We all love comfort foods. You know, the food that’s usually heavy and relatively unhealthy, but makes your tummy feel full and happy, and leaves you lounging on the couch longing for a nap.
There is a way to make these recipes healthier without losing the satisfaction of a full and happy tummy.
Healthy Comfort Food Tip #1: Make from scratch
First of all, make the food yourself. Don’t rely on packaged and prepared food. Anything that comes out of a box or a can usually has added sodium, which encourages your body to retain fluids leaving you feeling bloated.
One of the easiest ways to lose weight is to reduce your sodium intake and increase your fluid intake. Your body will flush out the fluids like it’s supposed to. Much of the initial weight loss experienced in most weight loss programs is retained “water weight”.
Many choose prepared foods for the ease of cooking and preparing but, though the prep time may be longer, the cooking time is usually about the same. For the sake of a healthier alternative, take the time to make the meal yourself. Not only will you have a healthier meal, you’ll also have the satisfaction of having done it yourself.
Healthy Comfort Food Tip #2 - Avoid using soups and soup mixes, and other canned foods
Similar to #1, many recipes call for condensed soups or soup mixes and other canned items. If you have to use canned food such as diced tomatoes choose those that say “reduced sodium” or “no salt added.”
As an alternative, have your own spices on hand -- minced garlic, ground or whole pepper, minced onion, ginger, oregano, sage, cumin. Stay away from garlic salt or onion salt. You can add your own pinch of salt.
You’ll be surprised how little salt you actually need to add flavor to your meals. Learning which spices blend well or which spices your family prefers takes a little experimentation. (This is how I discovered that there is such thing as too much curry).
Also, avoid prepared meats such as sausage or burgers which contain high amounts of sodium and who knows what else. Choose healthier alternatives such as fresh ground sirloin, ground chicken or turkey, or lower sodium ham or back bacon.
Your body still needs a certain amount of saturated fat, and it’s easy to get that without the extra sodium and other ingredients your body doesn’t need.
Healthy Comfort Food Tip #3 - Read labels
Of course, the key to Tips #1 and #2 is learning how to read labels and ingredients. As a general rule, look for sodium content in food that is below 15 percent and sugar content below 10 percent RDI (recommended daily intake).
Ingredients are listed in priority from the main ingredient on down. For example, in bread the main ingredient is likely wheat flour, so that will be listed first.
Here is a helpful site that explains how to read a daily intake guide.
This is all part of knowing what you put in your body. There is always room to cut back, and learning what amounts are good for your body and what is too much can help you know what and where to make better choices.
You’ll be amazed, once you start looking at and evaluating the ingredients and content of your food, how much you overeat or how much bad stuff you consume.
Sometimes just simply swapping a higher calorie or higher fat ingredient for a lower calorie or lower fat alternative, or adding a little bit of garlic or a finely chopped veggie is enough to turn comfort food into healthy comfort food.
Enjoy comfort food again!
1) Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Accessed: Nov 13, 2014.
2) Shaking the Salt Habit. American Heart Association. Web. Accessed: Nov 13, 2014.
3) Nutrients – your body needs them! But, what are nutrients? MyDailyIntake.net. Web. Accessed: Nov 14, 2014.
Reviewed November 23, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith