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In this article we explore Christmas meals from around the world and why chocolate is a must!

Christmas Chocolate – A "MUST" for Intelligence!

Figure 1. I don't want to, but I will take a piece of this cake in the name of strengthening my brain!2

For those who know me, I'm always a fan of truly celebrating the holidays – including the food! I never get bent out of shape about the possibility of putting on unwanted fat. As I discussed in the article, Holiday Weight Gain, to gain 1 lb/0.5 kg of fat from a single day eating binge would likely have to take in >> 6000 kcal. (I should note though, start eating like this every day and YOU WILL quickly add a little fat to those love handles so make sure your 1 day binge does NOT turn into a 1 month binge!).

One of the most common food items served during the Christmas season is chocolate. This holiday favorite can be found in cookies, cakes, candies and about everything in between. However, fear not; Eating chocolate is an absolute must if we want to take our intelligence to the next level! In a recent research paper published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Franz H Messerli examined

"….. whether there would be a correlation between a country’s level of chocolate consumption and its population’s cognitive function. To my knowledge, no data on overall national cognitive function are publicly available. Conceivably, however, the total number of Nobel laureates per capita could serve as a surrogate end point reflecting the proportion with superior cognitive function and thereby give us some measure of the overall cognitive function of a given country."1

After studying the data, Dr. Messerli found some interesting results; there was an amazingly strong positive correlation between chocolate intake and winning nobel prizes (r = 0.791). What to make of these results? Well, for that I share with you Dr. Messerli's exact words….

"The principal finding of this study is a surprisingly powerful correlation between chocolate intake per capita and the number of Nobel laureates in various countries. Of course, a correlation between X and Y does not prove causation… However, since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates… Chocolate consumption enhances cognitive function, which is a sine qua non for winning the Nobel Prize, and it closely correlates with the number of Nobel laureates in each country"1

Ok, Ok, maybe in sharing his research findings, Dr. Messerli shared a little tongue-in-cheek humor with us (I don't believe chocolate will make you any smarter). However, if you find yourself feeling guilty about loading up on chocolates on Christmas day, just remind yourself of these research findings… and have another piece of chocolate!

Now onto our main course (pun intended) – Christmas meals from around the world in the words of CasePerformance Community Members (all of whom I GREATLY appreciate & thank for their input!) ….

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Australia

Figure 2. A photo of John Giggins gourmet Christmas meal! Image supplied by John Giggins.

To find out about the food that graces the Christmas dining table in Australia, I turned to John Giggins of Wangaratta, Victoria. According to him, the traditional Christmas meal consists of "roasted turkey, pork, ham and veggies."

In their household this year, John will be showing off his skills and preparing pork paired with both apple and cranberry sauce. The veggies of choice will be roast potatoes, peas, and corn. Other fine items that you'll be able to find include pumpkin with cauliflower and broccoli drizzled with cheese sauce. Better save room though as a dessert consisting of lemon meringue pie and pavlova is to follow!

He quickly added, "..and Boxing Day, Dec 26th, exercise is always squats!!" A smart man taking advantage of his well stocked glycogen stores after a day of eating fine foods!

Figure 3. Looks like John's daughters are well pleased with their Christmas meal ending with lemon meringue pie and pavlova! Image supplied by John Giggins.

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Brazil

Figuer 4 Traditional foods for a fine Christmas meal in Brazil. Image supplied by Paola Altoé

For the Christmas foods of choice in Brazil, I turn it over to Paola Altoé…

"Brazil is a country of continental dimensions, with different cultures and regional traits. Much of this aspect is due to the fact that we were populated by Indians, colonized by the Portuguese, being the last country to stop the black slavery and, since then, we had strong immigration process of Italians, Spaniards, Germans, and also Japanese. Despite all these differing cultures, etc., Christmas is pretty widely celebrated. This is likely due to the fact that Brazil has largest number of Catholics in the world. Additionally many protestants live here as well."

"The Christmas dinner varies by region of Brazil, "do Oiapoque ao Chui", (expression referring to two extremely distant points of the country) adapting traditional dishes from their lands with the typical Christmas foods. With that being said, let me give you a rundown of typical Christmas meals…"

"A traditional Brazilian meal will always have baked dishes such as turkey, ham, pig, loin. These dishes are usually accompanied by cooked fruits such as mango, pineapple and plum. Also served is a type of rice seasoned with various ingredients, such as raisins, corn, ham. It is followed by some kind of mayonnaise in which, in some families, it also uses apple or melon. In the region where I live (São Paulo), the customs of Italian families is very evident, then there will always be some kind of pasta, like lasagna or something like that."

