When you think of comfort foods, what comes to mind might be anything doused in cheese, something extra sweet, or — let’s face it — anything deep fried. While it isn’t a bad idea to indulge once in a while, it may be a better idea to rethink whether that high-sodium, overly sugary, or fried food-induced stomach ache will be worth it later.
But there’s good news — you can have it all. Health-conscious choices, deliciousness, and non-deprivation can co-exist. Especially when cooking from scratch, there are some comfort foods that can truly satisfy your craving while providing heart-healthy, immune strengthening, and antioxidant-rich health benefits. Some might even surprise you — yes, it turns out chocolate, pasta, and even a helping of mashed potatoes can fall into the category of healthy comfort food. The rumors are real, and we’re not here to gatekeep. We’ve rounded up 15 comfort foods that are actually good for you. Oh, and of course we’ve included recipes for your indulgence.
Whether you enjoy popcorn for the movie theater nostalgia it brings you, or simply because it’s inexpensive, you’ll be happy to know that it is also considered a heart-healthy snack under a few conditions. According to the American Heart Association, popcorn’s low-calorie, high-fiber contents make for a satiating bite when it’s air-popped and seasoned with moderation.
In fact, one air-popped serving of popcorn provides more fiber than what you’ll get in a helping of whole wheat bread. Eating habits that include high-fiber whole grains work well to prevent diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Popcorn also contains antioxidants that make for healthy blood circulation and ease digestion. According to WebMD, popcorn contains vitamin B6, essential for brain and nervous function.
But before you get too excited, do hold your horses on movie popcorn. More than 1,000 calories and over 2,000 milligrams of sodium are in a typical tub you’ll get at the theater, and high-sodium diets are known to increase hypertension and stroke. Homemade popcorn is much healthier, as you can control how much salt and oil you use. Consider olive oil, chili flakes, grated cheese or nutritional yeast as healthy toppings. Check out our air-fryer popcorn recipe to get you started.
2. Dark chocolate-covered strawberries
Don’t overthink it, just be glad about it: Chocolate-covered strawberries can be a healthy comfort food. The small but mighty fruit, when combined with the richness of dark chocolate, makes for a treat full of antioxidants, vitamin C, and bittersweet goodness. And typically non-dairy, this dessert fits into many diets.
According to Medical News Today, a cup of fresh, sliced strawberries contains 254 milligrams of potassium and lots of vitamin C. Potassium-rich foods help offset high blood pressure by maintaining appropriate amounts of fluid in our cells. And the Cleveland Clinic informs us that dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa has a multitude of health benefits. Flavanols found in dark chocolate encourage blood flow through the body, reducing blood pressure. Remember that the higher the percentage on a dark chocolate label (think 75% or more), the lower the sugar content. Dark chocolate boasts up to three times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate. Dark chocolate also helps the body fight cell damage caused by aging, and contains immune-boosting iron and zinc as well as phosphorus, which helps maintain healthy bones and teeth. So go ahead and give this chocolate-covered strawberries recipe a try and indulge without any guilt.
Why not keep your body happy while keeping your taste buds content? Introducing pesto, your new favorite green pasta sauce providing more health benefits than you’d expect. It’s typically made from basil, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. There are other ways to prepare this paste with other greens, like arugula or spinach, but the basil must always be present.
Let’s start off with the amazing benefits of the basil found in pesto. Calcium and vitamin K, which are essential for healthy bones, as well as antioxidants are just a few benefits of the plant, according to Medical News Today. Antioxidants help fight off free radicals in the body. These unstable molecules that can form as a result of an unbalanced diet, metabolism, or habits like smoking, and cause health problems like cell damage. HealthifyMe also notes that pesto, the world’s second most popular sauce, is also beneficial for skin health.
It’s worth noting that homemade pesto is the best way to go, as store-bought jars, like the Classico brand, can include over 500 milligrams of sodium. Instead, try out our comforting classic basil pesto recipe and alter it as you wish. Then toss it on some pasta, spread it on pizza, mix it into dips and salads dressings, and more.
Chili can be prepared in many ways, it’s very substitution-friendly, and can be made to appease any type of diet. The consistent ingredients that make chili, well, chili, however, are the array of meats, spices, and often beans in the recipe. Replacing these or swapping them out can easily make this dish vegetarian or vegan for a healthier comfort food option.
The beans you’ll find in many versions of chili have several health benefits. With so much mineral and fiber content and a low amount of saturated fats, beans aid in a healthy blood cholesterol, preventing heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. While some meats have high levels of saturated fats, Healthline suggests making swaps like ground turkey in place of ground beef can make for a healthier dish while still providing a great amount of protein. In addition, replacing your animal protein with plant-based meat is also an option, as lowering meat intake in general can decrease inflammation in the body, lower cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure (via The Manual). With all that said, we’ve got a comforting, delicious, and healthier turkey chili recipe you need to try.
