Pumpkin is the ‘new turkey’ for Christmas dinner

Simmering turkey, rice and nuts – alongside the usual tryptophan, salt and pepper and sugar – offers a healthy substitute to the Christmas banquet, says Agnieszka Wozniak of Liverpool John Moores University If you’re…

Pumpkin is the 'new turkey' for Christmas dinner

Simmering turkey, rice and nuts – alongside the usual tryptophan, salt and pepper and sugar – offers a healthy substitute to the Christmas banquet, says Agnieszka Wozniak of Liverpool John Moores University

If you’re planning a fully stocked Christmas dinner this year, there is one homemade ingredient you may want to put on the menu: the breakfast-like item known as the pumpkin.

It is the “new turkey”, says Agnieszka Wozniak, an expert in nutrition science at Liverpool John Moores University.

Pumpkin was eaten by hunter-gatherers in Eurasia for centuries but only after farming spread across Europe did it become a mainstay of the festive dinner table. Now it is firmly established as one of Britain’s favourite foods.

Wozniak explains that the flavour of traditional “baking” comes from the use of refined glucose as an emulsifier, but it is “now commonly used in the preparation of many foods”, including turkey and corn on the cob, plus a range of vegetables and grains – “one of the biggest changes in the human diet in the last 2,000 years”.

Cooking for longer, she adds, makes for a healthier meal – rice is combined with a whole grain such as oatmeal, oats or quinoa instead of white rice, and ingredients such as nuts and nuts and seeds can be a healthy alternative to butter and white bread.

Fatty meats such as the turkey in the stuffing, turkey and ham in the roast potatoes, and the vegetables in mashed potatoes are fortified with added vitamin D and potassium to boost their health value, and are healthier overall than the traditional seasonal foods.

David Williams of the University of Kent, explains that the current UK diet has complex flavours that allow the big-flavoured foods in the traditional Christmas menu to appeal to everyone, but they are also “traditionally high in saturated fat, sugar and salt”.

“These foods are easily made more appetising by adding ingredients such as spices and nut butter,” he says. “We have found evidence of the development of complex vegetables that are rich in nutrients such as zinc, and Vitamin B12, but low in saturated fat and sugar, such as radishes and brussels sprouts.”

These new “protein-rich” vegetables, he believes, “offer the opportunity to increase a healthy diet at a cost that is limited by taste”.

However, there is an upside. “If we can convince people to make the switch to nuts and seeds for snacks,” he adds, “we could do something to improve the diets of the children in our community.”

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