You may have many reasons for piling your plate full of mashed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese or Ben & Jerry’s, but that so-called comfort food isn’t actually comforting you any more than healthy foods, finds a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.
The researchers setup four experiments where participants were asked questions such as: “What foods would make you feel better if you were in a bad mood?” They were also asked to identify other foods they enjoyed but wouldn’t necessarily consider a “comfort food” that they would eat when upset.
The participants were then asked to watch a video that was designed to stir up “feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, and/or sadness.” After filling out a questionnaire about their mood, the subjects were offered the comfort foods they had identified as their favorite (which was most often chocolate). During the next experiment, they were offered the other foods they had identified as enjoying but not listed as comforting. And in the final experiment, they were not offered any food at all.
“Participants’ moods improved over time,” the researchers reported, noting that “this happened to the same extent regardless of which type of food they ate, or whether they at any food at all.”
And according to the University of Minnesota led research team, “Negative moods naturally dissipate over time,” they wrote. “Individuals may be giving comfort food ‘credit’ for mood effects that would have occurred even in the absence of the comfort food.”
The study may also support other recent research, which found that diets rich in fruit and vegetables—at least five servings a day—correlate with a greater sense of wellbeing and happiness. So, it seems, that while those ‘comfort’ foods we crave may taste exceptionally delicious, we’re running out of excuses for gorging on them.
Ice cream image via Shutterstock