Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Comfort Foods

Thanks to all of you who contributed to my research for this article. I learned a great deal (including the fact that deep fried pickles are comforting to some...!). Hope you enjoy!

The Perfect Plate of Comfort
By August Johnson McLaughlin, CN, CPT

You’re home alone on a Friday night. Your girlfriends are busy, your Prince Charming who constantly woos you and brings you flowers, well, doesn’t exist and your premenstrual hormones are raging like St. Elmo’s Fire. You yearn, you ache, and you BURN, for two men. Your favorite, dependable, non-judging, tasty men: Ben and Jerry.

What is it about ice cream that makes it so darn comforting? Most comforting devices are warm — fuzzy sweaters, cozy blankets, and hot chocolate… Ice cream is America’s top choice of comfort foods. Why? It’s delicious.

Due to their fierce popularity, “comfort foods” became a new word added to the Webster’s Dictionary in 1987. Soon after ice cream, cookies, chocolate cake, pie, chicken soup, Mac n’ Cheese, pizza and meat loaf followed. Most women lean towards the decision of sweets when they crave a type of food. Granted, we are often nurtured as youngsters by ice cream as a reward for good grades or to cheer us up after our tonsils come out. But there is more to comfort foods than nostalgia alone.

Scientists have found physiological reasons for our comfort food cravings as well. A study done at the University of California San Francisco linked the stress hormone, cortisol, and the hypothalamus gland, which controls our hunger. When stress levels rise, so might hunger.
Additionally, certain foods have a physically calming effect, assisting the body’s production of serotonin and other feel-good hormones. Complex carbohydrates have a positive effect on our moods, with effects that outlast the temporary rush from typical sweets. So when your sweet tooth cries out, a whole grain equivalent is best.

Tryptophan, the chemical credited for post-Thanksgiving-feast naps, is also calming. It only pacifies if coupled with a carbohydrate, so turkey on rye beats turkey on its own.
How we approach our comfort food tendencies determines how consoling they actually are. If your attitude about foods are positive, you will likely enjoy your comfort foods and crave them less. Plus, you won’t beat yourself up over eating them. Many interviewees shared disclaimers or self-punishing remarks with their answers. “Ugh, I eat cake. So bad!” one replied.
If you feel shameful for indulging, remind yourself that no one’s daily diet is perfect and the ideal diet contains variety and occasional indulgences. Negative reactions to eating comfort foods can cause greater problems than the food itself.

As for our favorite ice cream treats, occasional servings are fine. If you crave it often, choose lower fat or reduced sugar varieties and add fruit to make them healthier. In other words, you do not need to break up with Ben or Jerry; but you may not want to propose to either of them just yet.

Appeared at www.iamthatgirl.com.

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