By: Maureen Callahan, M.S., R.D.
It's a battle royale, with cheese. In one corner of your mind, there's the satisfaction of that trim, hard body you've built. In the other, there's the hamburger—juicy, tasty, covered with a blanket of melted Cheddar. Or maybe your struggle is against nachos. Or crispy fish and chips. Or pizza. Hard to believe there ever was a time when mankind could be seduced by an apple, isn't it?
To avoid temptation, you could wire your refrigerator to deliver a shock every time you open the door. Or you could continue eating pizza, nachos, burgers—all of your favorite comfort foods—without guilt. It can be done. With a few easy tweaks, just about any food can be transformed into good stuff that satisfies your nutritional needs, your tastebuds, and even your nostalgic cravings. Make your comfort foods this way and you'll have our blessing to pig out.
What's so bad?: Ground beef is shot through with fat, and that white-bread bun offers little but rapidly digested simple sugars.
Make it better: Start with extra-lean ground beef—if you don't overcook it, it'll taste great. Chop up some onions and thawed frozen spinach and mix them into the beef. The vegetables add vitamins and replace some of the moisture lost when you switched to leaner ground beef. Better yet, build those burgers with grass-fed beef or lean ground buffalo, at roughly 4 grams (g) of fat per 4 ounces. Researchers at Purdue University found that wild game and grass-fed meats have higher levels of good-for-the-brain and good-for-the-heart omega-3 fatty acids. Top it all off with a whole-wheat bun for some fiber.
You lose: 6 g saturated fat
You gain: Allicin, 47 micrograms (mcg) beta-carotene, 5 g fiber
Breakfast Sausage-and-Egg Biscuit
What's so bad?: The sausage patty is fatty (about 10 g per puck), and the biscuit is nearly devoid of nutrition yet contains 8 g fat.
Make it better: Do this yourself—it takes 3 minutes, about the time you'd sit in the drive-thru lane. Beat an egg in a small bowl and nuke it for 1 to 2 minutes. Top it with warmed-up Canadian bacon—a great precooked source of lean protein with only 2 g fat—and slide it into a whole-wheat English muffin. And have it with a glass of grapefruit juice (good luck finding that at McDonald's) instead of OJ. Drinking grapefruit juice before a meal helps decrease insulin levels and promote weight loss, according to research from the Scripps Clinic in San Diego.
You lose: 4 g saturated fat
You gain: 6 g protein, 4 g fiber, 94 milligrams (mg) vitamin C
Grilled Cheese Sandwich
What's so bad?: The 18 g saturated fat you take in from the butter and slabs of oily cheese. And the white bread is pointless.
Make it better: Use whole-wheat bread with part-skim mozzarella in between. Crisp it in a skillet moistened with a little olive oil. Losing the finger-licking buttery bliss is worth it. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an olive oil-rich diet can drop your chances of dying of cancer or heart disease by 23 percent. To protect your prostate, add a couple of lycopene-packed tomato slices. Likely to work late? Throw in a slice or two of lean ham. That will jack up the protein count, keeping your appetite in check.
You lose: 10 g saturated fat
You gain: 11 g protein, 5 g fiber, 1,000 mcg lycopene
What's so bad?: Oil-pooling pepperoni, to start. Then a huge calorie count that comes mainly from simple carbs and saturated fat.
Make it better: Opt for a thin crust (fewer refined-flour carbs), use half the cheese, and replace the pepperoni or sausage with chicken breast, a lean protein that has just 1 g fat per ounce. (A little barbecue sauce is okay. Great, in fact.) The chicken gives you more muscle-building protein and a ratio of protein to fat that better satisfies the appetite. Add some sliced onions and peppers to rack up a little fiber and some immune-boosting allicin.
You lose: 10 g saturated fat
You gain: Allicin, fiber, twice the protein
Fish and Chips
What's so bad?: There's fat everywhere—the breaded and fried fish, the greasy potatoes, and the creamy coleslaw.
Make it better: You love the crunchy crispiness, right? Try pan-seared salmon—it'll crisp up real nice—for a healthy dose of cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fats and a potential brain boost. A new UCLA study on mice suggests that DHA, one of the fats found in high levels in fish like salmon, helps repair memory damage caused by Alzheimer's disease. Roasted potato wedges sprayed with a little olive oil are infinitely better than fat-soaked fried "chips." Grab a bag of finely chopped coleslaw makings at the grocery store and use either low-fat mayonnaise or, better yet, a tangy vinegar-and-oil dressing.
You lose: 8 g saturated fat
You gain: 4 g omega-3 fats
What's so bad?: Just 13 ordinary corn chips contains 120 calories and 6 g fat, and you haven't yet ladled on the electric-orange cheese product, the greasy spiced hamburger mixture, or the sour cream. Do that and you're hoisting 26 g saturated fat into your mouth. Add thirst-inducing pickled jalapeño-pepper slices and you're getting a day's worth of sodium in this 1,129-calorie pile.
Make it better: Start with baked corn chips (less fat), add cooked pinto beans for fiber, and use reduced-fat sharp Cheddar and lean ground round. Top with cancer-fighting diced tomatoes (for lycopene) and diced fresh jalapeño pepper—it has no added salt but still delivers plenty of kick. The whole concoction is leaner, tastier, and way better for you. Go ahead, have some more.
You lose: 677 calories, 22 g saturated fat, 2,500 mg sodium