Healthy Low Fat, Low Sugar, Low Calorie Comfort Food Alternatives

Comfort food is an easily consumed meal or snack that is rich in calories and nutrients, sometimes eaten in cold weather, to boost the feelings of warmth and having hunger satisfied. It can also provide a sentimental or nostalgic feeling to the person eating food they love.

However, comfort food is often associated with mood swings and is the food people eat when they are feeling low, over-tired, hungry or depressed. They often eat too much of this food and go well beyond satisfying any hunger pangs.

Comfort food is often eaten to relieve negative feelings and boost positive ones, via a ‘sugar’ hit or the satisfaction people feel when their stomachs are full of satisfying food.

For people on diets, comfort foods are often see as a ‘break-out’, a high calorie splurge, and may even border on binge eating.

It may be triggered by the hunger people feel when dieting. It can ruin weight loss plans and destroy the motivation to lose weight. Often the amount eaten goes well beyond that required because people are hungry.

This article discusses the dangers of comfort foods for people trying to lose weight by controlling the amount they eat through various diets.

It includes many tips and recipe ideas for comfort foods that have low fat, low sugar levels and generally low calories.

It also provides advice on how to stop succumbing to the temptation of comfort foods and to over-eat.

Fresh food can be comfort food
Fresh food can be comfort food | Source
Whole foods are healthier
Whole foods are healthier | Source
Use fresh vegetables in preparing salads as comfort foods
Use fresh vegetables in preparing salads as comfort foods | Source

What are Comfort Foods and Why They Are Problems for Dieting and Obesity

Various studies have identified into five categories of comfort food:

  • nostalgic foods
  • indulgence foods,
  • convenience foods
  • physical comfort foods
  • guilt foods, break-out foods, rebellion foods
  • mood modifying foods

There appear to be major differences between sexes and age groups:

  • Males mostly appear to prefer hearty, warm, comfort food dishes such as stews, curries, steak, casseroles, and soups
  • Females mostly appear to eat comfort foods as snacks (such as chocolate, shakes and ice cream).
  • Younger people appear to like snack-related comfort foods than older people

What’s Wrong with Comfort Foods?

Comfort foods soothe, satisfy, and nurture, and also help deal with emotions and feelings of depression us, but most of them have high fat and carbohydrate contents and high calories. It is wrong to deny people foods that they have emotional attachments to. Similarly eating to relieve stress is not inherently bad. It’s just that people on diets eat too much of the wrong foods. It may not be a matter of denying particular foods, but simply making foods with better choices of ingredients (low-cal and low-fat versions). In other cases people on diets can eat ice cream, but just have a small serving.

Many popular comfort foods are very nutritious and contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrate. However most of them are overloaded with calories. The table below lists common comfort foods and snacks. The table lists calories, fat, carbohydrate and protein for each of the foods which have a common serving size of 100g. The foods are ranked and list with the highest calories listed first.

The main points about the foods listed are:

  • The comfort foods with the highest calories in a standard serve of 100g were nuts, potato chips, biscuits and cookies and snack bars, which have over 350 calories. Nuts have high fat levels and foods high in carbohydrates and natural sugars are packed with calories.
  • All of the fast foods such as chicken nuggets, burgers and hot dogs have high calories.
  • Dries fruits such as raisins (300 calories), apricots (240 calories) and prunes (240 calories) and sandwiches all have high calories.
  • Not surprisingly, the foods with the lowest calories were vegetables and fruits (not avocado which is rich in fat), soups and smoothies.

Ways to Enjoy Comfort Food, Wisely

Reduce the calories - Prepare versions of your favourite comfort food that have reduced calories, fat, sodium, and sugar. There are a huge number of recipes for low-cal versions of your favorite dishes.

Control when and how much comfort foods you eat – Try to only eat your comfort food when you are really hungry. Remember that hunger pangs only last for about ten minutes. Drinking water or eating an apple can overcome the hunger pangs. Similarly eating a tiny portion of many hunger foods such as sultanas, cheese and nuts can ‘kill’ the hunger ( 1/2 cup). The problem is that there is an overshoot, you tend to keep eating long after the food would satisfy the appetite. If you need to fill your stomach to feel better and satisfied, eat green vegetables, cabbage, bell peppers, green beans and celery sticks. You can eat these with hommus or fabulous dips and salsa. Just make sure the amount of the dups is very small and that you ‘fill-up’ on the vegetables.

Try not to snack on comfort foods - To avoid eating for emotional reasons, aviod comfort foods as snacks, but have them as regular meals and not as a snack eaten on impulse.

