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The Science Of Comfort Food

Thanksgiving Sci-Q: The Science Of Comfort Food
GUESTS:Jordan Troisi, assistant professor of psychology, Sewanee, The University of The South Katie Ferraro, nutrition lecturer, San Diego State University and Miramar College

This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh . Any good meal can comfort a raging hunger cobbler when it comes to those meals we call comfort food, we mean something more than just being full. So why do some foods make us happy, bring us emotional comfort, make us feel safe? We asked patrons at great Maple restaurant at Hillcrest with a call comfort field -- food. I am from Maine, and I enjoy a good hamburger. It brings me back to being a kid and being with my family, and having hamburgers and hanging down, laughing and having fun in the trees. My name is Christina, I love the southern style macaroni and cheese, how cheesy is and it reminds me of the best at times. I my name is printed, I was left Capt. crunch, the berries one, not the normal one, love the berries and Cap'n Crunch, that is my comfort food. This month on our Sci-Q series and entering hours, we will explore the science of comfort food. Recently I spoke with Jordan Troisi are Tasco Jordan Troisi University of the South and lead author on the preference for comfort food. And Katie Ferraro a dietitian at SDSU and here's the interview. Jordan, how do you define comfort food in your research? For our research studies we that participate participate Tasco by writing about a comfort food experience and is whatever seems that comes to mind. Did you find that it is any one type of food cost something warm or something sweet? Yes, in some ways a little bit surprised and just to to learn about, our participant's who identified all kinds of foods as comfort foods. Sometimes they are warm, room temperature, sometimes sweet foods, savory foods. It does not seem to that we are now down to one particular type of food. What type of effect does it have on people? We tend to find that individuals associate comfort food with billions of interpersonal connection, reduced feelings of loneliness, things along those lines. When people are given the opportunity to consume more think about or write about comfort food experience, it seems to call to mind this idea of interpersonal connection. And this is particularly true for the participants that we have who tend to report having strong relationships with other individuals in the first place. As a dietitian, Katie, do you see evidence have are a powerful emotion that people have with foods? Certainly, sulfite in fy as emotional eaters. They may use food to deal with it different variety of emotions, happy and sad, and people who also eat different foods depending upon the weather, Astrid and has mentioned with hot foods being associated with colder temperatures, sweet foods with Association of holidays, savory foods with family gatherings. It runs across the gamut. People usually come to you for advice with a problem, food and changing their diets. What do they tell you with why they need to have a certain food? Sometimes it helps to ask the person to identify if they been not know the difference between hunger versus appetite. Hunger is physiological but appetite is desired to eat. Special people who struggle with weight, they tend to feed their appetite more heard so they are eating based upon emotional reasons that are not tied to hunger. We are helping people reconnect if you are hungry art if you physically need food. Or are you tending to an emotional that the appetite is working on this Post a hunger. -- As opposed to hunger. Here are some of what they had to say about their comfort food. My mother was not a great cook, I will tell you that. She made really good meatloaf en masse potatoes. And it's hard to mess up mashed potatoes. I have never met L potato I did not like. Yes, she would do that. And my wife makes much better meatloaf, mashed potatoes and asparagus. But it is still comfort food. They start with smells. Getting off the school bus in the springtime and the peaches had ripened on our tree. Sometimes I could smell my mother's homemade peach cobbler. And the cinnamon and spices in it and it was awesome. It is mostly whatever tastes good where I will feel taking care of. I like feeling taken care of when I have a rough week. Bill K and Penelope talking about comfort food. Jordan I am wondering, does that explain the cravings that people have for this type of food? Sure, when we listen to the things that those three-page and says mentioned, we are talking about our peoples learned associations, their memories that they have with significant others and feelings as though they are being taken care of. There is a very significant emotional component. And that emotional component seems to center around feeling connected to other individuals. Certainly, I think these are important features of considering food to be a conference food -- comforting food. People under isolation or stress, or cannot connected to people, with that predict comfort food? Yes. In the recent study, especially with strong relationships. When they felt more isolated, they were more likely to concern comfort food and report enjoying it to a greater degree than individuals who have not been under an significant experience of isolation. So it would make sense that item served at family holiday meals will give you feelings of comfort and togetherness. Does this explain why and and families have very similar meals at holidays, always the same thing, turkey or ham with traditional recipes for side dishes? Absolutely. There is something very comes considerable, culturally significant meals in America, the Thanksgiving holiday seems to provide these same foods time and time again. That is why we often see these traditional cultural foods to be things that people considered to be comfort foods. There are things they can count on and things that have been reliably associated with other people. What if you had a history of terrible family gatherings, that does happen? Is it just the fact that you are not alone that imprints that desire for that food? We might see two things going on there. Individuals who tend to have less strong relationships with other individuals are those who we refer to as insecurity attach, more anxious or they tend to experience the benefits of comfort food to a lesser degree, suggesting that these individuals, because their relationships with others are not quite as strong. When they are explodes to foods that remind them of others they do not seem to produce the same positive effect. But those with strong relationships, the effects do seem to be profound. Also suggesting that perhaps food had not such good relationships. Maybe we should avoid the foods that we have had that are associated with those individuals as well. Jordan, comfort food, are you saying that there can be something like this comfort food? In the eye of the beholder, yes. Katie let me ask you, does this attraction to comfort food have a downside on people's diet and health? Yes this certainly can be a downside and problematic if people are seeking gal comfort food as