What are comfort foods? Wikipedia says, “Comfort food is food prepared traditionally, that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, or simply provide an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest meal rich in calories, nutrients, or both. Comfort foods may be foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or a specific culture.”
Comfort food is food that makes you feel good, for whatever reason. Clearly, one person’s comfort food is another one’s poison. It’s an emotional choice. I think it’s likely that junk foods will rate high on the comfort food list of most folks.
For me comfort foods include mac and cheese, burgers, fries and pizza. You can add your own to the list. But can we eat them if we want to control our weight?
I would like to single one comfort food out for this discussion. My favorite comfort food is pizza. Growing up, to go out for pizza was a special treat in a world far less affluent than now and my family was on the lower end of the economic curve. So, going out for pizza was truly a celebration type experience. The family was all together and were ‘out’ in a restaurant and someone brought food to our table. Also, I don’t know how much of this subjective, but I consider pizza to be absolutely delicious. Back when I had my weight problem, I ate pizza every week and lots of it at each sitting. It was a big contributor to my girth.
As a guideline, here is a nutrient breakdown on a slice of Sbarro Pizza. I have chosen Sbarro as it is a chain and likely familiar to many readers. I know the firm has financial problems, but that is not relevant to this discussion.
One slice of Sbarro cheese pizza (typical New York pie shaped slice – see photo) contains 660 calories, 21 grams of fat, 40 mg of cholesterol, 1460 mg of sodium, 84 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber and 30 grams of protein. That’s a lot of fat and sodium. The 30 grams of protein is welcome in most diets.
The average person has around a 2200 daily calorie budget. So, to eat two slices of this would use up half of the person’s daily allotment and this doesn’t even include drinking a (several hundred calorie) beverage, like a beer or soda.
Back when I ate just for the pleasure of enjoying the taste of food, with no thought of its nutritional impact on my body, I would have certainly eaten the equivalent of two slices and downed at least one beer. Off the top of my head, that comes to around 1500 calories at one meal. Clearly – a weight-gaining scenario.
So, does that make comfort food bad?
Not necessarily. What is bad is eating any food with no thought of what quantities you are consuming, or what it means nutritionally to your body.
Back over 10 years ago when I was in the working world, I tipped the scales around 180 pounds and had a 40 inch waist. I ate pizza several times a week.
These days, I weigh around 150 pounds. But, here is the good part – I now eat pizza about once a week. That’s right. I have a super Italian bakery near my apartment and I buy a variety of slices, cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I cut them in half and warm up a half slice as part of my lunch or dinner. You can read about one of my trips to that bakery here.
I have held my weight around the 150 pound level for several years now with no wild fluctuations. My daily allotment of calories is about 2000 and I don’t exceed that. I do average riding my bike close to 20 miles a day and that gives me a cushion of 800 calories. The cycling is also a super cardio workout for my heart and lungs, too.
So, my conclusion on comfort foods is that you can continue to enjoy them. Just do it intelligently. Know how much you are consuming and what it means to your total day’s consumption and exercise.