Make healthy adjustments to your recipes – If you enjoy casseroles, beek steak, pasta dishes as comfort food, boost the nutritional value of the food and lower the calories but using less meat and more vegetables. Buy smaller amounts of the better cuts of meat such as fillet steak and really enjoy its tenderness and flavour. For sweet comfort foods, add more fresh fruit, and decrease the sugar and dairy ingredients to reduce the fat content and calories.

Tips for Low-cal, Low-fat Comfort Food Recipe

The table below outlines the substitutes you can use to reduce the calories and fat in homemade and prepared foods and dishes.

Low -fat and Low-cal Substitutes

Higher-Fat Foods
Reduced-Fat Foods
Dairy Products
ooooooooooooooo
Cheese (cheddar, Swiss, jack)
Low-calorie processed cheeses, reduced-calorie cheese, skim milk cheeses, vegan cheeses
Coffee cream
Low-fat (1%) or reduced-fat (2%) milk or non-fat dry milk powder
Cream cheese
Light or Fat-Free cream cheese
Evaporated whole milk
Skim Milk (inlcuding evaporated or low-fat (2%) milk
Ice cream
Sherbet, Frozen Fruit Purees, sherbet, Sorbet, low-fat, low cal frozen yogurt, or ice cream
Regular (4% fat) cottage cheese
Reduced-fat (2%), Low-fat (1%) cottage cheese
Sour cream
Plain low-fat, low-cal yogurt (not Greek)
Whipping cream
Whipped cream products made with skim milk
Whole milk
reduced-fat (2%), Low-fat (1%), Skim milk, Low-fat Soy Milk
Mozzarella cheese made with whole milk
Skim milk mozzarella cheese
Ricotta cheese made with whole milk
Skim milk ricotta cheeses
Cereals, Grains, Noodles, Pasta
ooooooooooooooo
Granola
Bran flakes, oatmeal, whole grain flakes
Pasta with various cheese based sauces
Pasta with vegetables and salsa
Pasta with white sauce (alfredo)
Pasta with tomato-based sauces
Ramen noodles
Rice, or plain pasta or noodles
Meat, Fish, Chicken, Turkey
ooooooooooooooo
Bacon or sausage
Canadian bacon or lean ham
Beef (chuck, rib, brisket)
Beef (round, loin) (trimmed of external fat) (choose select
Chicken, turkey, duck,goose with skin attached
Chicken or turkey without skin (white meat)
Chorizo sausage
Low-fat sausage alternatives such as chicken or turkey
Coldcuts, luncheon meats, processed meats, hams and salami
Cuts of Low-fat, Low-cal meats with fat removed such as baked topside and chicken breast without skin
Frozen crumbed fish, battered fish, fish in oil or with rich sauces
Fish or shellfish without batter or crumbs
Frozen Prepared meals with more than 12 g of fat per serve
Dietfrozen meals with less than 12 g of fat per serve
Hot dogs (regular frankfurts)
Reduced-fat hot dogs or smaller servings
Oil-packed salmon and tuna
Tuna and Salmon in Spring water
Pork (spareribs, untrimmed loin)
Pork tenderloin or other low fat cuts
Regular or General Purpose ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken or turkey
Extra lean ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken or turkey
Whole eggs
Egg substitutes or egg whites only
Baked Foods and Products
ooooooooooooooo
Cake (pound, yellow, chocolate)
Low-cal, low fat cakes made with minimal shortening
Cookies, biscuit and slices
Fat-free, low-cal, reduced-fat cookies, crackers (small portions)
Croissants, rolls, brioches, etc.
Low-cal wholemeal rollsmade with minimal shortening
Donuts, muffins, sweet rolls, pastries, scones,
Low-fat bagels, plain English muffins, reduced-fat scones and muffins made with minimal shortening
Party crackers high in fat
Low-fat crackers or flatbread portions
Snacks and Sweets
ooooooooooooooo
Rich, sweet desserts, custards and puddings made with whole milk, and shotening
Puddings (made with skim milk)
Regular ice cream, frozen yogurt desserts, cheese cakes etc.
Frozen yogurt, frozen fruit or low-cal chocolate puddings
Nuts
Air-popped or light microwave Popcorn, low-cal fruits, vegetables
Fats, Oils, Sauces, Salad Dressings
ooooooooooooooo
Butter or margarine on bread or toast
Low-cal Jelly, jam, cheese spread, ream cheese, ricotta or honey on toast and bread
Oils and shortening in foods and frying
Cooking sprays and non-stick pans for cooking stir fries and sauteing with minimal oil
Regular butter or margarine
whipped butter, Low-cal margarines, Diet margarine, - used sparingly
Regular mayonnaise
Low-cal, low-fat mayonnaise or mustard
Regular salad dressings
Fat-free, low-cal salad dressings, or simply use lemon juice or wine vinegar and herbs
Shortening
Use applesauce or prunes in baked goods as a substitute for oil or butter