"For dessert, the most traditional is some kind of pudding or banana with ice cream."

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Canada

Figure 5. Foods from a traditional Canadian/UK meal. Image supplied by Mark Oxer

Canadian physical preparation coach Mark Oxer shared with me his families traditional Christmas meal….

"I grew up in an Canada/UK house. However, being that Canada is a melting pot type country, I'd say that this is a pretty accurate representation of what's served in most households. As shown in the above picture I took, we have Sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey, sweat and sour meatballs, carrots, potatoes, peas, and mixed nuts. Oh yeah, I can't forget the random piece of chocolate pie shown in the picture as well"

Figure 6. A trifle for dessert. Image supplied by Mark Oxer

"For dessert we had a trifle. It's a three layered dish with jello and oranges at the bottom, custard in the middle and whipped cream on top"

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Denmark

Figure 7. Left Image – Prepping the Christmas meal – Duck, Pork & Potatoes. Right Image – Viktor's Christmas plate! Images supplied by Viktor Axelsen

Badminton phenom Viktor Axelsen shares with us the Danish Christmas meal…

"The typical Christmas Danish dinner consists of potatoes, brown potatoes, Duck, sausage and waldorf salad (walnuts, fruit, greek yoghurt). Additionally we have red kale. These are all shown in the image above. I have also included a picture of some of our food prep (pork, duck & potatoes) prior to being feasted upon!"

Figure 8. Risalamande – A danish dessert with a prize! Image supplied by Viktor Axelsen

Pictured above is a popular Christmas dessert. It's "risalamande" which is a form of rice porridge made of rice, milk, vanilla, cream and almonds. "On Christmas eve, the individual hosting the meal puts 1 whole almond in a big serving of risalamande and the guest who gets the almond, wins a small package. You normally put craneberry sauce on top."

The Traditional Christmas Meal in France

Figure 9 Oysters to start off the meal! Image supplied by Charles Damien.

Charles Damien, a french student from Lille, France, was gracious enough to share with us the fine foods of his Christmas meal…

"Our traditional Christmas meal starts off with Oysters, others may eat foie gras instead of oysters – it depends. The meal itself is centered around La dinde de Noël (Christmas turkey). It’s a stuffed turkey which is served with scalded chestnuts. The stuffing is usually made with veal liver, shallot, bread (be careful with gluten :-) ), milk and a little bit alcohol… You can add or delete some ingredients, many recipes exist but that's a common one. Once the turkey has been cooking for a while, we usually add butter, salt and pepper to the turkey for added flavor."

Figure 10. La bûche de Noël. Image supplied by Charles Damien

"The meal continues with a dessert called La bûche de Noël (Christmas Yule log). It’s a sponge cake which is rolled with chocolate (or coffee flavored) cream/mousse, as shown in the above figure. The cake is commonly found with decorations (Santa Claus, elves, etc.), icing, sugar crystals, etc. Many variations of La bûche de Noël exist including coffee, raspberries, red fruits, coconut (like Bounty candy bars!), white/milk/black chocolate. Trust me, it’s very good – maybe not for belly fat though ;-). La bûche de Noël can be eaten endlessly for greedies like me!!!"

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Greece & England

Figure 11 Avgolemonon Soup – A favorite of Dino's while growing up. Image source.7

To learn about the Greece's and England's traditional Christmas meal, I asked strength enthusiast Dino Tassigiannis who grew up in Domvrena, Greece, but later moved to Liverpool, England. According to Mr. Tassigiannis…

"In Greece, most families start with avgolemono soup which is an egg and chicken soup flavored with lemon juice. It also contains rice. Very tasty and helps keep you warm."

"We have a special type of bread which translates as “Christ's bread”. It's made with fruit juices, brandy and different types of nuts. It's quite sweet. Meat wise we don't normally use turkey traditionally. Pork cooked in various ways is the favorite. No real set recipe. There are also lots of mini pasties too like spinach and cheese. The meal usually includes a Greek salad too."

"For sweets we have Melomakaronas which are honey flavored cookies covered in sweet spices like cinnamon. Extremely addictive to eat! Also baklava and other type of cakes are made depending on what the family enjoys to meat."

"As with all festive meals (and most meals in Greece to be honest), it's a very social event where food is not only made at the host's house but guests bring bits and bobs too. For instance, people usually give Kourabiethes (cookies baked with almonds and covered in fine powdered sugar) out as presents when visiting others on Christmas."

"If you’re really looking for good celebration though, our biggest time of the year though isn't Christmas but Easter. Easter is a huge party for Greece."

