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Comfort Food For Thought

Comfort Food For Thought
"I am sure I am not alone in indulging in such food-related guilty pleasures; we all have skeletons in the fridge."
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Source:  Mirza Hassan Askari
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  • “Comfort food” as “food that gives a sense of emotional well-being,” or “any food or drink that one turns to for temporary relief, security or reward.” Drawing from this definition, let’s look into our own understanding of what comfort food is. I, for one, usually think of comfort food when I’m having a miserable sort of day where I wake up late for work, realize that I had forgotten to iron my shirt the night before, slip in the rain that comes once a year to make life just a little bit more complicated, get into my car to find the batteries are dead, roll the car down the hill in the rain to start it, slipping just a few more times… you get the picture. We all have some pretty bad days now and again. So once my day’s over I usually come home, make a beeline for the fridge and let my mind, not my stomach, decide what I should eat. Usually I would attempt to go for something healthy but on a day like this, the fattier and sweeter, the better. I am sure I’m not alone in indulging in such food-related guilty pleasures; we all have skeletons in the fridge.

  • So while I may choose a slice of apple pie when I’m feeling down, you may opt for some roast chicken and mashed potatoes, or some chocolate or ice-cream-the list goes on and on. Comfort food in most peoples’ minds is synonymous with foods that are high in sugar and fats. Consuming this sweet, fatty goodness usually provides one with that feeling of irrational contentment and satisfaction. So this begs the question; what is comfort food exactly? According to recent studies comfort food can be anything the person chooses. The recipes for the majority of comfort foods consist of at least one of 3 major ingredients: lots of carbohydrates, sugar and high levels of fat. In general, the overall effects of comfort food are believed to be partly psychological, through conditioning or cognitive response (i.e. parents giving ice cream to a child when he/she is sad throughout childhood, so that over a period of time the child associates negative feeling with a craving for ice-cream), and partly biochemical/neurochemical. While the jury is still out on which is the major contributing factor, recent studies in the science community have provided further evidence that comfort foods, particularly those high in carbohydrates and fat content, can in fact influence a person’s mood.

  • To look into the biological aspects of consuming “feel-good-food,” let’s look at fatty foods first. According to a leading science based journal, eating foods that are high in fat content releases a hormone called Cholecystokinin (CCK). Researchers haves suggested that as the level of CCK in the blood rises, it begins to slow stomach emptying triggers CCK-induced analgesia through the activation of opioid pathways. Eventually, once the blood CCK level becomes critical, the person feels satiated, satisfied and stops eating. What this basically means in simple terms is that after consuming a high-fat meal one tends to feel lethargic and satisfied, hence the hormone can be seen as one of the biological triggers for one demanding “comfort” food.

  • Another common comfort food for most people is of course the comfort food holy Grail: chocolate. There is actually a good scientific reason for this. Like exercise, chocolate also releases hormones called endorphins. These are basically “feel-good hormones.” Endorphins, as some people have so eloquently put it, “make folks feel happy.” Nevertheless, pressed for time as most people typically are in trendy civilization, exercise isn’t really a possibility at all times. In order that leaves the easier, more readily available alternative, yes! Chocolate!

  • Carbohydrates, too, apparently release a hormone when ingested. However, it is not an endorphin, it is serotonin. This is the same hormone that is provided to people through tablets to cure forms of depression. There is much debate following the potential increase in levels of serotonin in the blood after consuming a high carbohydrate meal, but the general idea is that if one eats a high carbohydrate meal, such as pasta and so on, it saturates the blood stream with amino acids which in turn trigger the release of higher levels of serotonin and make one feel good. Like I mentioned, there is still much debate circling this theory so to be on the safe side just consume a lot of sugary fatty foods and leave the carbs for later!

  • Mental well-being experts additionally consider that “comfort food” can be linked to reminiscences, and not merely their potential psychoactive affects. There’s anecdotal proof suggesting that some individuals take comfort in sure foods attributable to a link to a positive or constructive experience from the past. The positive memories can generally be enough to trigger the central nervous system to produce quite a lot of chemical compounds that have constructive results on mood and performance. A person who has a “thing” for eating blueberry cheesecake could also be subconsciously associating this food with an optimistic determine from his childhood, like a relative who enjoyed making blueberry cheesecakes. Another example of such a phenomenon can be the cause of getting “treats” as a child. This creates a powerful and positive association between a feeling of well-being and consuming a particular food. For example, being rewarded for an A+ in math by chocolate ice-cream creates a feeling of success or self-satisfaction. By this logic, if one later in life encounters chocolate ice-cream on a low, depressing sort of day, the ice-cream may generate those same feelings of self-satisfaction as when one was a child. This positive correlation between a particular food and the feelings inherently embedded within the environment whence consumed can help trigger “comfort” feelings.

  • To conclude, the only advice I can provide you with is that trying to figure out whether it’s biology that affects the mood or the mood that affects the biology is like reasoning the chicken and the egg. Eat, live, let live and be merry! If something makes you feel better you’d be a fool to not indulge in it. Don’t feel guilty about indulging in guilty pleasures, that’s always been my motto. Just make sure your health isn’t being compromised!

  • Important Note: The articles presented are provided by third party authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of They should not be construed as medical advice or diagnosis. Consult with your physician prior to following any suggestions provided.

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