The science behind “comfort food”

By Rose Gottschalk (TheLorian)

Comfort food is meant to do exactly what it’s named for – comfort you. It gives you a sense of nostalgia and has sentimental appeal, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Most comfort food begins with a traditional recipe, but gets tweaked for each family. For example, there is a very specific branch of comfort food called Southern comfort food. This includes things like grits, mashed potatoes, or fried chicken. But besides that, a new genre of comfort food has emerged: Quarantine comfort food. People were baking and cooking to take up their time, acquiring new skills to be used later down the road when people can have potlucks again. Cooking evolved to being a comfort during quarantine, and that evolved to eating becoming the real comfort for people. A major trend was bread, with the carbs acting as a comfort, but then new recipes were coming out for foods like spaghetti and mac and cheese.

There’s a whole science behind comfort food. Due to the sense of wellbeing that comes from comfort food, the reward and pleasure centers in the brain get triggered, in a way that’s similar to drug addictions, (“The Science behind Comfort Food”). People are able to take comfort in the food due to the gratification that occurs in the brain, as chemicals are released to the reward system in the brain. Basically, comfort food works because your brain rewards your body for eating it. The tie to nostalgia also has a huge impact. It takes you back, especially when you eat something like stuffing, and it takes you back to a Thanksgiving meal.

On the flip side of that, people have to be careful with their intake of comfort food. Eating too much is never a good thing. Comfort food is often loaded with lots of carbohydrates and dense in calories, which can fill someone up. Often, people don’t notice themselves overeating, which can lead to a food coma. Occasionally, this kind of intake in food is okay, but eating too much can negatively impact a person, leading to other health issues.

So yes, take comfort in what you chose to eat during this time. In a constantly changing world, on top of college life, this food is important. But remember to watch how much you eat, and make sure that you throw in plenty of fruits and veggies. A well-balanced diet is almost as important as the comfort food you choose to eat.

“The Science behind Comfort Food.” Desert Hope, Accessed 12 Sept. 2020.

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Rose Gottschalk is a copy editor for The Lorian.

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