6 Ways to Make Comfort Food Healthier to Lose Weight and Maintain it!July 7, 2021
Make Comfort Food Healthier!
It’s not uncommon for people to crave creamy pasta, ice cream, and other foods that are high in calories, sugar, and carbohydrates. Comfort foods not only taste great, they also provide a sense of relaxation and security. While it may seem like we gravitate to these foods for nostalgic or sentimental reasons, oftentimes there is an underlying biological reason we desire these foods.
Research shows that the fat, sugar, and starches in comfort foods activate the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, giving a sense of wellbeing and happiness. So, is it possible to make comfort food healthier?
Generally, when trying to lose weight, people exclude these high fat and sugar options from the diet in an effort to reduce their overall calorie intake. While it is important to be mindful about food choices for overall health, comfort foods do not need to be removed entirely from the diet. Instead, it can be more helpful to consider how often, how much, or why these foods are being consumed.
In reality, what you eat during weight loss versus weight maintenance shouldn’t be all that different. If you’re cutting out these foods entirely to lose weight, it might be difficult to figure out how they fit into your diet when you’re in maintenance.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “How am I going to lose weight if I keep eating all these high calorie foods?” Well, it’s important to pick and choose what’s important to you.
Do you have a local pizzeria that makes your favorite pizza pie? Enjoy some specialty pizza and salad every once in a while, instead of the fast-food delivery option. Conversely, if you have a non-specific craving for something sweet, go for a healthy and nutritious option such as fruit instead of a more calorie-dense option like ice cream.
Another way to make comfort food healthier but support weight loss or maintenance, upgrade your recipes!
Ways to Make Comfort Foods Healthier
Make it from scratch
Instead of choosing the boxed, canned, or frozen version- aim to make your favorite food yourself! Doing so will allow you to control the amount and type of ingredients you use.
Tuck in veggies wherever you can
Double or triple the number of veggies that a recipe calls for or, if the recipe doesn’t call for any, add some! Pizza, soup, chili, pasta sauce, meatballs, and tacos are just some of the foods that can be enhanced with some extra veggie! Additionally, increase your veggie intake by using them as your “vessel”- think cucumber slices instead of crackers, zucchini noodles instead of spaghetti noodles, bell pepper slices instead of chips, etc.
Choose whole grain options
If you are using a grain-based food or ingredient, look for a whole grain version to increase your intake of fiber and nutrients. Some examples include opting for 100% whole wheat crackers, using rolled oats in place of bread crumbs, or using quinoa instead of white rice. Skip the simple carbs.
Switch your meats
If you normally go for beef in your lasagna, hamburgers, tacos, or chilis- try a leaner option such as turkey or bison.
Reduce the sugar
If you are making a recipe from scratch, reduce the amount of sugar by 25% to reduce the number of calories without dramatically changing the flavor. Or, use fruit as a sweetener instead of table sugar.
Be mindful of fats
While fat isn’t something that you need to avoid, it is more calorically dense then other macronutrients. Practice portion control and aim for healthy versions such as those from nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, fish and seafood.
Every person and culture define comfort food in their own way. Take inventory of which foods or meals are important to you and try upgrading the other “fun” foods in your life to support your overall weight and wellness goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Moore, RD, CSOWM, CD, CLT is a Registered Dietitian & a Certified Specialist in Obesity & Weight Management. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from Washington State University. Megan owns a private practice, Savored Nutrition, and contributes content for www.MyBariatricDietitian.com, a website designed to help pre-op and post-op WLS patients. Read more articles by Megan!