Nutrient Summary for Popular Comfort Foods

(click column header to sort results)
Food ( Serving 100 g )  
Calories  
Fat (g)  
Carbohydrate (g)  
Protein (g)  
Macadamia Nuts
718
75.77
13.82
7.91
Pecan Nuts
691
71.97
13.86
9.17
Walnuts
654
65.21
13.71
15.23
Cashew Nuts
581
47.77
30.16
16.84
Peanuts
567
49.24
16.13
25.80
Potato Chips
547
37.47
49.74
6.56
Plain Corn Chips
518
28.41
63.01
6.03
Crackers
502
25.30
61.00
7.40
Chocolate Chip Cookies
489
24.73
64.06
5.50
Trail mix
462
29.40
44.90
13.80
Soft Granola Bars
443
17.20
67.30
7.40
Snack bar
405
12.16
70.27
2.70
Cheddar cheese
403
33.14
1.28
24.90
Muesli Bar
380
15.50
51.50
7.70
Powerbar (Fortified High Energy Bar)
352
2.70
64.20
15.60
KFC chicken nuggets
321
21.43
14.29
21.43
Brisket Pot Roast
304
20.23
0.00
28.52
Raisins
299
0.46
79.18
3.07
Fries, Regular, McDonalds
289
14.00
37.00
3.00
Muffin Blureberry
277
6.50
48.00
5.50
Hot Dogs
270
15.80
21.76
9.75
Apple Pie
265
12.50
37.10
2.40
Cheeseburger, Burger King
260
11.00
25.00
13.00
Quarter Pounder with Cheese, McDonalds
252
13.00
19.00
16.00
Popcorn Chicken, Kentucky Fried Chicken
251
15.20
12.90
16.80
Dried Apricots
241
0.51
62.64
3.39
Prunes
240
0.38
63.88
2.18
Hamburger, McDonald's
240
8.00
29.00
13.00
Chicken sandwich with Spread
237
6.92
23.36
19.00
Fries, Medium, KFC*
232
11.90
32.40
3.10
KFC chicken strips
230
7.00
18.00
22.00
Big Mac, McDonald's
229
12.00
19.00
13.00
Sour cream dip
221
19.72
8.65
3.50
Pizza, Margherita, Pizza Express
220
6.80
29.90
9.80
Chicken Pot Pie
215
12.41
16.43
8.98
Macaroni and Cheese
208
8.59
24.09
8.13
Meatloaf
204
12.11
6.52
16.16
Pumpkin Pie
204
9.30
26.40
4.50
Ice Cream
201
10.72
24.40
3.52
Fried Chicken Breast
197
13.15
8.76
13.15
Tuna Casserole
190
8.55
15.16
12.62
Hummus dip
177
8.59
20.12
4.86
Chicken Drumsticks, Original, Kentucky Fried Chicken
170
10.00
9.10
11.90
Vanilla Frozen Yogurts (Soft Serve)
163
5.60
24.20
4.00
Beef Chili
160
5.40
9.02
18.88
Avocado
160
14.66
8.53
2.00
Guacamole
157
14.31
8.51
1.96
Baked Beans
151
5.15
21.39
5.54
Potato Salad
143
8.20
11.17
2.68
Shake
138
5.14
20.04
3.38
Banana Pudding
127
3.60
21.20
2.40
Spaghetti
115
2.80
16.45
6.13
Shepherd's Pie
112
3.38
14.18
6.40
Chicken and Dumplings
109
4.09
8.97
8.98
Beef Stew
104
3.26
9.69
8.74
Mashed Potatoes
100
3.54
15.72
1.80
Fruit Yogurt (Non-fat)
94
0.20
19.00
4.40
Corn on the Cob
93
0.74
22.33
3.11
Green Bean Casserole
87
4.67
8.00
2.00
Grapes
69
0.16
18.10
0.72
Fruit Smoothie
62
0.14
15.96
0.42
Bueberries
57
0.33
14.49
0.74
Apple Fresh Raw
52
0.17
13.81
0.26
Orange
47
0.12
11.75
0.94
Tomato Soup
42
1.20
7.35
1.25
Chicken Soup
31
1.02
3.88
1.68
Salsa
27
0.16
6.26
1.54
Tomato Fresh
18
0.20
3.92
0.88

© 2013 Dr. John Anderson

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