Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Big Healthy Comfort Food Swap

It's an unfair twist that foods we crave for comfort when we're feeling low happen to be also quite bad for us. I can't tell you the number of times I've bitten into a glazed doughnut or spooned Nutella straight from the jar and wished things were different. 

And you don't have to be a genius to figure out that, while the occasional piece of chocolate fudge cake is ok, you can't expect to be healthy and eat these kinds of foods all the time. 

But what are our options, then? Well, I decided to come up with some comfort food swaps - healthier things you can switch to, that will give you the same kind of satisfaction - texture, flavour - as the 'naughty' foods. Have a look at these...

Substitute salted, roasted almonds for crisps
Crisps (or potato chips, if you're reading in the US) are my biggest weakness. I couldn't actually buy multipacks of crisps because I'd just eat three or four packets in a row. But they're full of salt, vegetable oil and are referred to by many nutritionists as 'empty calories' because they don't really do anything good for your body. But since I've  kept a bag of roasted, salted almonds in the cupboard, I don't ever fancy crisps (hurray!). Almonds provide Vitamin E and a handful of the crunchy, salty things staves away a crisp craving. They're calorific, yes, but given the choice between crisps and almonds at least the almonds are benefitting your body.

sub quinoa for white rice


I've only recently started to appreciate quinoa. It's a seed that you boil until soft and basically serve as you would couscous or rice. And it's great for keeping in the fridge, ready to stir into garlic mushrooms or toss into salads. Quinoa contains protein (great if you're vegetarian or vegan), is thought to aid the digestion and contains essential amino acids for our health. Apparently Aztec warriors used to eat it before battle to increase their chances of winning. Looks like those Aztecs might have been onto a thing or two.

sub ricotta for mascarpone
Ricotta is such a versatile cheese. You can fill ravioli with it, make ice cream and gnocchi with it and turn it into muffins and cheesecakes. Mascarpone is versatile too, and is used in cheesecakes, puds and trifles. But the thing with ricotta is that is contains 10% fat. Mascarpone contains about 40% fat. Substitute ricotta for mascarpone in pasta sauces, cheesecakes or try it in trifles for a creamy texture but less fat. 

sub sweet potatoes for white potatoes

sticky sweet potato wedges

White potatoes are great little things. They're full of carbs which give us energy and also Vitamin C, which keeps our immune system ticking over nicely. But one night, when you'd normally reach for the white spuds, try sweet potatoes instead: they contain beta carotene, Vitamin E, Vitamin A and have  lower glycaemic index than white spuds. I love them baked in their skin and topped with goat's cheese and chives or chipped into wedges and baked until sticky and crisp.

sub smoothies for milkshakes
In one of my favourite restaurants, they make a whole load of different milkshakes, thick and frothy with ice cream, which frosts up the glass. I love the peanut butter one. And I thought that there was no way I could get my ice-cold milkshake fix while being healthy. Until I tried the almond milk, almond butter and date smoothie in Gwyneth Paltrow's book It's All Good. A chilled, creamy, nutty shake with a fraction of the calories of my restaurant one. 

sub wholemeal pasta for white pasta
I remember when I was about 20, my doctor told me to up the amount of fibre in my diet and switch to wholemeal pasta. So I bought some. And it was like eating strands of sand. Wholemeal pasta has come on in bounds in recent years, and it no longer tastes like sand. Buy a reputable brand, or try the half and half pastas you can get made from half wholemeal flour and half white for a more subtle flavour. I love wholemeal spaghetti cooked and dressed in pesto or some greens, or as spaghettti al olio - tossed in lightly cooked garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil. You'll increase your fibre intake without even trying. 

And if you're really having one of those days...

sub dark chocolate for milk chocolate
If you're prone to the odd chocolate craving, and who isn't, keep a pack of dark chocolate (at the back of) the cupboard. Dark chocolate is more bitter but contains less milk and sugar than milk and white chocolate. White chocolate isn't actually chocolate at all, but a by product of the chocolate making process - cocoa butter is mixed with vanilla, milk and sugar to make your Milky Bar-style choccy. And because dark chocolate is packed with more of that intense cocoa flavour, you'll need less. So no more munching through 1kg bars of Dairy Milk, then... 

What are your tips for eating comfort food without piling on the calories? 

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