Comfort Food

Comfort food is food prepared traditionally that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal. Many comfort foods are flavorful and easily eaten, having soft consistencies. American comfort foods include apple pie, chicken soup, chili, chocolate chip cookies, fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and potato salad. Australian comfort foods include vegemite, meat pies, fish and chips, chiko rolls, dim sims, and potato cakes.

In Chinese culture the comfort foods might differ between each households. Nevertheless the common theme is usually invoked nostalgic sentiments of home and family. Chinese comfort foods usually served warm, have soft texture and it might be soupy. Some of common Chinese comfort foods are: baozi, rice congee, chinese noodles, and dim sum.

Comfort foods may be consumed to positively pique emotions, to relieve negative psychological affects or to increase positive feelings. The term was first used in 1977. One study divided college-students’ comfort-food identifications into four categories (nostalgic foods, indulgence foods, convenience foods, and physical comfort foods) with a special emphasis on the deliberate selection of particular foods to modify mood or affect, and indications that the medical-therapeutic use of particular foods may ultimately be a matter of mood-alteration.

The identification of particular items as comfort food may be idiosyncratic, though patterns are detectable. In one study of American preferences, ‘males preferred warm, hearty, meal-related comfort foods (such as steak, casseroles, and soup), while females instead preferred comfort foods that were more snack related (such as chocolate and ice cream). In addition, younger people preferred more snack-related comfort foods compared to those over 55 years of age.’ The study also revealed strong connections between consumption of comfort foods and feelings of guilt.

Comfort food consumption has been seen as a response to emotional stress, and consequently, as a key contributor to the epidemic of obesity in the US. The provocation of specific hormonal responses leading selectively to increases in abdominal fat is seen as a form of self-medication. Further studies suggest that consumption of comfort food is triggered in men by positive emotions, and by negative ones in women. The stress effect is particularly pronounced among college-aged women, with only 33% reporting healthy eating choices during times of emotional stress. For women specifically, these psychological patterns may be maladaptive. A therapeutic use of these findings includes offering comfort foods or ‘happy hour’ beverages to anorectic geriatric patients whose health and quality of life otherwise decreases with reduced oral intake.

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