a primary need for comforting. For the most part comfort foods are associated with higher calorie and higher fat foods and can lead to unwanted weight gain during the holidays. Think about your traditional comfort foods, you are hard-pressed to say they crave kale salad. A two A 210 two mean on the high side of fat and calories. They are not necessarily problematic, and contributes to too many additional calories than it would be something we would want to talk about as a problem. Do you balance if someone comes to insist they need this particular kind of food, at an end of a long stressful week, or time of year, even though I know it is not good for me. Do you balance the positive reinforcement that the food gives the individual with perhaps whereafter negative consequence there could be to a more calories and fat content? Yes certainly. Depriving yourself of foods that you like and crave only lead to disaster down the road. Giving into your cravings within moderation is perfectly acceptable. And I work with individuals to say what can we moderate, or change the frequency of the foods that you are eating cock in you eat them less often or change the portion size? Some people prefer a really good piece of cheese or chocolate, and they will be okay with less of it if there is more decadent. And the third way to approach is if people need higher volumes of food, what sort of swaps can we do, like macaroni and cheese and shepherds pie which are slightly healthier and get that emotional satisfaction without extra burden of calories and fat in traditional recipes. Katie makes a point cut even though you have identified a range of foods that people go to to find comfort or to remind them of a better time in their lives. The general public seems to identify these foods as things like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, ice cream, certain that build foods. Do you have any idea as to why that is? I think that number of these foods, considered to be relatively high in calories and fat, are also foods that are relatively easily prepared. Relatively inexpensive, and relatively common as well. These are things that are easy to come by, more and more likely to be the case for these individuals and associating it with other individuals. Certainly there is a range of things that people might report as their comfort foods. But you are right, we absolutely do see many food items that people consider to be comfort foods, those that are somewhat higher, as Katie suggested. Our hiring calorie and that should content. Does that go across different ethnic traditions, different countries, or is it perhaps something like the so soup of comfort food for some people? You are absolutely right. The recent research that we did in 2011, with participants for home there was about 40% of our participants were Asian individuals or Asian Americans. And we will see cropping up bunch more frequently, things like miso soup, kimchi, family recipes for individuals who are from another country. So, I think what is a powerful part of this message, what matters is the kind of food that people have come to associate with others, and hopefully, I think a profound finding, could we actually alter these traditions within one's family, or within the cultural more broadly to allow people to find some satisfaction, and some identification with foods that are a little bit more healthy? If a family started a tradition of having kale salad as Katie is mentioned, as perhaps the opener to the traditional Thanksgiving holiday meal. That might become a comfort food for the kids down the line. Sounds great to me. It's equally camp without order in place. It may be a tall order in the Inkster and households. I am wondering, if indeed people are getting such intense emotional satisfaction out of certain foods. They are in the midst of their families and getting that being forced, reminder of what this food means to them. It would seem to me, make people go overboard a bit. Certainly, there is the emotional ties well. You are much more inclined to eat food like that more frequently during the holidays. If you are at a party or a potluck, bore larger portions. You have to be prepared and you do not have to aboard them. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Plan the. If people are aware of the fact that the link between feelings of togetherness, of not being isolated, of reduced stress when eating certain types of foods. Do you see that changing their behavior? I do not think it might change as much as we expect. We tend to see this real emotional benefit, comes among individuals that are more securely attached, and have a favorable relationship with others heard a strong relationship with others. These are individuals who connect with these people, they do not feel concerned about the acceptance from other people. So consequently, especially for what we are talking about, traditions and holiday parties, these are not necessarily the people that I would think of as at risk for a sense of low social connection, and then consequently, overconsumption of comfort food. These are individuals who use food and supplement their sense of connections with others. That will seek out other individuals on a regular basis. In order to feel socially connected. Jordan, what is your comfort food this holiday season? I am one that comes from a family of traditional holiday meals. I cannot pin down just one part of the Thanksgiving meal. It is a whole package for me, from Turkey to stuffing and mashed potatoes, the whole play I suppose it and Katie Collier comfort food X I am currently pregnant and I have a pregnancy potato problem. Sweet potatoes and otherwise. Okay, want to thank you both. I've been speaking with Jordan Josie, and lead author of a recent report on the preference of comfort food, and Katie Ferraro a dietitian at Miramar college. Think you both and happy holidays. -- Thank you both and happy holidays.

Any good meal can comfort hunger. But when it comes to those meals we call "comfort food," it means something more than just feeling full, said Jordan Troisi, lead author of a report about comfort food.

Kay Snavely, who reminisced about her favorite comfort foods while dining at Great Maple in Hillcrest, said they start with smells she remembers from returning home from school as a little girl.

"The peaches had ripened on our tree, and sometimes I could smell my mother's homemade peach cobbler and the cinnamon and the spices in it," Snavely said. "It was awesome."

Troisi, an assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee, The University of The South in Tennessee, said emotion is tied to comfort food.

"What we're talking about here are people's learned associations, their memories that they have with significant others and feeling as though they're taken care of," Troisi said. "I think that emotional component seems to center around feeling connected to other individuals. I think these are important features of considering a food to be a comfort food."

Troisi said those surveyed described a range of foods as comfort food.

“Our participants seem to identify all kinds of food,” Troisi said. “It doesn’t seem we’re narrowing it down to any one kind of food.”