It is the festive time of year again and that means Christmas sandwiches are back on the shelves! So, for those who enjoy a festive lunch but are a little curious as to just how calorific these seasonal sarnies are, we decided to investigate.
To do this we looked at six popular lunch stops (EAT, Pret, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Tesco and M&S) to see which establishment's Christmas baps had the healthiest profile.
The Christmas classic
First, the good news: a traditional Christmas sandwich is not as unhealthy as you might think. Turkey is actually a great source of lean protein, which can help stave off hunger pangs. Plus, a festive sarnie is often also the highest in fibre, one of the nutrients we want to get more of. Instead, it is the extra sausage, bacon and sweet condiments that often appear within this seasonal delight that need to be watched. So, if you are looking for a healthier Christmas sandwich option, choose the ones without these extras in order to reduce the amount of saturated fat and sugars you are eating.
Not all Christmas classics are made equal, of course. Out in front with the most calories and the highest fat content was EAT whose Festive Bloomer comes in at 600 calories and six grams of saturated fat. This is 34% of our recommended nutrient intake (RNI) - the advised amount we should consume each day. But although EAT's offering had the highest figures, 600 calories is actually the average recommended calorie intake for a main meal for adults. So, as long as it isn't accompanied by too many sides, this sandwich does not blow the calorie budget.
The sandwich with the healthiest figures came from Waitrose. Their turkey sandwich with stuffing and bacon had approximately 140 fewer calories than EAT (at 459 kilocalories) and around half the saturated fat with three grams per serving.
It is likely that EAT's addition of smoked ham and pork, which do not feature in the Waitrose sandwich, is where the extra calories and fat come from. Ham and other processed meats are also less healthy than unprocessed red (or white) meat. On the whole however, the EAT and Waitrose sandwiches are not that different taste-wise as they contain most of the same ingredients.
Other festive choices
Of course, the Christmas classic is not your only option this festive season. Here's the nutritional profile of some of the other options on the shelves.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese
Salmon is a great source of brain-loving omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, along with the cream cheese, it is also a good source of protein which means it will keep you fuller for longer. The downside is that it doesn't contain any veg but perhaps you could team it with a piece of fruit or a crudité pot.
Ham hock and chutney
Ham provides another good source of protein and generally this sandwich is one of the lower calorie options. So if calorie counting is your bag then this isn't a bad choice. However, like the previous option, there aren't any vegetables here either.
Brie and cranberry/grape
This is the sandwich to watch and not because of its benefits. Sandwiches with cheese and chutneys or fruit are often lower in nutritional value, higher in saturated fat and therefore in calories.
The new kids on the block
With the Christmas sandwich trend on the up outlets are looking for creative ways that they can meet demand and come up with the next big thing. Our favourites were:
Pret's Festive Winter Salad
For those after something a little lighter, Pret have introduced a Christmas-themed salad. Packed with seven types of fruit and vegetables it is a good contributor to your 5 a day. Don't fall into the trap of thinking salads are always a safe bet though - they can contain just as many calories as sandwiches, especially if they're smothered in dressing.
Boots' Parsnip Fritter and Butternut Squash Sandwich
Designed for vegans, this sandwich has benefits such as being high in fibre which is great as it is one of the nutrients people in the UK are often lacking. It is much lower in saturated fat than some other options. However, without any good protein source, this sandwich has one of the lowest values for protein which is an essential part of our diet.
EAT's Turkey Hot Pot
For those chilly days when you want something hot, EAT have come up with a tempting Turkey Hot Pot. Providing nearly 20 g of protein per serving and containing a range of vegetables, this a good wholesome dish which will warm you up and keep you going until home time.
What to look out for
Next time you pop out for your lunchtime sarnie, here are some tips for choosing the tastiest yet most nourishing option.
Choose wholegrain bread
This will provide you with more fibre, a nutrient a lot of us are lacking in the UK. That added fibre will also keep you fuller for longer and therefore will hopefully stop you reaching for the mince pies later on.
Watch the cheese
Another Christmas favourite is the brie and cranberry sandwich. It generally contains a similar number of calories to a turkey sandwich; however, importantly more of them come from saturated fat which is not as good for us. The brie and cranberry sandwiches that we compared had almost three times more saturated fat than the turkey options coming in at 13 g per sarnie (65% of our RNI). So, perhaps leave the cheesy sandwich for a one-off treat rather than an everyday choice.
Resist the foot long and three piece sandwiches
Many of us would admit to having eyes that are bigger than our stomach which often leads to the dreaded post-lunch food coma. To avoid this try to stick to a standard sandwich size. If you really fancy the flavour in the foot long bap, why not share it with a friend? Often it isn't what we are eating that is the problem with regards to our health, but rather the amount of it.
Opt for a healthy side
If you are treating yourself to a festive sandwich, try not to fall into the habit of pairing it with a packet of crisps (the sandwiches classic accompaniment). A packet of crisps can add around 150 calories and another 9 g of fat to your meal and very little in terms of nutritional value. Instead, team your sandwich with a nutrient-rich option like yoghurt, plain nuts, crudités or a piece of fruit. This will fill you up for longer whilst also providing you with far more in the way of nutritional benefits that will help to fight the winter colds.
Check for salt
Pre-made sandwiches are a hot spot for hidden salt. This is because the bread, condiments, cheese and processed meats that make up the key components of a sandwich all have added salt within them. For the sake of your blood pressure, go for the lower-salt option!