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Yummy and good for you: your guide to healthy comfort foods

Yummy and good for you: your guide to healthy comfort foods

Let’s face it: The winter months are dreary! They can be cold and gray and make you want to dive into a big bowl of something comforting. Your health will thank you if you choose healthy comfort foods.

Yes, “healthy” and “comfort foods” can indeed go in the same sentence. While many store-bought versions of your favorite comfort foods probably pack in the calories and unhealthy fats, you can cook up healthier versions that are just as satisfying. Our University Medical Center New Orleans team is sharing the details below.

The basics of healthy eating

It might surprise you to learn that healthy eating isn’t necessarily about filling your plate with gluten-free, dairy-free foods, although it can be as needed.

Instead, healthy eating is about creating a habit of choosing nutrient-dense foods that are good for you, can help you reach a healthy weight and lower your risk of many health conditions.

What goes into a healthy diet? Start by filling your plate at meals with fruit and vegetables. Choose fruits and veggies in a variety of colors, as each hue offers distinct nutrients.

Fill the rest of your plate with a portion of lean protein, such as turkey, chicken, fish or tofu, and whole grains. Choose whole grains instead of refined carbs—white bread, white rice, cereals, french fries and baked goods, which have many of the nutrients removed in processing.

Whenever you can, choose whole foods or those that are minimally processed. Packaged, heavily processed foods often contain unhealthy additives like added sugar, excess sodium and unhealthy fats.

Serve up a healthy bowl of comfort

There’s a scientific reason why we keep going back to foods that provide comfort but little nutritional value—foods that contain fat, sugar and sodium all stimulate the brain’s reward system. That means eating them makes you feel good.

Those comfort foods, though, are lacking when it comes to your health. So, whip up some healthy comfort food recipes! Try these ideas for a healthy dinner:

  • Baked sweet potatoes. Love sweet potatoes the traditional holiday way, buttery with marshmallows on top? Get the full flavor of the sweet potato by baking it instead, then serving it with a crumble topping made with pecans, rolled oats, cinnamon and maple syrup. You can also get a similar flavor punch by baking up a butternut squash.
  • Spaghetti squash. Love spaghetti with mama’s traditional meat sauce? Serve that yummy sauce on top of spaghetti squash instead of pasta. If it seems like too much trouble to prepare the squash, try frozen veggie noodles instead. You can also try protein-packed pastas, like those made of lentils, chickpeas or brown rice.
  • Pot pies, minus the pie. Love a good chicken pot pie? Leave off the crust and serve up the goodies inside! The stuff inside the pot pie consists of lean protein and veggies for the most part—and it’s yummy, too.
  • Vegetarian chili. Love a steaming bowl of chili on a cold day? Serve yourself up a veggie-packed version instead! Vegetarian chili can be a good option for Meatless Monday, but really, it’s a delight on any day of the week.
  • Portobello mushroom burgers. Love a big burger with all the fixings? Change out the meat patty for a portobello mushroom cap. Marinate for about 15 minutes before grilling or pan frying. You can stack it up with your favorite burger toppings for all the flavor and less of the unhealthy fat.

These are only a few examples of healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods. Nearly any recipe can be made better for you with a few additions or subtractions to the ingredients—even grandma’s macaroni and cheese. Just use a whole-grain pasta or mix in some broccoli or cauliflower. We promise, you’ll still enjoy it!

Looking for other ways to improve your health this year? Schedule a primary care appointment with your team at University Medical Center New Orleans today to get a good look at your health.