Whether you’ve just been dumped or had another tiff with your boss at work, nothing makes you feel better than comfort food (and maybe a little wine). For decades, scientists have bent over backwards trying to come up with distinct differences between foods that affect your brain chemistry and foods that make you feel better.
The foods that belong to the latter group are known as comfort foods. While there are foods that make us happy by affecting our physiology (for example, chocolate can produce phenylethylamine, otherwise known as the love drug that is very instrumental in helping you fall in love), comfort foods make us happy on a psychological level (and on a physical level too if that girth around our waist is any indication.)
It is easy to see why comfort foods are something we can’t do without in our lives. For one, they are reminders of happier times, particularly our childhood. When we eat cupcakes for example, we are reminded of happy family occasions in the past or the food itself is a tangible reminder of our youth so we remember how it felt like to be carefree.
Comfort foods can also be associated with a specific loved one: For example, if you ate mac and cheese with your father when you were young and considered it the ultimate bonding moment with him, chances are you’ll always crave a bowl of mac and cheese whenever you feel the need to be close to someone who is far away or long gone. This various triggers make comfort foods specific to individuals because we all have different memories.
Among other things, comfort foods also help us bond with friends and family because of the shared memories. You know what they say about how the food tastes better when you love the company you’re sharing it with.
Studies done on how comfort foods as well, show that they affect both men and women differently. Females tended to reach for sweet and sugary foods like ice cream while males tended to go for savory foods like steak and potatoes. The study also showed that men tend to see comfort foods as a reward while women tend to feel guilty after indulging in their favorites.
If any of you watched Ratatouille, you’ll remember that scene where the food critic took a bite out of the ratatouille that was served to him and it immediately triggered a long-forgotten memory of how his mother served him the same dish when he had a bad day at school and how he felt better after just one bite. As for women, this guilt they feel may actually be good because regular intake of comfort foods in response to stress, which women are prone to doing often can be unhealthy so the guilt basically prevents them from bingeing again.
Talking of comfort foods, what exactly are those that people love to imbibe when they’re feeling down in the dumps or in despair because life can be too hard? Pizza for one, is on the top of almost everyone’s list, especially one wherein the dough was left to rise for two days and rolled out with a wine bottle before being soaked in special, homemade sauce. Next on the list is macaroni and cheese which has become so versatile you can get them in all kinds and still feel like you’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket during the winter. In the sweets department, there’s ice cream (particularly chocolate and vanilla sprinkled with mint chips) and chocolate cake.
And lastly, there’s also your burritos and Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes. But since most people can’t get enough of pasta, you can also include in this list spaghetti with red sauce, chicken pot pie and puddings. Basically anything with carbs and fat are high on the list because carbs increase your serotonin levels and fat which is actually the reason why you feel “comforted.”