There’s a reason we use the phrase “comfort foods.” We turn to rich foods when we’re stressed, when we’re down or when we feel like we need a reward.
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But comfort foods are rarely healthy, and each unhealthy meal adds up, raising your risk for adverse health effects. There’s a solution, though. Make a few simple tweaks to your favorite recipes, and you can enjoy comfort food without the guilt.
Let’s start with macaroni and cheese. What makes mac and cheese taste oh so good while being oh so bad? It’s the massive amount of cheese mixed with salt, butter and white pasta.
Here’s how to slim it down and make it healthier.
1. Swap white pasta for 100 percent whole grain pasta
Refined carbohydrates in white pasta can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes and wreak havoc on your blood sugar. Whole grain pasta is a much smarter option. Whole grains are higher in the nutrients your body needs — nutrients that get stripped away by food processing. Bonus: Whole grains also leave you full longer.
2. Use 1 percent low-fat milk in place of butter
The copious amounts of butter in most mac and cheese recipes deliver an overload of saturated fat. Cut back by swapping some, or all, of the butter with 1 percent low-fat milk.
3. Change or cut the cheese
All that cheese is what makes mac and cheese so gooey, but it also ups the calorie count. Consider swapping half of the cheese in your recipe for low-fat skim mozzarella. Or use a stronger-tasting full-fat cheese, but cut the amount in half.
4. Add chia seeds to your cheese sauce
Concerned that cutting your cheese content will leave the sauce a little thin? Try adding chia seeds. They’re high in heart-healthy omega-3 fats. They also swell and absorb liquid when cooked, which will help thicken your sauce.
5. Keep your serving size reasonable
Portion size is where many people make the biggest mistakes. Instead of piling mac and cheese high on your plate, stick to 1/2 cup per serving. If you’re diabetic, stick to 1/3 cup to avoid skyrocketing blood sugar levels.
The end result: If you follow the steps above, you’ll reduce total saturated fat, add healthy omega-3 fat, reduce calories and benefit from the fiber that comes from whole grains. And it still will be gooey and delicious.