Who doesn’t love comfort food? It is that one particular food or dish that when seen, mentioned, or smelled instantly triggers all your senses, it is the main focus and nothing else around you exists. It’s the food that is either a little unhealthy or off limits during training season but perfect for bulk season, looking for a few extra carbs on refeed day, carb loading on marathon week or just because once in a while you just need the beloved make you feel good carbohydrate. It’s the one meal that is embedded in your brain from Sunday night until cheat meal on Saturday night. It could be anything from bread, pasta, a sweet treat, grains, baked potatoes, chips, or even fruit. The carbohydrate, the one macro nutrient that has a bad rap for being evil and responsible for seeing the numbers go up on the scale. But hold on, carbs are actually essential and very important in the diet when eaten within reasonable limits and the right kinds and not feasting on a package of cookies that’s hiding in your closet next to the bag of chips behind healthy foods.
Carbs are the main source of energy. It keeps the body going throughout the day whether it’s running the Boston marathon or going for a walk down the street. Provides energy to lift heavy weights or dance in a Zumba class. Carbs are friends when chasing the kids around the house and multi-tasking with everyday functions. They are just as important as the proteins and fats in our diet and the air we breathe but, sadly are the most feared when it comes to gaining weight. Carbs are the body most favorite source of energy. They are stored as glucose and needs to be readily available for energy when suddenly faced with being chased by a hungry bear or simply walking up a flight of stairs. Carbs are also important for normal brain function in staying alert and focused.
If carbs are deprived or avoided, the body is seeking another source or energy when climbing up 4 flights of stairs carrying grocery bags and that can be breaking down precious muscle for energy. This can lead to weakness, fatigue and brain fog. The fats and proteins that are needed to build and repair muscle are being used for energy. The body prefers carbs over the other macro nutrients to keep you going throughout the day. Now before you run out and buy a package or cookies, there are bad carbs and good carbs.
In a nut shell, bad carbs are simple carbs or simple sugars and are high glycemic. These carbs are void of fiber and don’t have enough complex starch to help slow sugars digestion. This causes a spike in blood sugar and will increase your energy for a short amount of time but will soon crash leaving you feel like you ran into a mac truck, tired, moody, and hungry. Although fruits fall under the simple sugar category they also have essential other nutrients. Foods to avoid are anything white as in white rice, white bread, white pasta and potatoes also, processed high sugar treats, cookies, chips, candies, sugars, French fries.
Now the good carbs are the low glycemic foods. Foods that have lots of fiber and complex starch that help slow sugars quick digestion. These carbs will help you feel fuller longer and will provide a sustained energy throughout the day. You won’t be hitting that mac truck but, running alongside it - well sort of, I wouldn’t recommend actually running alongside a truck, people might look at you a little funny. With these carbs you will have mental clarity, focus, less moody and no crash. These foods include whole grain pastas and breads, brown rice, sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkin all beans, and green veggies. So now how much do we actually need?
It is the balance of right carbs that is the key, there really is not exact number sense everyone is different in regards to needs. According to the Mayo clinic, on an average 2,000 calorie diet and an average lifestyle is anywhere from 220 grams to 325 grams a day or 45 to 65% of your daily calories. Now endurance athletes who are training for a marathon or weightlifters should have more of the higher amounts and can go as high as 500 grams a day with double the calories. For someone who has a sedentary lifestyle should be at the low range of 200 grams. Somewhere in between who exercises regularly but doesn’t run marathons should be somewhere in the middle.
Finally, this delicious, healthy lasagna which the ultimate comfort food is traditionally loaded with fats and simple carbs however, before you shake your head no-way or click out of this blog faster than you can scroll down to the recipe, this is a much healthier version. It has lots of healthy protein, fats and good carbs. The noodles are whole grains, the “ricotta” cheese is made from tofu with herbs and spices, veggies include zucchini, summer squash and eggplant. Yes it may be higher in calories but, when a cheat meal is called for this is a much healthier version. I made this dish for my husband who is eating extra carbs and calories this week while preparing for a full marathon on the weekend. Add some garlic bread and a loaded side salad for a meal that will surely keep him healthy and strong for the race.
Lastly, as I was so excited how this came out, I put the pan on my stove and took a few pieces out to photograph. I was clicking my camera away completely focused on my creation. I stopped to turn a burner on to make a pot of hot water for some herbal tea and after a few minutes I heard a huge crash, the sound of glass breaking and scattering all over my kitchen. Without even looking I knew exactly what had just happened… I turned on the wrong burner. So this was the result. My beautiful lasagna was now in an explosion with shards of glass. All I could do was simply stand there with my camera in one hand and stare with my mouth open in shear disbelief. I was angry for doing such a silly mistake but, remained calm as now there was nothing I could do but take out the garbage pail and vacuum. Although I did manage to save the 2 portions that I was photographing I was devastated. After my husband had one of the remaining portions for dinner he said it was one of the best lasagna’s he has had. Well, back to the store for a new dish and more ingredients!
Note: it is a process to make but trust me, well worth it when it’s done and when it's not put on the stove with a hot burner to shatter in a million pieces
Yields: about 12 good size portions (or just 2 portions when
Time: about 1 hour
Package whole grain lasagna noodles
1 small eggplant (may need only half) sliced in a mandolin or cut thin
1 small summer squash
½ package vegan sausage (2 links) sliced
3-4 cups of marinara sauce (I made my own but 1 store bought organic jar is ok)
1 cup chopped mushrooms to mix in sauce
1 package vegan shredded mozzerlla cheese
For the ricotta:
1 package tofu
1 small onion
3-4 garlic cloves
1 stalk celery
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 package basil leaves (about ½ cup packed then chopped)
Handful fresh parsley and cilantro
1 cup fresh spinach chopped
3 tbsp. Nutritional yeast
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Additional spices (I used a bit of oregano, Italian spice and thyme)
Note: to take some of the extra moisture out of eggplant, press with some paper towels. Eggplant has a lot of water and can make lasagna a bit watery.
Extra veggies – not problem – I cut up the extra in small chunks and sautéed them with chunks of tofu and more marinara sauce for a great small snack to bring to work. You can even have this over some pasta or if it is thick make a wrap out of it. Or you can cut up veggies raw and toss in a salad.
Extra noodles – cut them up small and make a small soup out of them or use the tofu veggie mixture and make little roll-ups to have as a lunch