At mbg, we believe what we eat and how we feel are intimately connected. And in the age of COVID-19, that mission becomes even more important—after all, functional food is one of the most important building blocks for maintaining optimal health.
But that doesn't mean food can't be beautiful or delicious—nourishing your taste buds is critical for all the other benefits to take hold. It's certainly a concept Julie Smolyansky, CEO of Lifeway Foods, can get behind, as she wholeheartedly believes that good-tasting food can make you feel, well, good.
"Food is a place of self-care," she tells me on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. And while self-care looks a little differently for everyone, Smolyansky recommends one, delicious way that's helped her cope during these uncertain times: comfort foods. Here's what she means:
How comfort foods can help in the face of uncertainty.
"The Google search for 'self-care' was up almost 500% in the days of this crisis unfolding," Smolyansky mentions, which only goes to show how desperately people were seeking solace and comfort during the throes of the pandemic (and still might be).
Along with that self-care trend, "there's a return to comfort foods now," she continues. And if the world's newfound affinity for making banana bread tells us anything, she's definitely not wrong. It makes total sense that we're looking to food for support right now; especially for people who ache for their pre-COVID routines, following recipes can help fill in that orderly structure they've been missing. Needless to say, food has become a source of comfort in these—dare I say?—unprecedented times. Whether you miss a good daily regimen or simply love savoring some gorgeous flavors.
How to mindfully indulge.
Yes, comfort food is important. But that doesn't give us the green light to munch on refined cupcakes and cookies; rather, Smolyansky urges us to find comfort in the foods we know well—that is, the foods our ancestors thrived on. "Every culture has them," she says. "Whether you're from India, Japan, Mexico—we all have our grandmother's recipes, our ancient superfoods."
In other words, as we live in this time of uncertainty, allow yourself to feel comfort in the foods that have lasted generations. Whether that's sourdough, kimchi, kefir, or your grandma's traditional chicken soup, lean on the recipes you know well.
In fact, according to Smolyansky, those traditional recipes not only make you feel good, but they're also inherently good for you—after all, there's a reason they've withstood the test of time. "There is science supporting using functional foods made from the earth," she explains.
Take fermented foods, for instance: Foods like kimchi and kefir (even sourdough technically goes through a fermentation process) are chock-full of probiotics and nutrients, which provides a plethora of benefits. Studies have shown that topping your meals with kimchi can aid weight loss, reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, and decrease inflammation, while kefir is packed with B vitamins, vitamin K2, and tryptophan—an essential amino acid that's a precursor to mood-stabilizing serotonin. "My ancestors knew intuitively in their gut that kefir made them feel better," Smolyansky says, which gives her all the more reason to indulge in the probiotic drink. It makes her feel closer to generations past, not to mention gives her a hearty helping of gut-healthy probiotics.
As for chicken soup, it's no secret we're fans of bone broth here at mbg. But studies have shown that chicken soup might help defend against infection and inflammation (that's what makes it such a great cold buster), as well as an effective remedy for clearing nasal passages compared to other hot and cold liquids.
All is to say, these comfort foods sure pack a nutrient-dense punch. Sure, it's not the same as snacking on sugary desserts, but you'll likely fare better this way. After all, as Smolyansky notes: "Food is medicine; it can either be the slowest poison or the fastest healer." In terms of these ancient comfort foods, consider them a warm, much-needed hug for your insides.