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Holiday meals: Indulgence and health benefits can coexist

Scientists at Newcastle University are providing insights on how a traditional Christmas dinner can be more than just a delicious feast – it can also be beneficial to our health. 

The study highlights how certain cooking methods and ingredients can be added to holiday meals to contribute to our overall well-being.

Brussels sprouts

Steaming Brussels sprouts is the best method to retain beneficial compounds that may help combat chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Brussels sprouts, part of the cruciferous vegetable family, are rich in glucosinolates. These molecules play a role in repairing damaged DNA and can trigger the death of cancerous cells.

Dr. Kirsten Brandt, a senior lecturer at Newcastle University, emphasized the superiority of steaming over boiling or roasting Brussels sprouts.

“If you boil the Brussels sprouts then you lose a lot of the important compounds into the water,” said Dr. Brandt. “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.”

Carrots and cancer reduction

The experts determined that the regular consumption of carrots, a popular side dish, is associated with a significant reduction in cancer risk. 

Comprehensive review 

The researchers conducted a comprehensive review and meta-analysis involving nearly 200 studies. 

They found that eating five servings of carrots weekly can lower the risk of developing any type of cancer by 20 percent. Even a single weekly serving of carrots was associated with a four percent reduction in cancer risk.


Unlike previous studies that concentrated on beta-carotene, this research looked at the broader spectrum of compounds in carrots, particularly polyacetylenes, which lack color but exhibit strong anti-cancer properties.

“Many researchers have noticed the benefits of carrots previously, and this is a reason why there was so much data for us to analyze. However, most of the previous studies focused on beta-carotene, one of the orange carotenoid phytochemicals, which give the orange carrots their color,” said PhD student Charles Ojobor, who led the study.

Key insights

“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 colorless 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.”

Perfect potatoes 

The Newcastle team studied more than 250 varieties of potatoes, looking at different qualities from tuber characteristics to their ability to resist disease and climate stress.

According to the researchers, preparing potatoes in the air fryer is the healthiest way to cook them to a golden crisp for holiday meals.

“Rooster potatoes are perfect for making the best roast potato,” explained PhD student Sophia Long. “They have a nice red skin and, when peeled, they reveal a lovely golden color underneath – perfect for your roasties on Christmas day.”

Study significance 

The research provides a new perspective on festive eating, suggesting that indulgence and health benefits can coexist in a well-prepared holiday meal.

“Carrot consumption was consistently negatively associated with cancer incidence across a wide range of geographical regions, exposure types and cancer types, which provided robust statistical power to quantify associations precisely,” wrote the study authors. 

“These findings provide enhanced support for safe and cost-effective public health recommendations and interventions to increase carrot intake, as part of the overall consumption of fruit and vegetables, in order to reduce the risk of cancer and other diet-related diseases.”

“The results also highlight the need to investigate the roles of a wider range of vegetable phytochemicals, specifically polyacetylenes and isocoumarins, in pre-clinical studies regarding cancer-related effects.”

The study is published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition


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