Comfort food

A typical comfort food: a dessert

We all know what comfort food. It is that kind of food that, when consumed, make you feel better.

Usually comfort food has high calorie content (see picture above) and tends to be associated with childhood and nostalgic memories.

Comfort food is so important for our psychological well-being, that even NASA took an interest on it: Astronauts can have drinks with vanilla, strawberry or chocolate taste. They can even eat warm dessert, such as cobbler and bread pudding.

Results of a survey on 1000 North Americans revealed that potato chips and ice cream are the most beloved comfort food.

Top comfort food for 1000 North Americans

Comfort food has a strong psychological impact: on one side it makes you feel better, on the other (especially for women) it makes you feel less healthy.

Even tough we usually think that we consume comfort food when we are feeling sad, a survey done in 2000 suggest that most people (86%) eat comfort food when they feel happy or when they want to celebrate something (74%). Only 39% of people reported to eat comfort food when their mood is low.

The most interesting question for researchers is: “What makes comfort food so comfortable?”. It probably has to do not only with taste, but also with sight and the sensation that food produces in our mouth and nose. My beloved mom used to say: “If it doesn’t look good, I won’t eat it”. Comfort food is usually soft, salty and sweet in mouth.

Evolutionary reason

There is probably an evolutionary explanation for our preference for sweet food as comfort food.

Sweetness could probably what our body needs to deal with what is causing the stress. Stress often induce us to eat more, and to eat more desserts, chocolate and sweet food.

Neuropsychological reason

There is also a neuropsychological explanation for our love for comfort food.

When we eat our favorite comfort food, our body releases opiates and serotonin, mood-enhancer hormones. A recent research from Wagner (2014), however, suggests that consuming comfort food doesn’t actually provide emotional benefit right after watching a depressing movie. Studies from Troisi suggest that comfort food can be used (and useful) to alleviate social isolation.

Personally, I take comfort from food when I am sad, bored, and only rarely to celebrate. To be honest, when I want to celebrate I usually prefer a glass of good red wine.

And you? What is your favorite comfort food? When do you eat it?

References:

Spence, “Comfort food: a review”, (2017), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgfs.2017.07.001

Comfort food at NASA: https://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/livinginspace/spacefood_feature.html

Published by Martina Bodner

Biotechnologist, PhD Candidate in Food Chemistry, Science Teacher, STEM and autism advocate, mother.

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