They are called comfort foods for a reason—they comfort us! It’s perfectly natural to crave foods that bring comfort to both the body and the soul. Food is a trigger for memories good and bad, but comfort foods are uniquely individual. Studies show that cultural, gender and age differences influence what foods a person turns to for comfort…for me it’s the traditional foods I remember growing up in England. When I’m under the weather, boiled eggs and “soldiers”–which are slices of buttered toast cut into strips perfect for dipping into the warm, runny yellow egg yolk–are what I crave. Toasted cheese and Branston pickle sandwiches are high on the list too!
Luckily, the comfort foods of my youth are not the high fat, high sodium foods that many now turn to. Experts have linked our obesity epidemic to overindulgences of fried foods that many people find comforting–fried chicken nuggets and French fries may offer instant gratification, but they bring with them tons of calories and unwanted weight gain.
But, there are ways to enjoy the “comfort” of foods without some of the negative effects.
Rework your comfort food favorites:
You can always swap out some of the unhealthy ingredients for healthier ones. For instance, use low fat alternatives (especially cheese), add chicken stock in your favorite mash potato recipe and halve the amount of butter. Use 90% lean beef for your meatloaf, meatballs and burgers. CookingLight.com is a great resource for lighter healthier recipes that still taste fabulous!
If you just can’t go with a healthier version of your favorite comfort food, then just eat a little less. The first bite is always the best…so go for the real thing just less of it. Even better, share it with a friend! Remember a little can go a long way.
Veggies area great substitute:
One of my favorite things is replacing mashed potatoes with cauliflower mash… not all the time, but the more you do it, the less starch and empty calories you’ll consume and it tastes great. Adding more veggies to soups and stews keeps them rich and filling but cuts down on the fat and calories. Adding fruit and veggie purees to baked goods can cut out half the fat too.
Dump the white:
Toss out all the white refined foods—rice, pasta, flours and breads and opt for whole and ancient grains. They are more nutritious, more flavorful and higher in fiber and protein. In fact fill your cupboard with Kamut® wheat products. This ancient grain makes the most amazing pasta and cereals and the wheat berries are awesome in many “comfort” dishes. Two great cookbooks for ancient grain recipes are: Ancient Grains for Modern Meals and Grain Mains: 101 Surprising and Satisfying Whole Grain Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.
Trust me, I’m all about the crème fraiche, clotted cream and heavy whipping cream, but authentic Greek yogurt is a great alternative. Thick and creamy – the low-fat plain kind replaces cream, mayo and sour cream with no discernable flavor change to a recipe. I love it on top a hearty chili!
Avoid emotional eating:
Now, we have all done it…upset, reach for the bag of potato chips or straight for the ice cream! OK, so it’s difficult to be rational when you’re upset, but emotional eating is deadly and you feel terrible self-loathing afterwards. If you can stop at a couple of mouthfuls then all well and good, but it you are not happy until you have finished the bag or the carton, only keep a really small bag or a really small carton in the house.
A 2011 University of California study on stress and eating in heavy women found that by mastering simple mindful eating and stress reduction techniques helped to prevent weight gain without dieting. Stress results in greater production of the hormone cortisol, which in turn targets fat cells and also creates an increase desire for fat and sugar which lowers cortisol levels—a vicious cycle that can result in increased abdominal obesity. So before you start eating, try something relaxing first and always have something healthy to snack on that’s within easy reach.
At the end of the day, comfort food will not bring you long term comfort if it’s making you put on weight, but a little comfort food every now and again maybe just what’s needed.