Comfort foods may not be so comforting

Comfort foods may not be so comforting

After a long stressful day, you may be tempted to reach for a cookie or munch on French fries. While you may feel better after eating comfort food, a new study finds that your mood would have probably improved even if you didn’t eat that fatty food.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota asked study participants to take a food survey and asked them to pick three foods that would make them feel better if they were in a bad mood as well as foods that they did not think would impact their mood.

Then, participants watched movie clips that stirred feelings of anger, sadness and anxiety. After the movie clips, some subjects were given triple portions of comfort food, others were given a food they would not think would improve their mood. Others received a granola bar and some received no food at all. Three minutes after eating, they were asked about their mood. Each group responded positively saying they felt better with no differences between those who ate comfort food, other food and no food.

“People have this belief that high-calorie foods are the path out of difficult feelings,” said Kelly D. Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, in a statement. “But the assignment of the word ‘comfort’ to these foods implies there is a relationship between ‘comfort’ and ‘food’ that may not exist.”

For women, comfort foods are often sweets while men often prefer heartier foods. For both women and men comfort foods are typically high in fat.

“Comfort foods are usually those foods that are loaded in saturated fat and calories like macaroni and cheese, pecan pie, loaded mashed potatoes and meatloaf,” says Michelle Remkus, a registered dietitian at Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill. “Although comfort foods are delicious, overindulging in these high calorie foods can lead to weight gain. It can be hard to say no to your grandma’s chicken pot pie, but in the long run choosing healthier choices can help you feel better!”

Remkus recommends knowing what comfort foods are your trigger, so you are ready to say “no.” It is also a good idea to keep these foods out of your house to prevent sabotage. Instead, she says to keep your kitchen stocked with healthy choices such as ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables, low fat yogurt, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Reach for these healthy foods when cravings strike, Remkus says.

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  1. Great article Camille! I managed to avoid all of the featured items over the holiday weekend. A moment on the lips…

  2. Interesting — will definitely keep this in mind the next time I’m stressed out and craving some mac and cheese!

  3. Great point! The foods I like to indulge in are definitely not traditional comfort foods.

  4. It must be another slow day in the offices of Advocate’s public affairs office. Now I know why the Director-level position has been posted on various job boards for several months. And quoting a public policy dean on the definitions of “comfort?” One can tell the direction this article was taking.

    As an individual who worked in the food service business (retail and wholesale) as a salesman and broker, please trust my statement that “comfort food” is a term not necessarily used to convey “healthy” eating. It is, on the other hand, a term ascribed to foods when consumed where we felt a certain nostalgia-like feel. The classic examples are meat loaf, pot roast, macaroni and cheese and fried chicken. Simple, though often times labor-intensive foods that, for most Americans, take us back to a simpler, slow-paced life. Usually, our childhood.

    The term was never meant to be used in context that if such foods are consumed you will physically feel wonderful, motivated or energized. And all along I thought I was the cynical one.

  5. Great–I’ll eat nuts & seeds when I’m sad or mad!! LOL

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.