Figure 12. Dino Tassigiannis's Christmas dinner. The turkey has cranberry sauce and there's mint sauce on the spuds (roast potatoes). The white on the right is mashed potato and next to it is cauliflower. The orange is carrot and turnip mashed together. Image supplied by Dino Tassigiannis.

"With respect to the traditional Christmas meals in England (that I currently take part in) are brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, rich nutty stuffing and tiny sausages wrapped in bacon (which arereferred to as 'pigs in a blanket'). The main thing that tends to differ from household to household is the type of meat that accompanies this meal. This can range from gammon to turkey to beef rib roast. Yorkshire puddings can also be found around the table! You better save room in your stomach though because desserts such as Christmas pudding, mince pies, yule log and cheese with crackers are served."

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Germany & Poland

Figure 13. Adel's traditional Christmas meal. Image supplied by Adel Moussa

With respect to what's being eaten in Germany and Poland on Christmas, I turn it over to exercise and nutrition research madman, Adel Moussa , who shares with us, in his own words, the Christmas dining experience of Germany and Poland …..

"Although I'm from Germany, I'm actually going to eat what would be known as a traditional Polish Christmas meal. That's because my Grandfather is actually from Schlesien (which belonged to Germany before WW2) and we are going to have "Schlesische Weißwurst mit Pfefferkuchentunke." That's a special variety of veal sausages and a pretty sweet / slightly sour sauce that's made of gingerbread and malt beer with raisins and cut almonds. It's served with jacked potatoes and sauerkraut."

"To my own amazement there are actually more people like us who eat this every year, here in Germany… you must not mess with traditions, I guess."

"Other traditional German Christmas dishes:"

  • "goose + dumplings + red cabbage (people who don't like goose often replace that by other poultry)"
  • "potato salad + sausages or meat balls and bread + salad on Christmas eve and the big roast the day afterwards"
  • "raclette or fondue (which is not a classic, but rather something people like better than the traditional stuff)"
  • "carp – either as Carp Blue with parsley and boiled potatoes and horseradish sauce or baked carp filled (before baking) with vegetables and/or potatoes and served with tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes tossed in butter"

The Traditional Christmas Meal in India

Figure 14. One of Shiba Banerji's favorite deserts – Mud Pie! Obviously he is aware that chocolate is associated with brain power!4

To find out about the Christmas dining experience in India, I first turned to New Delhi's fitness enthusiast Manjari Pillai who shared with me that "though we are a country with diverse culture Christmas is celebrated with much gaiety." Foods that she has dined on during her Christmas celebrations include "plum cakes & ginger wines." In terms of meat, "…a few fish delicacies but mostly its chicken, beef and pork. I've personally never come across turkey here although it can be found in some restaurants."

Hailing from Calcutta India. MMA athlete Shiba Banerji also shares a similar philosophy with me when it comes to holiday dining – "I forget about restrictions when there's any festival." His Christmas dining consists of "Turkey, chicken beef, cakes puddings and all sorts of dessert… I love mud pie!"

I finally turned to physical preparation coach Arnav Sarkar who informed me that where he lives in Calcutta India, "Christmas is quite a popular festival here; at least in the cities. Throughout the year, you do not get turkey in our city, but in these 7 days you can find them in the markets." He plans to get together with his friends for fine foods & drinks!

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Ireland

Figure 15. Foods from the Christmas table of Ed Barret-Shortt include nuts, leg of lamb. Image supplied by Ed Barret-Shortt

A first hand account of the Irish Christmas meal is shared with us by Ed Barret-Shortt…

"Being an Englishman living abroad in Ireland I am fortunate in that the traditional Christmas meals in the two countries are much the same. The main meal is eaten at lunch and usually consists of three or so courses. The starting course may consist of smoked salmon blinis with cream cheese or a prawn cocktail.”

“From there we shift to our main course which includes a roast turkey with sausage and sage stuffing (although some families opt for duck, goose or capon and we have opted to replace the rather dull tasting birds with a leg of lamb cooked with a garlic and rosemary rub), vegetables in the form of roasted potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and the much maligned boiled brussell sprouts. This is accompanied by a boiled peppered ham, gravy and as much alcohol as you can bear in the company of family – I think it is the only time of the year you would think it acceptable to open a bottle of champagne at ten in the morning!”

“For dessert it is traditional to have trifle or Christmas pudding, flamed with brandy and served with brandy butter. Throughout the rest of the day you make it your personal goal to consume as much food as humanly possible with a cheese board and crackers, boxes of chocolates, and mince pies being the main fare.”

