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Comfort Food

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One thing for sure comfort food is very personal, one persons comfort food could be the next persons most disliked foods! Comfort food is food which provides a nostalgic or sentimental value to the consumer and is often characterized by its high caloric nature, high carbohydrate level, and simple preparation. The nostalgia may be specific to either the individual or a specific culture.

Comfort food is usually something that a person associates with being cared for, usually from childhood. For instance, something that you had when you were sick, something that you had to celebrate, something that was a special treat, or maybe something that was special between you and a family member. Many people associate chicken soup/chicken noodle soup with being sick, so it is a comfort food when they are under the weather.

Another way a food is considered a comfort food is the way it makes you feel when you eat it. It doesn't have to have any connection with anything specific, it just makes you feel good in some way when you eat it. Comfort foods are familiar, simple foods that are usually home cooked or eaten at informal restaurants. They are foods that are often emotionally significant to a person or group of people and are sometimes related to pleasant memories of childhood.

Comfort food is typically inexpensive, uncomplicated and easy to prepare. Many people eat comfort food because it is generally easily digestible, is tasty and flavourful, or as a way to reward oneself. The term "comfort food" was added to the Webster's Dictionary in 1972.

Types of comfort foods: Various foods or snacks could fill the urge for a comfort food depending on a person's taste, but in any given culture or cuisine there are foods that become widely accepted comfort foods. Individuals may also vary: upbringing, memories & traumas, situations (solo or any specific types of group settings, perhaps influenced by the food marketers). Biologically each has varying sensitivity to taste, crunch, fats, sugars, fluid, colour and presentation.

The term comfort food has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: "Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’ food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup." They are believed to be a great coping mechanism for rapidly soothing negative feelings. Comfort foods may be consumed to positively pique emotions, to relieve negative psychological effects or to increase positive feelings.

One study divided college student’s 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 effect, 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. An article, "The Myth of Comfort Food" revealed that men tend to choose these types of savoury comfort foods because they remind them of being "pampered" or spoiled, while women choose snack related foods because they are associated with low amounts of work and less "cleanup" It also showed that women are more likely to reach for unhealthier foods in times of stress due to more weight conscious mindsets.

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 United States. 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.