Feel Comfort from “Comfort Foods” Without the Guilt


By Rebecca Rinck, Healthy Aggies Intern

As we all continue spending more time at home you may struggle with wanting to be productive, but also crave immersion into more fun projects. Creative or soothing projects allow us to forget the pandemic and allow stress to sit off to the side. Cooking and baking have been especially popular, and are clinically proven to provide comfort, allowing for de-stressing. I, for one, have lost count of how many baked goods I have made during my time at home. And with decreased movement from staying-at-home, I have a desire to feel the comfort from “comfort foods” without the guilt.

The ingredients that make comfort foods so inviting are usually high in saturated fats, such as red meat, butter, cheese, and cream. The USDA advises to limit intake of saturated fats to reduce risk of heart disease and decrease levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol.  Additionally, comfort foods typically contain rice, pasta, and noodles, all refined carbohydrates. While they are tasty, they may lead to quickly elevated glucose levels and a shortened feeling of satiety. Don’t be alarmed, limit does not mean eliminate! The idea is to be cognizant of the amount of these types of foods you’re consuming and making substitutions when possible, while combining them with protein rich foods.

Things to try:

  1. Try using whole wheat pasta or brown rice, or even replace them with vegetable versions like riced cauliflower or zucchini noodles. Maybe do half whole wheat, to start. Whole grains and whole-grain flours take longer to digest, have more nutrients, and will leave you feeling full for longer.
  2. Replace highly saturated fats with alternatives such as nonfat Greek yogurt, low-fat cheeses, or even vegan dairy products. Using vegetable oils to replace butter can provide essential fatty acids, vitamin E, and also improve levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Another example – when you make brownies, play around with using a healthy fat, such as avocado, instead of butter.
  3. If Grandma’s recipe for Mac N’ Cheese is too good to change, reduce your serving amount and pair it with plenty of greens. The USDA recommends consuming 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day to help reduce intake of fatty foods and keep you feeling full for longer.

If you’re like me, you’ve been finding yourself reaching for a second serving of mashed potatoes, but then maybe remembered you skipped your morning workout and decided against it. Wait, why did I do that? Why did I feel so guilty? Maybe those mashed potatoes aren’t the most nutritionally beneficial for me, but I think it would have made me feel good. Food plays many roles and comfort is one of them.  Don’t feel guilty for trying to make yourself feel better in times of extreme stress and unknown.  Recognize your feelings and cravings.  Allow yourself one or two snacks. Make adjustments where you can, and look to other activities such as meditation to help reduce the temptation to stress-eat.

Do you have a favorite comfort food?  Let us know!

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