What Are Comfort Foods? And Why Are They So Comforting?
It’s that warm, fuzzy feeling you get in your stomach—the kind of feeling that can bring you to a place where you aren’t thinking about anything else, even for just a few minutes. This is a feeling of joy and comfort. And although there are many reasons for us feel this way, one of the things that is able to bring up a surge of these emotions is our favorite comfort foods.
When thinking of comfort foods, the first words that come to mind for me are creamy, cheesy, warm, and savory, and whether it be a decadent chocolate cake or an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich, we all have our favorite comfort foods.
Comfort foods are the foods that make us feel good and provide a feeling of, as in the name, well, “comfort.” But have you ever wondered why that is? Why are these certain foods able to lift our spirits and bring us happiness?
Why Comfort Foods Provide “Comfort”
Beyond just tasting delicious, there are more reasons why comfort foods provide us with feelings of well-being. Most commonly, our favorite comfort foods are associated with sentimental value, which can be specific to each person or culture.
These foods, along with their preparation, smell, and presentation, are able to flood our senses with nostalgia. Along with this, comfort food is associated very significantly with close relationships as we often correlate particular foods with family members, social gatherings, and the people we care about.
Studies have indicated that eating comfort foods shifts our emotional state from negative to positive and can fulfill our need to belong when feeling rejected. 1
Furthermore, common comfort foods, such as pasta and pizza, are often characterized by their high-caloric nature or high-carbohydrate level. This is mainly because our brains are programmed to seek life-sustaining sustenance, such as energy-rich foods.
Historically, calorie-rich foods were sought after to help keep us satiated until the next famine. And although we are no longer having to go out and hunt for our food, our brains are still hardwired to think this way. As a result, foods containing sugar, salt, and fat are natural reward-drivers, triggering the release of key pleasure neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. 2
How Effective Are Common Foods?
However, even with all of this in mind, comfort foods may not be as responsible for bringing us happiness as we may think. A recent study found that comfort foods led to significant mood improvements, but these improvements were not measurably different when compared with other foods or no food at all.
This suggests Individuals may be giving comfort food credit for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the food item. 3 Other studies have even shown that by seeking these pleasure foods, we’re actually not getting happier, illustrating that those who have diets containing a lot of common comfort foods, such as processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer, are actually more likely to be depressed than their healthier-eating counterparts. 4
Nevertheless, even if your favorite comfort foods, like mine, are not exactly the best representation of healthy eating, it’s perfectly acceptable to occasionally enjoy eating and taking pleasure in the indulgent foods we wouldn’t regularly consume.
strong>Having a healthy relationship with food is essential. Food is meant not only to fuel our bodies, but it is also a vehicle for bringing us closer together and sparking joy. Finding your perfect balance with food, your mind, and your body, is one of the best ways to create a good food relationship.
Likewise, not all comfort foods are considered guilty pleasures. As referenced earlier, one person’s idea of comfort foods can be different from another’s based on what they associate their favorite comfort foods with.
For some, traditional comfort foods dishes can be full of vegetables and healthy proteins. However, most popular comfort foods are not, which is why many comfort foods are not to be enjoyed day to day but rather as a special treat.
How to Create Healthy Comfort Foods
If you are looking for ways to make your favorite comfort foods a bit healthier, it is easy to try and swap out some of the ingredients for healthier options without changing the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel of the dish. For example, you can change the type of meat, source of fat, or use less sugar.
Fortunately, there are plenty of recipes out there which can help make our favorite foods with a healthy twist. Even more, there are many natural foods with proven mood-boosting benefits that can help you get happier and healthier with every bite.
Regardless, I know that sometimes with the chaos we come across, we could use a little extra comfort. Comfort foods can be the perfect remedy to the end of a long day, between our healthy lifestyle and busy schedules.
We all deserve to treat ourselves from time to time and share our favorite comfort foods with the people around us. So spread some comfort and let us know what your favorite comfort food is.