Is reaching for your favourite comfort food when you're feeling down an indulgence that adds to your waist line, or is it a legitimate remedy for a miserable state of mind? Is it okay to have a piece of chocolate when you feel the world pressing in on you, or should you heed medical advice and stay away from refined sugars and carbohydrates? Fact is, when we feel down, we don’t tuck into a fresh salad or whole wheat bread and sprouts. We go for our favourite comfort food.
This is what we do instinctively. And now, thankfully, science is backing up human nature.
We have all had days when we didn't feel up to the demands of the day. You want the world to recede and leave you alone, but you want one thing from it: comfort food. That’s when we crave that special something. For some of us it could be a piece of chocolate, for others it might be a burger and chips or roast chicken. Whatever it is, getting a craving for your favourite food satisfied is as pleasurable as having that impossible-to-reach itch on your back scratched. The pure pleasure of it instantly improves your state of mind.
It turns out that science agrees. A small study at the University of Buffalo, reported in the journal of Psychological Science, has found that consuming comfort foods can improve one's sense of well-being. The researchers made the point that comfort foods are associated with meaningful relationships with others. When we eat comfort foods, it brings up memories of eating similar foods in the company of people we care about. They comfort us by their association with warm feelings. Needless to say, comfort foods also makes us feel less lonely.
In fact, any food that you find scrumptious, will lift your mood. We all know this because we know that we feel great after a great meal. There is a scientific explanation for this. It turns out that eating something that tastes good, stimulates the release of endorphins, a chemical released in the brain that reduces the sensation of pain and affects emotions positively. This is the same compound that makes it possible for athletes to push through pain and experience a feeling of euphoria when they accomplish a seemingly impossible feat.
Now you might be wondering if there is a specific food that you can aim for to lift your mood on an off day. There is, and its chocolate. Scientists at Cambridge University have concluded that eating chocolate makes people feel good simply because it tastes so good. In fact, they found that chocolate lifts our spirits because of its psychological rather than its chemical composition. It's the unique smell, texture and taste of chocolate that makes eating it an enjoyable experience and that stimulates the pleasure centres in the brain.
So, next time you feel a bit down, don't feel guilty about that piece of chocolate cake. Enjoy it and allow it to lift your mood.
Date Published: 08 May 2017
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