What do you think of when you hear comfort food? French fries, mac’ n cheese, apple pie? What defines comfort food for us depends on our culture, our upbringing and on childhood memories. Food is nourishment, vitamins and minerals. Food is medicine. But, food also represents comfort, tradition, family and love.
Think back to the last time you indulged in comfort food. Likely, the first few bites were decadent. But usually after the first few bites, that wow feeling wanes and we are left chasing the wow. In order to recover that feeling we are prompted to eat more and more and more.
This is actually physiologic. There are reward centers in the brain that get triggered when we eat. For example, sugar triggers the opiate receptors in our brain (the same receptors triggered by morphine by the way) which is responsible for that feeling of reward that comes with eating sugary foods.
What we notice when we do go down that path of indulging on comfort foods is that we actually do not feel very comfortable at all. Excessive amounts of high sugar, high fat foods usually leaves us feeling drained, fatigued and in a brain fog.
On the other hand, when we eat the good stuff- fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods, high quality carbohydrates, grains and legumes- we feel good, we feel comfortable. There is a physiologic reason for that as well. complex carbohydrates result in a steady rise in blood sugar that similarly signals a more steady release of insulin. This steadiness is in contrast to the rapid rise and fall with simple sugars that results in hunger and cravings. Similarly protein appears to signal the release of gut hormones that promote feelings of fullness and blood sugar control. All of this results in food working for you and not against you. SO… when we are talking comfort, doesn’t it make sense to redefine comfort food?
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