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Italy

Figure 16. A few of the fine foods that will appear on Christmas dinner tables in Italy. Image supplied by Styven Tamburo

To learn more about the Italian Christmas Dinner meal we turn to registered nutritionist Styven Tamburo Styven Tamburo who shares with CasePerformance…

"Although Italy is a small country, in every region there are different traditions, I come from central Italy, in particular from the Marche region overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The typical dishes of my native small town are represented by the “tortellini in brodo” (a sort of tortellini soup), a very old typical dish, the tortellini are homemade, usually grandmothers prepare large quantities in the days leading up to Christmas. The soup is a very nutritious dish made with bone broth and tortellini stuffed with meat and spices. Usually the boiled meat that was used to make “tortellini in brodo” is accompanied by veal with tuna sauce, as well as seasonal vegetables raw and cooked never fail."

"Another Christmas dish following tortellini in brodo is the roast lamb, served with roast potatoes. Finally, the traditional dessert of Italian Christmas are “panettone” “pandoro” and “torrone” but even in this case each region has other the typical desserts, in my small town for instance we have delicious “cavallucci” made with flour and stuffed with "sapa" (special sauce which is made from red wine), cocoa, pine nuts, raisins, orange, and many other secret ingredients, and also “cantucci e vin santo” (holy wine). The food is always accompanied by red wine and champagne to end. Then after you pass the sweet, we eat fruit like orange, mandarins, nuts, dates, and finally the famous espresso, the real one, with some typical licor for ending."

I usually advise to do exercise the morning of Christmas if possible, so as to burn through a portion of calories that will be eaten, if it's not possible I advise at least to increase exercise sessions during the Christmas holidays. Some days of intermittent fasting could also be a useful strategy not because the fear of getting fat, but just to make organs (especially liver) rest, since they are not ordinary to big meals. "

The Traditional Christmas Meal in the Netherlands

Figure 17. One of Alexandra's favorites – kerststol!3

I was fortunate to have Olympic weightlifting enthusiast Alexandra Faber share with me the Christmas dining traditions of the Netherlands. She informed me that there is not really any "traditional meals." Rather, "It's just a big, festive, meal with dishes that we don't usually eat. It's the one time of the year that ordinary people eat things like duck liver paté, lobster, expensive meat like côte de boeuf, venison, etc., appetizers and grand desserts."

"The main thing is to get together with friends or family; everyone dressed up nicely, and have a lovely meal. Nowadays many people have their Christmas dinner in a restaurant. We usually do. There's always a fixed menu, with lots of special dishes. Dutch people rarely eat out. That's something we only do on special occasions, like a birthday or an anniversary. Eating out is a festive event all by itself. "

One traditional holiday favorite that is reserved only for Christmas time is "kerststol" which is eaten during the daytime "with lots of butter"!

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Norway

Figure 18. One of the most popular meals in Norway on Christmas is lutefisk served with bacon, potatoes and peas. For reference, the lutefisk is the white fish at the top of the plate. Image Source6

To find out a little bit more about meals that grace the tables of Norway during the Christmas season I turned to personal trainer Borge Fagerli who informed me that there are three different traditional Christmas dinner meals served in in his home country.

  • Meal #1. "Lutefisk, usually served with bacon and bacon grease, potato and green pea stew."
  • Meal #2 "Grilled pork ribs, where the pork rind is a special treat (the skin is cut in a criss-cross pattern and special techniques are used to sear it and make it crispy). It's usually served with potatoes and gravy, sauerkraut, brussel sprouts and various other stuff (depends on individual tastes)."
  • Meal #3 "I prefer turkey, and this is what I make for my mom and step dad every Christmas. A special trick to make it extra juicy and moist is to bake it in the oven upside down (breast side down), and not to use stuffing (just takes a lot longer to bake. Instead I prepare a special concoction on the side with a mix of bacon, Gorgonzola or Stilton cheese, mushrooms and various spices, made into a thick gravy. Served with sweet potato (rarely used here in Norway, but I have my preferences from my years in the US) and a veggie mix."

"These are the most common ones, with pork ribs and lutefisk being the most popular. Turkey has become popular only in recent years."

"Pinnekjøtt is also very popular, but it's served later during the Christmas holiday season such as Dec 26th which is also a celebratory day here in Norway. For those not familiar with Pinnekjøtt, it's a racks of lamb, dried and smoked over birch branches, served with the same sides as seen with lutefisk (potato, pea stew etc)."