Ah, cornbread. Is there anything more comforting than a warm, slightly sweet and savory piece of golden goodness? Turns out, chili’s best friend is also on your side health-wise. A food taking many shapes, like muffins or sliceable cake, cornbread is as versatile as it is healthy.
First of all, cornbread is made from cornmeal, which is a whole grain (via Very Well Fit). It’s also typically gluten-free, you won’t have to worry if you have a dietary restriction. The fats in cornbread, which mostly tend to come from the butter and milk used, can also be altered depending on your diet. Amino acids are found in cornbread, anothern plus because the human body does not naturally produce them, though these acids are essential for breaking down food and synthesizing protein in the body. And the fiber you’ll get from cornbread is essential to helping you feel full and maintain a healthy appetite.
Furthermore, cornbread is also a source zinc and folate, both great for the growth of healthy cells and formation of DNA (per Livestrong). You’ll also get a dose of iron if consuming cornbread, which is good for energy levels and promoting healthy red blood cells. Assuming you’re convinced to give this comforting food a go, we’ve an easy cornbread recipe you’ll love.
6. Mashed potatoes
A go-to when many people think of comfort food is no doubt mashed potatoes. One thing to look out for if you’re planning to include more mashed potatoes as one of your comfort food choices is saturated fat, according to SFGate. Different methods of preparing this dish will give you varying levels of this unhealthy fat, famous for its contribution to high cholesterol in the body, if using certain butters and milk.
Otherwise, potatoes are a great source of dietary fiber to help you feel fuller longer and encourage strong digestion. They also contain some protein for energy. Potassium is another reason mashed potatoes are plentifully rich in nutrients, as this supplement gives energy to nerves, provides muscles with the ability to contract properly, and helps produce neurotransmitters, which are essential for nervous function. Finally, mashed potatoes also contain vitamin B6, aiding in healthy metabolism. Try out our traditional mashed potatoes recipe, and remember you can always substitute the butter and milk for low-fat and dairy-free options.
7. Baked apples with cinnamon
You’re in luck, because there’s another sweet treat that’s made the cut on the comfort food scale — baked apples with cinnamon. With more health benefits than you might think, maybe a baked apple with cinnamon a day will keep the doctor away.
On their own, apples have a ton of health benefits (via Healthline). Vitamin C, an antioxidant, helps the body maintain a healthy immune system, notorious for avoiding and fighting illness like the common cold. Pectin, found in apples, is a great binding agent when baking, and it also doubles up as a soluble fiber which eases digestion while promoting cardiovascular health. And just when you thought they couldn’t get healthier, apples also contain polyphenols, which help the body in a range of ways.
As for cinnamon, just a few of its myriad of health benefits include it’s anti-inflammatory properties and yet another boost of fiber. Put the two together for a healthy and delicious dessert with our baked apples recipe. You can also include extra toppings like nuts and honey for additional nutrients and flavor.
If you haven’t tried bruschetta as a comfort food, we’re here to change that. Highly alterable to match your taste buds, your everyday bruschetta will contain tomato, onion, garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and of course, salt and pepper. Adding some cheese is always an option as well.
Healthy fats galore can be found in traditional bruschetta, as its ingredients include things found in a common Mediterranean diet, such as olive oil. According to Harvard Health, a Mediterranean diet has been attributed to lower risk of developing health problems from heart disease and cancer to dementia. That’s largely thanks to the high consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, and a lower intake of red meat (via Everyday Health).
Super healthy when bought in its most pure form, extra virgin olive oil is not only high in monounsaturated fats (the good kind) that eliminate the body of bad cholesterol, it also contains phenols when pressed mechanically without heat, giving you a dose of antioxidants. The raw garlic typically found in bruschetta is also great for fighting bacteria in the body and upping your immune health, per WebMD. Try our classic tomato bruschetta recipe to satisfy your craving for comfort food with super powers.
9. Butternut squash soup
How could we not include a comforting, nutrient-rich soup on the comfort food menu? Butternut squash soup is no exception to making you feel at ease when times are tough or the weather is cold.
Butternut squash in general is a good source of fiber and vitamin A, which is great for vision health and cell growth (via Very Well Fit). Butternut squash will also give you plenty of healthy carbohydrates while having a low glycemic index, meaning its natural sugars will enter your body slowly and you won’t get a crazy sugar rush like other carbs can give you. It’s also low in fat and is an excellent source of vitamin C.
And when adding other veggies and ingredients to your dish – whether you’re throwing in a little cream or coconut milk or protein-rich nuts and seeds to the recipe, all which can be substituted to meet your dietary needs – a hearty bowl of butternut squash soup will get a boost from even more nutrients. Go ahead and give our sweet and spicy butternut squash soup recipe a try.
10. Baked sweet potatoes
Baked sweet potatoes will satiate your sweet and savory cravings while keeping you on track with your health goals. Containing vitamins A, C, and B6, according to The Manual, you won’t go wrong with a baked sweet potato. Also rich in manganese, copper, and potassium, sweet potatoes can enhance bone health aid in cell renewal and regulation of fluid balance in your body, and more.
