Food and Nutrition

Comfort Food That's Also Healthy

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There are some evenings when we all wish our Moms were in the kitchen cooking a meal that would make us feel better. We are too old to be fretting over a bad test grade or nasty remark from someone on the playground, but being grown up doesn't mean we don't need comfort when we return home.

Fortunately, it is really easy to prepare a dinner yourself that will calm you down, soothe away your stress and turn down that chatter in your brain about what went wrong with your day.

Comfort dinners work because if they have the right components, your brain will make the calming, feel-good chemical serotonin as soon as the food is digested. And that means that by the time you put the dishes in the dishwasher, the troubles of the day will be forgotten.

Serotonin is made when you eat any sweet or starchy carbohydrate (except the carbs in fruit). Carbohydrates set in motion a process that brings an amino acid called tryptophan into the brain. When tryptophan arrives, it is immediately converted to serotonin. And serotonin immediately makes you feel better.

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Only two rules must be followed if your comfort dinner is really going to comfort:

* Keep the protein portion of the dinner to a minimum. No more than 1-2 ounces. This is because protein interferes with tryptophan getting into the brain.

* Keep the fat portion of the dinner to a minimum. No more than two tablespoons of olive oil, butter, high fat cheese or cream. This is because fat slows down digestion and will make you wait too long to feel comforted.

Here are some easy to prepare, tasty and comforting dinner recipes. Enjoy!

Pasta with Meat and Mushroom-Tomato Ragu

This is a simple and delicious dish made with a mushroom sauté. The pasta and mushrooms take about the same time to cook, so the dish should be ready 12 minutes after the water boils for the pasta.

Rigatoni or any short pasta, cooked according to package directions

  • Women: 1 cup/Men: 1½cups Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ pound mushrooms Lean ground beef or turkey Women: 2 ounces/Men:4 ounces
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or several fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup low-sodium reduced-fat or fat-free jarred tomato sauce
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese or shredded mozzarella cheese with sun-dried tomatoes

 

Place drained pasta back into the pot. Set aside. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray, add the oil, and warm over medium-high heat. Sauté the garlic, mushrooms, and ground beef or turkey for 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft. Add the pepper, sugar, and Italian seasoning or basil and continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring several times. Add the mushroom mixture and tomato sauce to the pasta and heat until warm. Put in a large bowl and sprinkle with the cheese. Serve with Lemon Garlic Spinach.

Makes 1 serving Per serving (women): 473 calories, 30 g protein, 65 g carbohydrates, 13 g total fat, 8 g dietary fiber, 772 mg sodium

Per serving (men): 649 calories, 44 g protein, 81 g carbohydrates, 19 g total fat, 9 g dietary fiber, 814 mg sodium

Nam Chinese Noodles with Tofu or Chicken

You can make this recipe with Italian pasta, or use fresh noodles from a Chinese grocery store.

Chinese noodles or spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

  • Women: 1 cup/Men: 1½ cups Canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 1" piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped, or 1 teaspoon ground dried ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium teriyaki sauce
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • ½ cup canned straw mushrooms, drained
  • ¼ cup canned water chestnuts, drained and chopped
  • ½ cup frozen snow peas or asparagus
  • Finely chopped firm tofu or cooked chicken breast Women: 2 ounces/Men: 4 ounces

 

Put the cooked noodles in a large bowl and set aside.

In a large saucepan coated with cooking spray, heat the sesame oil over low heat. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the teriyaki sauce and ¼ cup of the chicken broth and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ¼ cup of the chicken broth with the cornstarch until the cornstarch dissolves.

Add the cornstarch mixture to the teriyaki mixture and simmer for 3 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Add the mushrooms, water chestnuts, snow peas or asparagus, and tofu or chicken to the sauce and cook until heated, about 3 minutes.

Toss the cooked, drained noodles with the sauce.

Serve with chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce topped with the dressing of your choice.

Makes 1 serving

With tofu

Per serving (women): 466 calories, 24 g protein, 68 g carbohydrates, 12 g total fat, 9 g dietary fiber, 923 mg sodium

Per serving (men): 647 calories, 37 g protein, 90 g carbohydrates, 18 g total fat, 12 g dietary fiber, 931 mg sodium

With chicken

Per serving (women): 477 calories, 33 g protein, 64 g carbohydrates, 9 g total fat, 8 g dietary fiber, 957 mg sodium

Per serving (men): 669 calories, 54 g protein, 85 g carbohydrates, 12 g total fat, 9 g dietary fiber, 1,000 mg sodium

Couscous with Zucchini and Chicken

If you make this dish ahead of time, microwave it to heat it through before serving.

  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 small zucchinis, cut crosswise into ¼" rounds
  • Cooked chicken breast, cut into ½" pieces
  • Women: 2 ounces/Men: 4 ounces Couscous, cooked according to package directions
  • Women: ¾ cup/Men: 1¼ cups ¼ cup canned chickpeas, drained 1 tablespoon golden raisins
  • Ground black pepper

 

In a large skillet, heat the oil over low-medium heat. Add the onion, cumin, cinnamon, and curry powder and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the onion is soft. Add the zucchini and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the chicken, couscous, and chickpeas and heat through. Toss the raisins into the mixture just before serving. Season with pepper to taste. Serve with a mixed green salad topped with Spanish Dressing.

Makes 1 serving

Per serving (women): 499 calories, 31 g protein, 73 g carbohydrates, 11 g total fat, 12 g dietary fiber, 243 mg sodium

Per serving (men): 680 calories, 51 g protein, 91 g carbohydrates, 13 g total fat, 13 g dietary fiber, 289 mg sodium

The above is an adapted excerpt from the book The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs -- Nature's Own Appetite Suppressant -- to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain by Judith J. Wurtman, PhD and Nina T. Frusztajer, MD. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2010 Judith J. Wurtman, PhD and Nina T. Frusztajer, MD, authors of The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs -- Nature's Own Appetite Suppressant -- to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain

Author Bios

Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs -- Nature's Own Appetite Suppressant -- to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain, has discovered the connection between carbohydrate craving, serotonin, and emotional well-being in her MIT clinical studies. She received her PhD from George Washington University, is the founder of a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility and counsels private weight management clients. She has written five books, including The Serotonin Solution, and more than 40 peer-reviewed articles for professional publications. She lives in Miami Beach, Florida.

Nina T. Frusztajer, MD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet: Eat Carbs -- Nature's Own Appetite Suppressant -- to Stop Emotional Overeating and Halt Antidepressant-Associated Weight Gain, counsels private weight management clients and is a practicing physician and certified professional life coach. She received her master's degree in Nutrition from Columbia University and her medical degree from George Washington University. She lives in Boston, MA.

For more information, please visit www.SerotoninPowerDiet.com.