Many people consider comfort foods those with rich flavor, high fat, and loads of carbs. Examples; mashed potatoes and gravy, open-faced turkey, pork, or beef sandwich on white bread with gravy, turkey and dressing, with all the trimmings, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, meat pies, pot pies, etc.
The bad part about each of these foods is that they are nutritionally unballanced. They have either high fat, or high starch, or both, and with little other food value. Let's see how we can change this.
The problem with starch is that it is a complex sugar and is basically all you get from white-flour products. It spikes the blood sugar which in turn causes over-production of insulin to lower the high blood sugar. This in turn signals the body to metabolize the sugar into the cells, and convert the remaining glucose into lipids (fats).
To avoid spiking the blood sugar, include foods high in soluble fiber with the starch. Use whole-grain breads, sweet potatoes instead of plain ones (very high in fiber, vitamin A, and a host of other nutrients, and taste great). Cut back on butter and replace with flavored broths. Use herbs and spices to enhance flavor without increasing caloric intake. Use products such as Splenda, or Sunnet.
You can retrain yourself to search after healthy comfort foods. Meats are fine, so long as they are reasonably portioned and contain moderate to low fat. Use healthy oils such as sunflower and olive oil. Instead of garlic bread from the store, brown whole wheat hoagie buns, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, under the broiler. Remove and rub the toasted surface with fresh garlic. It tastes so good it doesn't need anything else. But of course, you can top it with fresh tomatoes, sauteed with onion, oregano, a sprinkling of sharp parmesan cheese, etc.
Look for nutrients and fiber in your foods, the more, the better. Eat moderate portions, and you can then enjoy any "comfort food" you like.
Ad yes, a good stew with potatoes, meat, carrots, and green beans, swimming in a roux based gravy is comfort food extraordinaire. But it isn't very healthy. Substitute with a good New England boiled dinner, replacing plain potatoes with rutabegga. You can use venison, beef, corned beef, or poultry as the meat. Or if you enjoy wild game, rabbit, grouse, pheasant, these all work well too.
I grew up eating freshly caught brook trout with my dad. Cooked in a foil pouch with some green beans, slivered almonds, and a bit of salt and pepper and you have one of my favorite, and most healthy comfort foods. Yeah, I remember the golden crust of fish dredged in flour and pan fried to perfection. But I had to modify the cooking technique to elliminate the starch. I'm diabetic now. My Dad wasn't. I still love brook trout's flavor though.
Think of why comfort foods are comfortable to you, what and who they make you remember. Then, think of healthy foods you enjoyed with special people from your past, be it your Grandma and Grandpa, or your best high-school buddy. Let those foods become your new comfort foods. And create healthy comfort foods for your family. Use whole grain flour for your home-made pancakes and waffles. They will become a tradition, and will bring back great memories for your family as they grow.
That's what comfort food is all about.
Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North