 Total 1,492
 Road cycling / Mountain biking2.6 hours riding / 2.1 hours riding Road cycling / Mountain biking  1.8 hours riding / 1.4 hours riding
Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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