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A popular basic cable channel is showcasing “comfort foods” this weekend: recipes and shows glorifying dishes such as macaroni and cheese, fried pork chops, bacon cheddar mashed potatoes, chocolate fudge cake, meatloaf quesadillas, red velvet cupcakes – you get the picture. It's all food that's loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and white flour in combinations that are sure to cause one's digestive tract to be more than a little unhappy.
In other words, these so-called comfort foods are truly a misnomer. They do anything but comfort us when we need be soothed, when we're stressed, sad, and heartbroken. Instead, they often leave us bloated, gassy, nauseated, listless, crampy, and dizzy.
The copious cheese in macaroni and cheese, for instance, is likely to cause one of more of the following symptoms: flatulence, bloating, cramps and diarrhea for many people.
Eating too much meat, similarly, can leave your body in an overly acidic state – potentially causing dizziness, heartburn, and even muscle fatigue as a consequence of overexertion.
So, say you're bummed over a breakup, you lost your job, or you just had a stressful day... what can you eat or drink to be truly comforted? First, ask yourself if you are too distressed to eat. Your digestive system slows down and doesn't work optimally when you are very upset. If, however, you are looking to find some helpful alternatives to the options mentioned above that will actually relax your nervous system and deliver feel-good endorphins to your system without negative side-effects, try some of these:
1. A comforting bowl of savory pinto beans and sauteed kale, chard, or collard greens.
Beans and greens are high in folate, which has been linked to reducing symptoms of depression. It also relaxes blood vessels.
2. A smoothie packed with greens.
These greens can include romaine lettuce or spinach, fruit such as apples or bananas, and a small amount of seed or nut butter. This smoothie can give you a surprising jolt of energy from all the phytochemicals in the produce, as well as the mineral selenium from the nuts or seeds. A higher level of selenium is also linked to a decrease in symptoms of depression.
3. Wild salmon or other fish containing omega-3 fats, which have been frequently shown to improve mood.
If you don't eat fish, you can incorporate flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds or even the green purslane into your smoothie. You can also sprinkle these on salads or cooked grains such as oatmeal.
4. Roasted brussels sprouts or cauliflower.
These are other plant-based sources of omega-3s that I consider true comfort foods (both contain omega-3 as well as other nutrients). Put them in a bit of coconut oil and sea salt, a tahini-based dressing on your salad (sesame seeds are high in omega-3 fats). I like to break up the cauliflower florets small, roast them, and eat like popcorn, sprinkled with a little nutritional yeast.
5. High-quality dark chocolate – preferably raw chocolate, or raw cacao.
Go ahead and indulge! I like to make a cup of hot cacao (1 cup of any type of nut milk heated gently on the stove with a tablespoon or so of raw cacao, a pinch of sea salt, and a small amount of sweetener like coconut sugar or maple syrup) – it allows me to savor it slowly. Chocolate or cacao increases endorphins, has an anti-clogging effect in your blood vessels, and has been shown to lower blood pressure.
The next time you feel the need for some comfort, don't look to the celebrity chefs who champion meats, cheese, sugar, and deep-fried everything. Let your food actually comfort your mind, body, and spirit. Ditch the stuff that makes you feel worse and replace it with foods that comfort your insides, too.