The benefits of eating comfort foods

Comfort foods vary by country and culture. Picture: Supplied

Comfort foods vary by country and culture. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 15, 2024


Often when food is eaten, it is not just for the nutritional content or to satisfy hunger, but also for psychological reasons.

For many of us, comfort eating is a way in which we deal with anxiety, stress or boredom. Comfort food gives rise to a psychologically comfortable and pleasurable state when they are eaten.

Comfort food gets its name from the good feelings it brings up when you eat it. Comfort foods vary by country and culture. Some are familiar to an entire community. Others are significant to an individual or a family.

People reach for comfort foods for a variety of different reasons.

La Parada brand chef at La Parada Kloof Street Farah Barry notes that our memories are filled with occasions where food has played a pivotal role, and our five senses – especially taste and smell – become heightened when we come across those foods, creating a nostalgic feeling and these comfort foods, through our emotions, become go-to-treats for when we are having a bad day.

“Often comfort food has a bad reputation for those times when it comes to over-indulgence and repetitive behaviour, but when comfort food is used for comfort and not a source of dependence, the pros can encompass both the body and the mind,” says Barry.

Comfort foods vary by country and culture. Picture: Supplied

Below she notes some of the benefits of eating comfort foods.

Emotional well-being

Comfort foods have the remarkable ability to evoke feelings of comfort, nostalgia, and joy, taking us back to a happy memory.

Research has shown that indulging in comfort foods can trigger the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.

Connection and community

Sharing a comforting meal with loved ones rekindles bonds of camaraderie, creating moments of joy and togetherness that linger long after the plates have been cleared.

Even the act of preparing comfort foods can be a labour of love, a gesture of care and affection for those we hold dear.

From heirloom recipes passed down through generations to impromptu kitchen experiments, cooking and sharing comfort foods create opportunities for creativity, collaboration and celebration.

Cultural heritage

Across the globe, every cuisine boasts its own repertoire of comforting classics, each with a unique blend of flavours, techniques, and traditions.

From spicy-filled tacos to hearty Italian pasta dishes, these culinary treasures reflect the history, geography and values of their respective cultures.

Self-care and wellness

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, self-care is more important than ever, and what better way to practise self-care than by indulging in a comforting meal?

Whether it is a bowl of hearty soup on a cold winter's day or a plate of freshly baked cookies after a long day at work, comfort foods provide a much-needed opportunity to slow down, savour the moment and treat ourselves with kindness and compassion.

Comfort foods vary by country and culture. Picture: Supplied

Speaking to health expert Maria Ascencao about the importance of comfort food when it comes to our emotional stability, she notes that, “Comfort eating is a way to deal with stress or loneliness and often includes sugary, salty, highly processed or unhealthy foods such as chocolate, potato chips, soda or even heavy steak or casserole dishes.

"Comfort eating generally depends on the gender, weight, psychological issues, or emotional state of the person. Eating comfort food in moderation is not a problem but it is best to choose nutritious healthy foods which will help improve mood.

"Follow a diet rich in fruit, green leafy vegetables, lean protein, beans, legumes, nuts seeds, cold-pressed olive oil, avocado, and fatty fish. The more balanced and healthy your diet, the more balanced your brain will function,” says Ascencao.