Life can be stressful. Whether it’s a bad day at work, family issues, health problems, or any host of other challenges, we all encounter situations that leave us tense, anxious, or overwhelmed. While some stress can actually be positive by motivating us to take action, prolonged and intense pressure can negatively impact both our physical and mental health. During stressful times, it’s important to engage in activities that bring calm and relaxation. For many people, comfort foods deliver the soothing experience they crave.
What are comfort foods and why do we crave them? Foods that make us feel better due to psychological and nostalgic associations, rather than purely physiological impacts, are considered comfort foods or stress-relieving foods. The carbs, sugars, and fats in these options stimulate the production of serotonin, a chemical that lifts our mood. We often crave the meals we ate as kids because they tap into warm memories of being carefree and nurtured. Scientists theorize that when we eat these foods, it tricks our brains into thinking we’re in a safe, comfortable place.
So which recipes in particular have the optimal ability to dial down our stress levels? Here are some of the top choices:
Macaroni and Cheese
Many consider mac and cheese the ultimate nostalgic comfort food. With elbow pasta bathed in smooth, melted cheese, it’s creamy, filling and delicious. Opt for whole grain noodles to up the nutritional quality. The carbohydrates aid in kicking up serotonin production while the protein from the cheese makes this an energizing stress buster. Add vegetables like broccoli to make it even healthier.
When you’re feeling run down or tense, a bowl of hot chicken soup really does offer soothing benefits. Chicken soup made with vegetables and noodles provides a variety of nutrients and comfort. The warmth is physically calming and breathing in the smell taps into those childhood memories curled up with Mom’s healing homemade soup when you were sick. Any style works whether a classic chicken noodle or something spicier like chicken tortilla.
Chocolate seems to be a cure-all for just about anything that ails you, including bad moods and anxiety. Dark varieties with at least 70 percent cocoa deliver anxiety-easing antioxidants like flavonoids. The treat also contains compounds that naturally relax muscles. Munching on a small piece dark chocolate slowly allows the smooth, rich flavors to deliver calm along with a small sugar boost.
Starting your day off with a warm bowl of oatmeal paves the way for less tension throughout the day. Whole oats fill you up with complex carbohydrates along with protein and fiber. Top your bowl with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich fruits like strawberries and bananas. Feel the stress melt away with each cozy bite. Steel cut or rolled oats make the best choice. Skip the extra sweet flavors and sugar packets and opt for adding your own fresh fruit instead.
Quiet moments sitting down for tea allow for relaxation and present focus. Herbal varieties can have direct anti-anxiety benefits as well. Chamomile tea contains calming properties that ease both the mind and stomach. Sipping freshly brewed green tea floods your body with mood-regulating amino acids like theanine. Try combining soothing herbs like lavender and skullcap. Pay attention to the aromas and savor every sip of tension-taming tea.
The health bugs known as probiotics assist in fighting anxiety and depression. Yogurt packed with these helpful microorganisms also contains protein, calcium, vitamins B and D along with phosphorus. These nutrients work together to elevate low moods. Live cultures are essential when choosing yogurt for stress-relief, so always check the ingredients. Enjoy yogurt topped with mood-boosting fruits like strawberries or raspberries. The sweet tastes and creamy textures will transport you to peaceful valleys.
Carbs get a bad reputation but when eaten in appropriate portion sizes, they contribute to healthy serotonin levels. Pastas like penne, spaghetti and ravioletti deliver comforting nostalgia along with energy and grounding comfort. Pair them with tomato sauce or pesto, sprinkle on some Parmesan, and have yourself a relaxing break from the chaos of life. Whole grain or veggie-enhanced varieties are healthiest.
Soup in general
Pretty much any favorite soup taps into memories of coziness and comfort. Having a bowl with crackers or bread gives an experience of soothing, care, and reliable nourishment. Examples like tomato, split pea, minestrone, lentil and black bean soups are flavorful picks. Opt for low sodium varieties packed with vegetables, beans and whole grains over cream-based soups high in fat for proper nutrition. Ladle up the memories and nutrients in one bowl.
Sweet, creamy ice cream never fails as classic comfort food. Cold sweetness on your tongue instantly links back to carefree childhood days. Flavor favorites like vanilla and chocolate freeze your senses with sugary peace. The casein protein and fat deliver calming amino acids and the cold numbs emotional reactivity. Stick to reasonable portion sizes as quality is key. Reach for small-batch ice creams without artificial additives.
The next time you feel your nervous system going haywire from too much stress, try one of these comforting foods to relax both body and mind. True nourishment comes not just from the nutrients we feed our body, but the memories we associate with beloved recipes. Food binds us to family, tradition, and feelings of safety. With some planning and intentional eating, our kitchens can double as personalized mindfulness retreats.