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How to Make Comfort Foods Healthier

MAC Nutrition - Thursday, October 19, 2017

5 Ways to Make Comfort Foods Healthier

As the weather gets colder and the holidays loom in sight, we often crave (or have on the holiday menu) heavier comfort foods such as mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and baked goods. For those of us with health and fitness goals, overindulging in foods like these more than once in a while can be detrimental to our progress. However, just like how we lightened up pumpkin muffins in our October Recipe of the Month, there are some tweaks we can make to comfort food recipes to make them healthier. Here are some ideas for adding fiber and protein, reducing refined carbohydrates, and overall lightening up your comfort foods:

1. Add Protein Powder

Baked comfort foods such as muffins, cakes, and cookies are high in refined carbohydrates and low in protein, which isn’t very helpful for people who are trying to lose fat or gain muscle. High refined carbohydrate intake spikes insulin, making fat loss more difficult and creating imbalanced blood sugar levels. This process can lead to sugar crashes and more cravings for sugary and high-calorie foods later on. However, there are some adjustments that can increase the protein or fiber content or reduce the refined carbohydrate content of baked goods, making them more satisfying and helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. This sets you up for success, as you will more likely be able to stop at one serving and will be less likely to experience a sugar crash and more cravings later on.

One such tweak to up the protein and reduce the refined carbohydrate content of baked goods is to replace 1/3 of the flour in the recipe with the protein powder of your choice. Use chocolate protein powder for brownies, chocolate, cookies, and chocolate cake, and use plain or vanilla protein powder for everything else. Look for protein powders that are low in sugar, and opt for simpler ones without a lot of fillers or artificial sweeteners.

2. Bake with Beans

Baking with beans is a handy way to increase the protein and fiber content of a recipe. In many cases, it’s as easy as replacing one cup of flour with one cup of mashed beans. Use black beans for chocolate recipes and chickpeas or white beans for other recipes.

2. Flour Swap

If using protein powder and beans in baked goods sounds a little too adventurous, the simplest way to add fiber to a recipe is to replace white flour with whole wheat flour or oat flour. Using whole grain flour instead of refined grain flour keeps all that fiber and nutrition content of the grain in your baked item, whereas the nutrients and fiber are stripped away in the refined flour version.

3. Substitute Whole Foods

When in doubt, go for a whole food. While oils like olive oil and avocado oil contain healthy fats, replacing one cup of oil with one cup of pumpkin or sweet potato puree adds fiber and vitamin A to baked goods. This replacement also works to take the place of butter in baked goods in order to reduce saturated fat intake. You can also use sweet potato and whole grains such as amaranth, bulgur, and farro as the carbohydrate on your plate instead of white bread or white pasta to increase the fiber and nutrients. Opt for chopped or mashed avocado instead of butter on toast for more fiber and potassium. Think whole plant foods instead of refined or processed foods whenever possible to increase fiber and nutrient intake.

4. Go Nuts!

Finding creative ways to use nuts can help to increase the content of healthy fats in your food while cutting out some less healthful fats. You can make a homemade cashew-based cheese by soaking cashews in water, draining and rinsing them, and blending them with lemon juice, herbs and spices, and nutritional yeast. The cashew cheese is rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats and is lower in saturated fat than dairy cheese. Nuts are also a great way to add texture and flavor to salads, eliminating the desire to pile on the creamy dressings.

5. Indulge Mindfully

All that being said, sometimes a substitute just won’t cut it! A special occasion may call for indulging in a comfort food that you love. Every once in a while, it’s perfectly fine to have that white pasta or that delicious brownie made using your family recipe. If you really enjoy the stuffing at Thanksgiving, or you have a favorite cookie recipe that you make once a season, you should enjoy them. Engaging in mindful eating and truly paying attention to the taste and texture of your food will help you to feel satisfied with less. And you may feel more fulfilled than if you had tried to make do with the substitute version.

This month's blog contribution comes from Louisa Paine, Registered Dietitian at The Mount Auburn Club.

Contact the MAC Nutrition team today.

The information presented here is for general educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or health condition. As always, please speak with your registered dietitian regarding any dietary modifications or nutrition-related questions.