A starchy food, sweet potatoes contain something known as resistant starch, which can also be increased when the vegetable is cooled after cooking (via Healthline). Resistant starch can act like fiber and is good for your gut healthy bacteria. And when preparing a baked sweet potato, you also have the liberty to add extra virgin olive oil, plant-based butter and as little sodium as you’d like when keeping things healthy. We suggest our simple baked sweet potato recipe for your comfort cooking pleasure.
11. Baked French fries
French fries belong on any comfort food list, and there’s a way you can indulge without compromising health — enjoying them baked instead of fried. Potatoes, when seasoned reasonably and made with healthy oils, can be a great way to get your vegetable intake in while having some additional health benefits.
Your standard fried French fries are known for their high fat and sodium content. They are also high in carbohydrates, and thus fine to enjoy in moderation, but not exactly the healthiest comfort food (via Very Well Fit). The solution if you still want to finagle it on your comfort food playlist? French fries are much healthier when baked, according to Well Plated. Why? Because the addition of less oil will save you from unhealthy calories and fats, and when baking fries you can control how much you’re using, if any at all. Go ahead and give it a try, or get the same healthier effect with your recipe for air fryer French fries.
12. Shrimp scampi
If the comfort you’re looking for needs a bit of elevation, here’s a dish you might have overlooked. The beauty of shrimp scampi lies in its comforting benefits and health properties. It’s packed with necessary proteins, plus flavorful and beneficial ingredients like garlic, herbs, and extra-virgin olive oil. And you’ve also got the choice to add a healthy carb on the side like brown rice or whole grain pasta.
Since the main ingredient is, well, shrimp, let’s focus on why it offers so many health benefits. First, it’s friendly for a pescetarian diet if you’re going meatless. Additionally, cooked shrimp contains and average of 24 grams of protein per 100 grams (via WebMD). While moderation is key due to the cholesterol content of shrimp, it is also rich in iron, zinc, calcium, copper, and phosphorus, making it a great alternative to meat.
When adding garlic, another major ingredient in shrimp scampi, you’re also helping your cardiac health, and fighting off bad bacteria and thus infections in the body, according to WebMD. Load u- on healthy comfort with our simple and yummy 5-ingredient shrimp scampi recipe. And try swapping out the butter with a healthier oil alternative for even more added benefits.
13. Chicken noodle soup
Perhaps the most popular comfort food there is, chicken noodle soup is extra nice when you’re feeling under the weather, and there’s a few reasons it’s a good option if health is on your radar.
Not only does it provide you with the protein your body needs, whether sick or not, but you can also add specific vegetables — which commonly include onions, garlic, carrots, and celery – that meet your dietary needs and add healthy nutrients. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, chicken noodle soup bears with it the reputation of fending off colds for a reason, attributed to the bone broth traditionally used. Also, chicken noodle soup contains fiber, vitamins B and C, and amino acids.
One thing to keep is mind — you’ll want to watch out with store-bought chicken noodle soup as it can contain more salt than you’re perhaps looking to consume, as well as not-so-fresh vegetables and chicken, according to Insider. Do yourself a favor and make it homemade with our easy and comforting recipe for 20-minute chicken noodle soup for a healthy, filling meal.
14. French onion soup
Soup pretty much sums up comfort no matter where you’re at in life. And French onion soup is another elevated comfort food that offers unique health advantages. You won’t be compromising flavor for well-being and you can change up the recipe to include or omit cheese as you see fit for your health and dietary needs.
Turns out French onion soup is a highly nutritious dish. The primary ingredient is onions, and this vegetable should not be overlooked on the health scale. Essentially, onions have inflammation-fighting properties that can reduce your chances of developing blood clots, a major disruptor in heart health (via Eating Expired). Considered a probiotic, onions also fend off bad bacteria in the body to boost your immune health. Onions also promote the production of collagen in the body, essential for hair and skin wellness, according to Medical News Today. Now it’s your turn to indulge in our comforting French onion soup recipe.
15. Banana bread
Believe it or not, banana bread is another healthier comfort food. From the bananas, a classic health food, to a couple more optional yet swappable ingredients, there’s a lot you can do to make a health-friendly banana bread. It’s valuable to note that while store-bought, packaged and processed banana breads are a totally different health story than a warm, homemade option is customizable, making this sweet treat the ultimate comfort food dessert.
If you remembered that bananas have a high level of potassium, you’re right. And according to Livestrong, that’s not where the health benefits of banana bread end. It can also be a great source of whole grains (hello fiber, our old friend) as well as monounsaturated fats when made with flours like almond meal. And if nuts are included, especially if adding a nut butter, you’ll also get a healthy boost of protein. Nonfat Greek yogurt can usually be swapped for whatever dairy is being used, as well. Let this be your sign to indulge your craving and whip up our classic banana bread recipe with a chocolate twist.