5 Ways To Make Comfort Food Healthier
For many of us, there's nothing better to beat
the blues than a greasy cheeseburger, Snickers bar, chicken-fried
steak, or too many chocolate-chip cookies and Oreos. But
people who feel sad eat twice as much unhealthy comfort
foods than when they feel happy, a noted food psychologist warns.
However, those same sad people curb their hedonistic consumption
when they know nutritional information about their favorite comfort
foods, but happier people keep on eating, said Dr. Brian Wansink,
the researcher at Cornell University's Food
and Brand Lab who tracks the reasons why people eat
like they do.
Wansink has even proved that you won't eat as much if your leftover
food - like chicken wings at your Super Bowl party Sunday - isn't
carted away. He reached his conclusions when he invited college
students to a Super Bowl party at a sports bar a few years ago,
and found that they didn't eat as much if waiters let the
chicken bones pile up on their tables.
"These left-overs served as boney reminders of how much
they had eaten. This kept them from mindlessly eating more,"
Wansink said he suspects happy people want to maintain or extend
their moods in the short term, but consider the long term and
so turn to comfort food with more nutritional value.
People feeling sad or depressed, however, just want to "jolt
themselves out of the dumps" with a quick indulgent snack
that tastes good and gives them an immediate bump of euphoria.
To see whether having nutritional information influences comfort-food
consumption, Wansink and his team offered popcorn to volunteers,
who completed irrelevant mental tasks, wrote about sad and happy
things, or read either happy or sad stories.
One group reviewed nutritional information about popcorn, while
the other did not.
Wansink found that the sad people with no nutritional information
ate twice as much popcorn as those feeling happy. In the groups
that reviewed nutritional labels, however, happy folks ate about
the same amount, but the sad sacks dramatically curbed their
consumption, eating even less popcorn than the happy ones.
"Since nutritional information appears to influence how much
people eat when they are in sad moods, those eating in a sad mood
would serve themselves well by checking the nutritional information
of the comfort foods they choose to indulge themselves with,"
5 ways to make comfort food healthier
But one leading nutritionist and registered dietitian said you
don't have to forsake your healthy eating plans when you want
"Many people think that real comfort foods must be high-fat,
high-calorie and bad for your health," said Karen Collins,
nutritional advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Collins suggested the following tips to make comfort food healthier:
• Add more vegetables to soups, stews, casseroles
• Replace some of the meat in comfort-food dishes
• Use evaporated nonfat milk or pured vegetables
rather than heavy cream to cut down on fat in sauces and soups
but still keep a thick, creamy texture;
• Throw in a green salad or vegetable side dish
with your comfort food so you don't eat as much of it;
• Eat smaller portions of things like chocolate
or cookies by placing them on a plate rather than holding the
Then again, there are other avenues to beat the blues, Collins
"Exercise, yoga, meditation, and even a relaxing bath, can
all bring stress relief to the brain," she said. "It makes
more sense to choose one of these healthier alternatives instead
of one that can hurt our physical health."