Comfort food has a place in a healthy diet

With the launch of Jamie’s Comfort Food, a lot of people asked me how I feel about the indulgent nature of the book.

My response was that the nutrition team work across Jamie’s entire portfolio of recipes to make sure there are always healthy options. That said, I’m of the same view as Jamie – I won’t deny or begrudge myself of a treat now and then.

Having cooked a number of the recipes, I know this book is a real feast for the eyes and belly! Comfort food can be interpreted in many different ways: treats for special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries; food to fuel you when you’re not feeling well; breakfasts to help banish a hangover; or perhaps as a reward after an achievement, whether it’s a meal after an exam or a particular food for a child who has behaved well. It’s plain to see that comfort food plays a significant part in our lives, whether we realise it or not.

The key to a healthy diet is to be aware and conscious of what, when and why we eat what we do.  Jamie and I have always felt that no food should be banned or excluded from the diet, because this only fuels the craving more. We just have to be mindful of the portion size and frequency of consumption. Keeping a food diary for a few days every so often can be a useful way of keeping track of what you’re eating and drinking, which will help stop you from falling into a trap of eating mindlessly and letting emotions control your eating habits.

Comfort food doesn’t just mean convenient, highly-processed foods or high-fat, sugary foods and recipes. There’s a pleasure to be taken in cooking some recipes, and in eating things we know are good for us. Fruit and vegetables may seem a chore, but eating them in season and appreciating the colour and flavour can really change the eating experience. For example, a tomato salad made with seasonal ripe tomatoes offers so much flavour and aroma and can make the ultimate comfort food!

My favourite meal of the day is breakfast, and when I’ve got a little more time at the weekend I will often make porridge, as this is one of my ultimate comfort food recipes. I’m a keen runner, and porridge is the ideal fuel before a long run, so if I’m out running at the weekend I’ll always have a bowlful beforehand.

comfort food porridge

The added bonus is that as well as being a great meal to provide sustained energy, it tastes absolutely delicious.  There’s a superb porridge recipe in the Jamie’s Comfort Food that uses water and a splash of cream to serve, but I usually make mine with semi-skimmed milk because cream can make it taste quite rich.  For some of my other topping suggestions see the recipes below:

  1. Organic marmalade, cacao nibs and crushed hazelnuts.
  2. Chia seeds, agave nectar, fresh figs (currently in season) and a tablespoon of fat free natural yoghurt and flaked almonds.
  3. Grated apple, chopped walnuts and a few sliced red grapes.

Everyone has different tastes, but whatever they are, comfort food can play its part. To that end, here are my top tips to enjoy comfort food and still live a healthy life:

  1. Don’t fight cravings for your favourite indulgent foods, but be mindful of how often you’re eating indulgent meals. The majority of the time your main meals should be made up of 1/3 carbs, 1/3 fruit and veg with the final 1/3 being split between protein, dairy and fats or oils.  If you do eat a sweet dish, then try to eat as part of a meal, rather than between meals, to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
  2. These days we have such easy access to processed food, it’s easy to graze at any time of day.  This is where it’s useful to be able to read a food label and be aware of the calorie content of foods. If you relate it directly back to the amount of exercise you’d have to do to burn it off, it may help you think twice as to whether you’re really hungry!
  3. Don’t eat while watching television or when on the move. Being distracted sometimes means you eat more. A recent study carried out at Cornell University showed that watching fast-paced action movies during a meal can draw you in and distract you from what you are eating, because you’re paying less attention to the food you’re putting in your mouth. Savour and focus on the flavour and texture of all the food you eat, considering what’s in it and where it’s come from.
  4. No single food can provide all the nutrients we need for our body, so keep trying new and different foods from each of the food groups, because it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and habitually eat the same foods from week to week.
  5. Don’t feel guilty. There’s a place in the diet for your favourite comfort food and it’s ok to treat yourself to your favourite food every so often, whether it’s a delicious burger or a slice of cake. Enjoy it for what it is, savour the moment and then continue to embrace a balanced diet enjoying nutritious foods every day,
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