Why We Gravitate to Comfort Foods in Winter

Why We Gravitate to Comfort Foods in Winter

Admit it, you’ve had your share of cravings for macaroni and cheese, lasagna, burgers, chocolate pastries and other high fat and sugary desserts in winter. What it is about the time of year when temperatures drop and days are short that makes us want to gorge on carbs and sugar? It’s got to be more than traditional holiday celebrations.

The answer probably lies in deep-seated feelings of wanting to be soothed, to compensate for the cold and often dreary sunless days. Today’s comfort foods were probably our ancient ancestors’ survival instincts kicking in, a way to nourish the body with lots of high calories when the availability of food was scarce.

A home-cooked meal filled with our favorite rich foods feels good. A Harris Poll of over 2200 U.S. adults conducted at the end of 2015 found that 62 percent said their favorite comfort foods reminded them of their childhood.

Want to know which foods topped the Harris Poll list of favorites? Pizza came in at number one, with twice as many votes as any other food choice. Chocolate and ice cream tied for second at 7 percent, mac and cheese was 5 percent, followed by chips at 4 percent.

When we’re sick, we also like being comforted. Soup is the most popular go-to food during those times when we’re under the weather – 39 percent, and specifically chicken soup, with 22 percent of the vote –a healthy choice when we have the flu or sniffles. But then the top pics reverted back to the overall high-fat / high sugar / high carbs category: ice cream, toast, and pizza.

Winter brings on other ailments besides the physical ones like colds and flu. Less sunlight is pegged for causing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or more commonly known as the “winter blues.” While winter seems to trigger gorging on heavy unhealthy foods, what’s happening on a physiological level? Medical researchers believe the amount of light our body is exposed to changes chemicals in our brains that can lift or deflate our mood.

So there are physiological reasons why the weather does affect our food choices. It’s good to know. We can make conscious decisions to change our eating habits and concentrate on a healthy diet – or not. If we choose to go healthy, there are plenty of foods that can give us a feeling of fullness, satisfaction, and comfort.

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