Not All Comfort Foods are Unhealthy

mehealth & fitness

Comfort food. If I say those words you are likely to envision rich and hearty meals full of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese. Why is it that we typically think of more high calorie, high fat delights when referring to comfort food?

Scientists and psychologists have looked at the relationship between comfort and food in depth and the evidence typically leads them all back to the neurotransmitter Serotonin. Serotonin regulates anxiety and mood; higher levels of serotonin typically promote a happier, less stressed feeling -- a feeling of comfort. High carbohydrate foods tend to release higher levels of insulin, which in turn signals the brain to release serotonin. So, your mother's famous mac n' cheese recipe isn't just comforting because of the nostalgic memories associated with it, it actually produces a chemical reaction in your body that heightens those feelings of comfort.

With the country facing an epidemic of childhood obesity, experts are scrambling to educate parents in order to lead children towards making healthier and more nutritional food choices. Comfort foods, such as your Nana's beef stew, don't typically make the "healthy" list.  The ironic thing is that most "comfort foods" are simple home-made meals with fresh ingredients and many of them contain a far higher nutritional value than comparable convenience and fast food meals. If you compare the ingredients and nutritional facts from a home cooked "comfort" food, such as turkey meatloaf with green beans and potatoes, with those of a pre-prepared frozen food or fast food option, the home cooked meal will almost always be deemed more nutritious, lower in calories, sodium and fat count. Simply put, cooking with fresh ingredients and controlling the amount of salt, oils, and less healthy ingredients produces a healthier meal. By substituting with whole grain pastas, higher quality oils, lower fat meats, and other healthy alternative ingredients, "comfort foods" can fulfill and comfort while still providing quality nutrition.

What are your favorite comfort foods and have you tried to put a healthy spin on the recipes?

As a freelance writer and social media marketing consultant, in Denver, Colorado, Fiona Bryan blogs about social media and all things “banter-worthy” at, she is also the founder of the multi-media outreach, MomActive, which strives to motivate and empower women to be positive role models for their families.

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