There is something seductively comforting about a bowl of homemade Mac ‘n Cheese on a cold day.
“What?!”, you say. “YOU, the Nutritionist, eat Mac ‘n Cheese?”
Well, not all the time. In fact, I had totally given up on this fat-laden food many years ago. Then my boyfriend Andrew made it one blustery day last winter. Wow, it was exceptional, and it clued me in to why we find such comfort in this tasty treat!
We all have our list of comfort foods. Yes, even the healthy eaters like me gravitate towards familiar, soothing, heavy foods when the colder weather hits. Seriously, when it’s 40 degrees outside, the salads and smoothies just don’t cut it! Pastas, pancakes, potatoes, meatloaf, hot apple pie – now that’s more like it.
Fortunately, I don’t always give in to my cravings for heavy foods. I learned a long time ago that what my body really needs when it’s cold is heat and energy, which can be found in much healthier options.
Much of the reason our bodies crave heavier food when it gets cold is due to a biological response to “survive” the winter. Although our logical mind knows this is no longer a concern because we have shelter and protection, our body is programmed differently.
It’s no mistake, then, that most comfort foods are high in calories, fat and starch, which take longer to move through our digestive track. This allows food to release a steady flow of energy, which raises our body temperature and keeps us warm.
While our cultural comfort foods are extremely high in fat and oils, other cultures seem to meet their needs by turning to foods of more nutritional substance.
India, for example, refers to their comfort foods as “kapha foods.” These include rice, wheat, healthy oils, warm milk, raw honey, ginger and cinnamon.
Chinese traditions have their own version of comfort foods, known as “yang” foods. These high-energy and warming foods include chili peppers, carrots, broccoli, beef, chicken, mushrooms and spices such as ginger and garlic.
As an experiment, my family is trying out some comfort foods from other countries. It’s been fun watching our kids respond to these foods the same way they do Mac ‘n Cheese – inhaling every bite and then licking the bowl. I feel good knowing we can find joy in our food with choices that are also healthy.
You can too. It’s simply a decision. If you can move away from your old patterns and choose comfort foods from a new list, you’ll find your body will respond with deep satisfaction, and your cravings will disappear.
Here’s a start:
We love this Indian Rice Pudding recipe. Instead of raisins we add 1/4 cup fresh blueberries and 2 T. dried cherries or cranberries.
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) organic whole milk
1/3 cup (66 grams) long or short grain brown rice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or flavoring
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (30 grams) brown or golden raisins, optional
In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan combine the milk, rice, and salt. Place saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium to medium-low and simmer until the rice is tender (about 25 minutes). Stir the milk mixture frequently using a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the rice is tender (al dente) remove from heat and add the maple syrup, vanilla extract, and ground cinnamon. Return to heat and cook until the rice pudding thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the raisins (or other suggested fruit). Spoon the pudding into your serving bowls and serve warms. Or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time, about 1 to 2 hours.
The other thing to remember is that by preparing this dish from scratch, you are also feeding another part of you…your soul. Cooking is a very calming, joyful experience that breaks you free from the Fat Kid Mentality that says, “I can’t lose weight because I’m terrible in the kitchen.” When you continue to tell yourself, and BELIEVE, this story, you will continue to choose comfort foods that make you feel sluggish, bloated, and wanting more.
The recipe above is simple and delightfully satisfying, as are many healthy recipes that you can find here on my site. I encourage you to try some this weekend. By cooking your meals, you learn about wonderful, fresh ingredients that are truly what your body craves. YOU get to choose! Really, you do. When you re-train your brain and start believing a new story, your body will follow suit.
Once you start making healthier choices, you actually REPROGRAM your body’s hard-drive to crave healthier foods. If you continue to eat the greasy, sugar-laden foods as comfort, your body will continue to crave those. If you choose to find comfort in things like the Rice Pudding above, then your body will start to recognize that it can feel good with wholesome, natural ingredients. Even though the recipe above is sweetened, the maple syrup makes it healthier than processed comfort foods that are loaded with trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. We’ll talk more about healthy fats and sweeteners in a later blog.
Until then, I can’t wait to hear how you like the Rice Pudding. And in forming a community here, please share your recipes or stories that will help everyone along in their efforts to choose healthier comfort foods.
Have a wonderful day!