Making comfort foods healthier this winter

Winter food cravings: Why we crave and how to satisfy in a healthy way.

The idea of eating more food in the winter months macncheesehas evolved from our ancestors who needed the extra calories to keep their body warm. Now with central heating in our homes and workplace, we no longer need the extra calories for heat conservation. Comfort foods are defined as sweet, fatty and calorie-dense. Historically, lighter, cooler foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables have not been available in the winter months and the starchy, high carbohydrate foods were eaten more often.

People tend to turn to comfort foods when the weather is cold and damp. Michigan State University Extension says that cravings for sweet, salty, creamy and fatty foods increase in the colder months. These comfort foods are thought to alleviate anxiety or stress. Eating an extra 100 calories a day can lead to a 10 pound weight gain in one year.

It is possible to eat satisfying, enjoyable comfort foods without gaining weight. Choose hearty, homemade soups rather than creamy-based soups. Slip in additional vegetables in your soups and stews for added nutrients. Choose sweet potatoes as an alternative to white potatoes to boost the nutrition or a high protein meal of lean meats can keep you feeling full longer and help to satisfy carbohydrate cravings.

There are easy changes that can be made to favorite comfort foods, such as:

Shepard’s pie – Substitute the ground beef for ground turkey or ground chicken.

Chocolate – Look for 70 percent cocoa; skip milk chocolate and make hot chocolate with low-fat milk.

Macaroni and cheese – Use whole grain pasta and skip the boxed versions.

Don’t forget that exercising at home and participating in active outdoor activities during the winter months can both burn calories and boost your mood. Simple modifications and experimenting with recipes can help boost nutrients and lower the fat and sugar of many calorie dense comfort foods.

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