It's cold, you're spending more time indoors, and you're craving comfort food like mac and cheese for every meal. You are not alone! In this post, we explain why your brain craves comfort food, suggest 6 healthy comfort food meals, and offer tips on how to beat back the cravings.
Before we offer ideas for healthy comfort food, let's first understand what it is about winter that makes us crave the mac and cheese. One theory originates with the familiar “winter blues”, or, in more serious cases, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The lack of daylight may be making you feel lethargic or moody, and that might be part of the reason you crave carbohydrate-laden comfort food like pasta. Research shows that carbs stimulate our brain to produce serotonin, otherwise known as the "feel-good hormone".
Another theory is that our ancestors would have eaten food loaded with calories for the extra energy to help keep their bodies warm in winter. Most of us are now fortunate enough to live in homes with good heating, but that doesn’t mean that we haven’t inherited the desire to eat fatty foods when the temperature drops.
Now that we have a better idea of why we crave comfort food, here are 6 ideas for healthy comfort food that will satisfy your cravings. (Visit our Pinterest board for even more ideas!)
Healthy Comfort Foods that Can Boost Serotonin
Try easing off of starchy, refined carbs, like pasta, and replacing them with other foods that are high in tryptophan, the amino acid that helps your brain make serotonin. Turkey is probably the most famous of the foods high in tryptophan, but the list also includes fish, nuts, oats, and beans, among other things. Then, supplement those foods with healthy carbs, like whole-grain bread and brown rice.
1. Salmon Corn Chowder
Recipe and image from: Maria Ushakova
Salmon is packed with so many nutrients that it will probably show up on every list of healthy food, comfort food or not! The omega-3 in salmon will help boost your energy, but it also has the desired tryptophan that triggers your brain's production of serotonin.
Try this delicious recipe for Salmon Corn Chowder from Maria Ushakova. In addition to the salmon, it also uses coconut milk instead of cream to make it a healthy comfort food.
2. Poached Eggs and Avocado on Toast
Recipe and image from: Pinch of Yum
If you find yourself rolling out of bed and craving something that'll stick to your ribs, we suggest an avocado and egg breakfast to start your day off with some serious healthy comfort food. The eggs, avocado and whole wheat toast will all boost serotonin in your brain, while the eggs will also give you a dose of protein and the avocado will...well, there are too many benefits of eating avocado to list them all here. (Read more).
Visit a Pinch of Yum to learn how to make this delectable breakfast of healthy comfort food!
3. Walnut Miso Soup
Recipe and image from: 101 Cookbooks
Now, this recipe for Walnut Miso Soup has everything that you need to fight the winter blues. The three main ingredients - whole wheat pasta, miso, and walnuts - all trigger the brain to produce our happy serotonin. They also contribute omega-3s and protein to the dish. Ladle yourself a hot bowl of this soup, and then lean over it to let the steam warm up your nose. See? Perfect.
Find the easy directions for this healthy comfort food on the 101 Cookbooks website.
Healthy Comfort Foods that Can Boost Energy
Foods like avocados and nuts have a lot of calories, but it is the good kind of fat that can be eaten guilt-free in moderation. Our bodies get energy from other low-calorie foods too, like shrimp, lentils, and sweet potatoes. Here are three more ideas of healthy comfort foods for you to give you some energy as you venture out into the cold.
4. Shrimp Jambalaya
Recipe and image from: My Fitness Pal
Shrimp is a low calorie food that contains vitamin B12, which helps with energy metabolism, and has a good amount of our favorite omega-3 fat, which can help boost energy and mood. (source)
Get the recipe for this delicious shrimp jambalaya here.
5. Lentil Sloppy Joes
Recipe and image from: Edible Perspective
Another low calorie food that is great for boosting your energy is lentils. According to Mind, Body, Green: "Lentils increase steady, slow-burning energy due its fiber and complex carbohydrates. Lentils are also a good source of iron, which transports oxygen throughout your body and is key to energy production and metabolism."
This recipe for Lentil Sloppy Joes from Edible Perspective has all the flavor of the old-fashioned ground beef sandwich, but with much more nutrients. Healthy comfort food at its finest!
6. Shepard's Pie
Recipe and image from: Good Housekeeping
If the word "casserole" is synonymous to you with the phrase "comfort food", we have some good news. This healthier take on the classic Shepard's Pie swaps out the mashed potato topping for vitamin rich sweet potato, and subs out the meat filling with collard greens. Same mouth-watering goodness, but loaded with nutrients to give you the energy you need to stay warm this winter.
Visit Good Housekeeping to find the recipe for this Shepard's Pie turned healthy comfort food and add it to your winter cooking repertoire!
How to Stop the Comfort Food Cravings
Satisfying your comfort food cravings with healthier options is one way to go about it. Another is to banish the cravings all together. Well, maybe not all together, but at least diminish them. The way to do that is (surprise, surprise) to get some exercise!
Exercise makes your brain create both serotonin, the "feel-good hormone", as well as tryptophan, the amino acid found in the foods above, that helps your brain manufacture serotonin. (source) Exercise also helps boost your energy, so the more you move, the more energy you'll have. (source).
At Po Campo, we definitely find the brisk air of winter can do one good. If you're interested in giving winter biking a go, check out our winter biking accessories guide to make sure you've got the right gear.
Another option is to stay indoors and go to the gym to work-out. Hard to get excited by that idea? Here are 5 exciting new workouts for you to try this winter.
If venturing outside more than you absolutely have to feels out of the question, consider creating a home yoga practice.
How do you satisfy your winter comfort food cravings? Please leave comments below.
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