You know the situation: You had a horribly long, stressful day at work and all you want is something comforting when you get home, but you don’t want to deal with the indigestion, headaches, tummy cramps, or post-meal fatigue that traditional comfort foods might bring.
Don’t panic – with a few easy swaps, even your all-time favorite comfort meals can be chock-full of vitamins and minerals.
When you’re craving something cheesy or creamy
It’s true that some fats are better than others, but there’s no need to be scared of dietary fat: It’s an essential part of a balanced diet!
Heavy cream (also called whipping cream) is often used in pastries, ice cream, soups, and sauces – foods we tend to crave when stressed. Heavy cream is between 36% and 40% milk fat and is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, riboflavin, and vitamin B12. However, many people can’t tolerate heavy cream because of an allergy or sensitivity to dairy, which makes some of their favorite foods off-limits.
If you’re looking for an alternative to dairy cream, try combining olive oil with soy milk for a hearty texture full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins E and K and omega 6s.
Coconut cream can also replace heavy cream in equal parts. It’s best used in dishes that have a sweeter flavor, but it can also be used in curries and spicy soups to “cool” the spice. Coconut cream is high in essential minerals, like potassium and magnesium, and contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCT fats), which can enhance exercise performance and have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
As for cheese, try varieties made from milk from 100% grass-fed animals. This kind is highest in some of cheese’s most prominent nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin B12, zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2.
And don’t be afraid of the higher-fat cheeses – many contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is thought to prevent heart disease and reduce inflammation.
When you’re craving something sweet
Sweet foods are delicious, but too much sugar has been shown to have harmful effects on human health. Replacing sugar with artificial alternatives like sucralose may be just as harmful, so opt for an all-natural replacement instead.
Natural substitutes include stevia, monk fruit extract, coconut sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup. These sweeteners contain more vitamins and minerals than plain table sugar. Some of them are also lower on the glycemic index, which means they won’t cause as much of a spike to your blood sugar level.
Including whole-food sweeteners like bananas (ice cream, anyone?) or sweet potatoes in your diet can help provide some of the sweet taste you’re looking for while also offering a nutritional boost. This way, you can satisfy your sweet tooth while consuming essential nutrients! Check out these pumpkin swirl brownies for inspiration.
When you’re craving carbs
If you find yourself constantly craving carbs, it may mean your body is looking for a quick energy source – perhaps you’re tired or stressed. But when that craving hits, you can bump up the nutritional value in your meal by swapping refined grains for whole or sprouted ones. You’ll get more vitamins and minerals, like fiber, folate, niacin, manganese, and more; plus, you’ll stay fuller longer – and get a sense of accomplishment for sticking to your healthy lifestyle!
If you’re gluten-free, there are tons of options to replace refined grains: rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, and more. Fried rice your soul food? There’s even a great recipe for quinoa fried rice!
When you’re craving something fried
Using just a bit of oil, coat your food in whole-wheat bread crumbs and throw it in the oven to bake. This method will give you the crispiness and saltiness your taste buds crave.
Dying for fries? Cut white or sweet potatoes into strips and bake them until crispy. Spritz the strips with olive oil and add your favorite seasonings to really get the taste you’re after.
By following these tips, you can make comfort foods healthier and enjoy your favorites more often – mac ’n’ cheese, ice cream, and French fries included. But remember that it’s perfectly okay to honor your cravings and eat the regular versions of your favorite foods, too.
At IIN, we recognize that food can nourish you on both a primary and secondary level: If eating a slice of cake at your friend’s birthday celebration is going to make you happy both physically and emotionally, have the slice! Just make sure to navigate your cravings mindfully.
Nourishing your soul is just as important as nourishing your body, and remember that the whole eating pattern, not just one nutrient over another, is important for overall health.
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