6 Southern Comfort Foods That Are Surprisingly Good for You

Even as power greens such as kale are taking over the healthy-eating world, other power vegetables, such as mustard, collard, and turnip greens, seem to get a bad rap. That might be because they’re considered main ingredients in Southern food, which is notorious for being unhealthy.

But “Southern comfort” doesn’t always mean compromising health; in fact, many of the negative stereotypes of the cuisine are inaccurate.

Sure, much of it is fried, but not all of it is. Plus, the animal fat used in frying it isn’t totally unhealthy. Some animal fats, consumed in moderation and prepared the right way, can actually be ideal for certain cooking methods and part of a well-rounded diet. While the cuisine is meat-heavy — think brisket, barbecue, or fried chicken — it also incorporates lots of fresh, seasonal ingredients, including a variety of power greens.

In fact, Southern food is ahead of the game when it comes to preparing power vegetables in delicious and healthful ways. For example, traditionally prepared Southern foods use cane sugar and molasses, two natural sources of sugar, rather than sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, or high-fructose corn syrup.

More specifically, many of the ingredients that put the “comfort” in Southern comfort foods seem like disastrously unhealthful choices but are really much healthier than many people realize. Try including these six ingredients next time you need a Southern food fix:

1. Collard greens: Everyone knows it's important to eat leafy greens, but collard greens are often discounted because they're traditionally cooked with lots of bacon and salt. The greens themselves, though, are packed with vitamin A, calcium, iron, fiber, and protein. If you cook the greens with healthy olive oil and just a pinch of salt, plus a bit of garlic and red pepper for an extra boost of flavor, you'll get the vegetable's benefits without going overboard.

Try this delicious collard greens recipe

2. Buttermilk: Traditional buttermilk is the liquid, or milk, that’s left over from making butter, and it contains lots of beneficial bacteria. Commercial buttermilk is made differently, but it still contains live, lactic acid-producing bacteria. Because they’re highly probiotic, both traditional and commercial buttermilk can play a significant role in helping good gut bacteria flourish, improving your digestion, immunity, and metabolism.

3. Molasses: Molasses is so dense it barely moves, and much of that density is made up of vital nutrients. Blackstrap molasses, in particular, contains ample calcium and magnesium, which aren’t easily found in most modern foods. Despite its sweetness, molasses also boasts incredibly low sugar content compared with other sugarcane products.

4. Cornbread: Simple foods are most often the healthiest, and cornbread, which contains only six ingredients, is an excellent example. Cornmeal, eggs, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and water or buttermilk — all are natural ingredients. Cornbread is also packed with protein, which is especially important for maintaining your overall health and fitness. [Editor's Note: Make sure to select an organic or non-GMO cornmeal since corn is one of the most genetically modified foods in America.]

5. Grits: Grits are the ultimate Southern food. Even simpler than cornbread, grits are made from just three ingredients: cornmeal, water, and salt. They’re a great source of carbs, iron, and vitamins. And the grass-fed butter, cream, or cheese that many people add make them even more nutritious — they’re good sources of conjugated linoleic acid, which might boost metabolism and help cut fat.

6. Chicory coffee: During the Civil War, coffee was scarce and often unavailable, so soldiers turned to brewing chicory roots as a substitute. Even after the war, the beverage continued to be a staple thanks to its high antioxidant and nutritional value. Chicory coffee promotes improved inflammation control as well as better blood sugar regulation and healthier gut bacteria because of the inulin in the root. Best of all, it tastes very similar to traditional coffee, though it has no caffeine.

Learn about other coffee alternatives

Southern food is good for the soul, but it can also be great for your physical well-being. With healthy preparation and conscious moderation, Southern cuisine can truly be your go-to comfort food.

By Kristine Don| July 28, 2017
Categories:  Eat

About the Author

Kristine Don

Kristine Don

Kristine Don is a big-time science nut who dabbles in the world of health and wellness from time to time as the editor and content manager at SmartyPants Vitamins, home of The Good Gummy and one of Inc.’s 500 Fastest-Growing Companies of 2015.

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