Imagine yourself coming home from a long, stressful day at work. Your boss has been a bit draconian, you’re worried about the COVID-19 pandemic and all the uncertainty surrounding it, or maybe you’re just feeling a little blue. It’s a cold and dreary day, and you feel like indulging in some comfort food — the kind that reminds you of your childhood, happy times with family, or your favorite holiday meal.
While other things can make you feel better, like a good book, your favorite movie or a warm cup of tea, eating a comforting dish is quicker and more immediate. It also helps that these foods taste delicious and often contain ingredients you enjoy, which stimulates a natural reward system in the brain.
Comfort foods are a little different than regular, everyday food, which is what gives them their reputation. Typically, they’re high in sugar and fats, which can lead to weight gain and poor health. They can also be high in sodium and lacking in other nutrients. While this may be true, it’s important to remember that comfort foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy.
The term “comfort food” is loosely defined to include any type of food that makes you feel good emotionally. This could be anything from a big, hearty home-cooked meal to candy or prepared snack foods. It could even be a specific food or recipe that reminds you of your childhood or happy memories. Many people who eat “comfort foods” do so out of habit, which can create a cycle of emotional eating that can be hard to break.
Most of the time, these foods are considered “bad comfort foods” because they’re usually savory or sweet, fried and high in sugar or fat – i.e., they’re not particularly healthy. However, it’s important to remember that just because something is a comfort food doesn’t mean you can’t find healthier versions of your favorites.
For example, a lot of traditional comfort foods are high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. You can lower the fat and calorie content of these dishes by replacing the butter or margarine with olive oil and adding more vegetables, herbs or lean proteins to your meals.
If you’re craving a particular comfort food, try to find a version that isn’t loaded with saturated fat and added sugars, and has more fiber. You can do this by making simple changes, such as adding a cup of beans to savory dishes or using a lower-sugar sweetener in desserts. You can also look up recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free or processed sugar-free to see how they compare to the original version. By changing just a few ingredients and practicing mindful eating, you can still enjoy your favorite comfort foods without the guilt! For the best results, it’s also important to discover additional ways to cope with stress or depression so you don’t rely solely on comfort food to feel better.