There’s nothing better than piping-hot, cheesy macaroni, melt-in-the-mouth chili or buttery chocolate chip muffins to warm you up when the weather gets colder and the days become shorter.
However, according to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of adults ages 18 to 55 reported in the last month that they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month due to stress and seasonal blues.
It’s easy to do because eating food high in fat, sugar or salt activates the brain’s reward system. For example, chocolate has a strong effect on mood, generally increasing pleasant feelings and reducing tension. A study on attachment to comfort foods published in 2015 in the food journal “Appetite” found that food is comforting because of the memories they evoke, as well as the emotional relationships associated with them.
So, should these unhealthy comforts, pastas, chocolates and pastries – simply be resisted? Rebecca Reeves, a researcher of obesity at Baylor College of Medicine, doesn’t think so.
“I do not believe we should deny ourselves these foods which we have emotional attachments to,” Reeves said in a WebMD article discussing diet and weight management. “If we do deprive ourselves, we’ll just want to eat more and more.”
Comfort foods soothe and delight the heart, but they can be unhealthy. The following are a handful of recipes created by this reporter, who loves comfort foods but would like healthier options. They are prepared with ingredients such as high-protein pasta and fresh veggies as healthy alternatives to unhealthy additives.
Four-Cheese Macro-Friendly Macaroni
Let’s begin with the ultimate comfort food: macaroni and cheese. First, start with a healthy spin on traditional pasta. A popular choice is Barilla Protein PLUS Elbow pasta, with added protein. The pasta provides a lot of bang without unnecessary carbohydrates.
Boil the pasta according to the package. After the pasta is cooked, be sure to save half a cup of the pasta water. Next, add two cups of fresh spinach to a strainer, and pour the pasta over the top to drain and wilt the spinach.
Return the pasta and spinach to the pot. Add about one-fourth cup of the reserved pasta water and stir in two cups of cheese. Sargento’s Shredded 4 Cheese Italian mix is perfect for this recipe, not to mention it’s low in fat. Once melted, stir in the Greek yogurt, which replaces the need for added butter and heavy cream. Add onion powder and garlic powder with salt and pepper to taste. Add Cajun seasoning and other toppings if you desire.
Cheatless Chocolately Muffins
Muffins are known for their convenience and warmth, but they are not very healthy. But there is a way to enjoy a buttery, chocolate-y muffin without added butter, sugar and white flour, and it can be made in just under 30 minutes.
First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and spray a muffin tin. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Then, in a large bowl, mash three medium bananas. Add honey, oil, vanilla, almond milk, Greek yogurt and egg to the mashed bananas, and mix until smooth.
Combine the dry ingredients into the bowl, and mix until just combined. Then fold in chocolate chips. Fill the muffin tin about two-thirds full with batter, and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Finally, cool the muffins on cooling racks for five minutes, then sit back and enjoy the guiltless, warm chocolatey deliciousness.
Tackle Worthy Turkey Chili
Tailgate season is in full swing, which means it’s chili time. Here’s how to make a crowd-pleasing yet heart-healthy chili that will win over any crowd.
Pour two teaspoons of oil in a large soup pot, and place over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic and red pepper and sauté for five to seven minutes, stirring frequently. Next, add in ground turkey, and break up the meat, cooking until no longer pink. Next, stir in chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper and salt.
Add tomatoes, chicken broth, kidney beans and corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until chili thickens and flavors meld together. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt as necessary.
Want to spruce up the chili with guiltless extras? Add some greens or top with sliced avocado and jalapeños. This dish packs in the comfort for just 227 calories per two cups.