There’s something about these cold, dreary winter days that make me crave comfort food. The gray skies and chilly air seem to propel me toward the couch. Like Linus I drag my blanket to the sofa, snuggle into the corner and surf the TV channels for a romantic comedy. The piece de resistance for my perfect afternoon would be a bowl of freshly made cookie dough at my side, or maybe a whole chocolate cake.
I haven’t done that, thank God, but the desire’s there.
Fortunately it’s sunny today, which lifts my mood and makes me think I can make it one more day without morphing into a cookie-dough-eating sloth.
Since I know I shouldn’t eat like that, I’m always looking for substitutes. Looking for healthy options to satisfy my comfort food cravings. Lately, I’ve rediscovered oatmeal. It’s creamy, hot, and when I add a little brown sugar, fruit and nuts, it seems almost decadent. And oatmeal is one of those foods that’s ridiculously healthy for you. Not only is it loaded with vitamins and minerals but it’s also a great source of protein—a half-cup has 5 grams of protein, almost as much as an egg.
While that’s fantastic, the real superstar in oatmeal is the fiber. Oatmeal is a whole grain and contains a specific type of fiber known as beta glucan. Study after study has demonstrated that this fiber lowers cholesterol.
In fact, studies suggest that individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl) can lower their cholesterol by 8-23% by consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an amount found in one bowl of oatmeal). This is significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.
Dr. James W. Anderson professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine suggests that, “Whole-grain products like oatmeal are among some of the best foods one can eat to improve cholesterol levels, in addition to other lifestyle choices.”
Oatmeal’s benefits go beyond reducing cholesterol. New research is uncovering benefits such as:
· Reducing the risk for elevated blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and weight gain
· Reducing the risk of developing breast cancer (Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day)).
And here I thought oatmeal just made me feel warm and cozy on a cold winter’s day.
Here are a couple of recipes to jumpstart your oatmeal consumption too. Enjoy!
The Perfect Bowl of Oatmeal (according to the World’s Healthiest Foods website)
• 2-1/4 cups water
• dash salt
• 1 cup regular rolled oats
• 1/2 tsp cinnamon
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
• 1 TBS flaxseeds
• 1 TBS blackstrap molasses
• 1 cup milk or dairy-free milk alternative
1. Combine the water and salt in a small saucepan and turn the heat to high.
2. When the water boils, turn the heat to low, add oatmeal, and cook, stirring, until the water is just absorbed, about 5 minutes.
3. Add cinnamon, cranberries, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Stir, cover the pan, and turn off heat. Let set for 5 minutes. Serve with milk and molasses.
Here’s one for the kids. I know it sounds kind of gross, but they’re really good.
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with chickpeas!
(from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious)
• Nonstick cooking spray
• 1 c firmly packed brown sugar
• 3/4 c trans fat-free soft tub margarine
• 2 large egg whites
• 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
• 1 15 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
• 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
• 2 cups flour
• 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/4 tsp salt
• ¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
• ¾ cup raisins (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the sugar and margarine with a wooden spoon or on medium speed until smooth.
3. Beat in the egg whites and vanilla, then the chickpeas, chocolate chips, nuts and raisins.
4. Add the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed until a thick dough forms.
5. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Press gently with a fork to flatten.
6. Bake until the cookies are golden brown and just set, 11 - 13 minutes; do not overbake. Transfer to a rack to cool.
7. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Note: I mash the chickpeas up a bit before adding them to the batter. They disappear better into the mix this way.