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Serbia

Figure 19. Sarma – a staple item of Лука's Christmas meal. Image Source.[]

With respect to the delectable drinks and fine foods that grace the tables in Serbia, I share with you the words of fitness enthusiast, Стојановић Лука…

"Many families celebrate Christmas here in Serbia. The traditional Serbian meal on this day is centered around the dish known as Sarma. Although there are many ways in which one can prepare it, my family's sarma consists of cabbage leaves which are stuffed with rice, minced meat and seasonings. Along with the sarma, our Christmas meal usually includes oven roasted pork. A popular side dish is Olivier salad which consists of boiled vegetables (potato, carrots, cucumbers), ham, cooked eggs and mayonnaise. Sour cream is sometimes added to it.

"Following these main course items, we have a variety of cakes that we like to eat… and I mean A LOT . One of the most popular traditional cakes for the holiday is chocolate based cake in a triangle shape. In my language we don't have an exact name for it. Accompanying the chocolate in this cake is sugar, nuts, gelatin bonbons and wafers which are used to mold it into its distinct triangle shape."

The Traditional Christmas Meal in Spain

Figure 20. A photo of Molly Marie's fine Spanish Christmas meal! Image supplied by Molly Marie

To find out about the Christmas dining experience in Spain, I turn to Molly Marie Halpin who shares….

"Traditionally on Christmas Eve, or 'Noche Buena' (the good night), families have a large dinner later at night before Midnight mass. I lived in Galicia, which is located in the North West of Spain, the meal consisted mostly of seafood and possibly one meat course. See above figure. The meal usually lasts for a few hours and consists of many courses. A few traditional desserts are turrón (Spanish almond candy) polvorones (almond cookies) and mantecados (Spanish crumble cakes). A progression of red and white wines, cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and teas and coffees accompany the different courses."

"Christmas day is a little less extravagant because the Spanish celebrate the Three Kings Day on January 6th instead of Santa. On the 24th and 25th they focus on religion and being with family."

The Traditional Christmas Meal in the USA

Figure 21. Roasted turkey. A staple of most traditional Christmas dinners here in the USA, including my own!5

Being that I'm from the USA, I figured I'd share with you the fine foods that will be gracing our dinner table for Christmas. We always have roast turkey along with a bread stuffing that has sage, onions and celery mixed in it. Other tasty items include yams, potatoes, and crackers with a family cheese spread passed down from my Grandma Casey. Dessert includes apple pie with vanilla ice cream. I like to top my pie and ice-cream off with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Meals for Individuals Who Suffer From Phenylketonuria (PKU)

As you can see, people from all around the world are celebrating the holidays with meals featuring the finest of meats such as turkey, beef, goose, ham, duck, seafood and legumes of choice.

Sadly there is a segment of the population who is unable to partake in these fine foods due to a rare genetic disease known as Phenylketonuria (PKU). Luckily, recent research and innovation has allowed good ol' whey protein to come to the rescue!

To learn more about this, I refer you to the previous interview we did here at CasePerformance with Dr. Denise Ney. In it, she explains new research on glycomacropeptide, a component of whey protein, and how it’s being used to improve the quality of life for those living with PKU.

Bottom Line



1 Messerli FH. Chocolate consumption, cognitive function, and Nobel laureates. N Engl J Med. 2012 Oct 18;367(16):1562-4. doi: 10.1056/NEJMon1211064. Epub 2012 Oct 10.

2 Brian. Chocolate cheesecake. 21 November 2007. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This photo was accessed December 23, 2012 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chocolate_cheesecake.jpg

3 Rasbak. Kerststol met amandelspijs. 31 December 2008. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. This file was accessed December 23, 2012 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kerststol_met_amandelspijs.jpg

4 Mindmatrix. Mud pie with chocolate drizzle. 14 June 2009, 12:30:17. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. This photo was accessed December 23, 2012 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mud_pie_with_chocolate_drizzle,_June_2009.jpg

5 TheKohser.Oven roasted brine-soaked turkey. 21 November 2007. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. This photo was accessed December 23, 2012 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oven_roasted_brine-soaked_turkey.jpg

6 This is a picture of traditional Norwegian lutefisk with extras (potato, bacon and mashed peas). 11 December 2005. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Enno at the English Wikipedia project. Image accessed Dec 22nd, 2013 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lutefisk.jpg

7 Alpha.Avgolemono Soup and Grilled Chicken and Mango Salad. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Image accessed on December 24, 2013 from:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Avgolemono_Soup_and_Grilled_Chicken_and_Mango_Salad.jpg

8 Vitaan26.Lahana sarma. 2006. This item was released into the public domain. It was accessed on Dec 21st, 2014 from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lahana_sarma.JPG

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Written on December 24, 2012 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: December 22, 2015

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.