The Science behind Comfort Food: Why It Makes Us Feel Better

The Science behind Comfort Food: Why It Makes Us Feel Better


Comfort food holds a special place in our hearts and minds. Whether it’s a warm bowl of mac and cheese or a deliciously gooey chocolate chip cookie, these familiar and indulgent foods have an incredible way of lifting our spirits and making us feel better. But have you ever wondered why comfort food has such a powerful effect on our emotions and well-being? It turns out there is a scientific basis for these comforting sensations. In this article, we will explore the science behind comfort food, and understand why it has the unique ability to improve our mood and provide solace during challenging times.

The Brain’s Reward System

One of the primary reasons why comfort food makes us feel better is its impact on our brain’s reward system. Reward centers in our brain release chemicals, including dopamine, which produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Comfort foods, often rich in sugar, fat, and salt, trigger the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that activate this reward system. This neurological response creates a sense of well-being and contentment, making us feel instantly better after consuming these foods.

Neurotransmitters and Emotional Regulation

In addition to stimulating pleasure centers in our brain, comfort food can also influence emotional regulation. Within comfort foods, certain components, like carbohydrates, have been shown to increase serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known to regulate mood and promote feelings of relaxation and happiness. In times of stress or sadness, consuming comfort foods can help boost serotonin levels, leading to improved emotional well-being and reducing the negative impact of these emotions.

Association with Positive Memories

Another factor that contributes to the comforting effect of certain foods is their association with positive memories. Often, comfort foods are linked to specific experiences from our childhood or times when we felt content and safe. The mere presence or taste of those foods can trigger a flood of nostalgic emotions, providing a sense of familiarity and comfort, even during difficult times. These nostalgic associations further strengthen the psychological response to comfort foods and enhance their ability to make us feel better.

Psychological Factors

Beyond the neurological and emotional aspects, there are several psychological factors that play a role in why comfort food brings us comfort:

Sense of Control

During stressful periods, one often feels a loss of control over their circumstances. Comfort food, however, provides a manageable and tangible aspect that we can control. We get to decide what we eat, how we prepare it, and the degree of indulgence. This sense of control can help alleviate stress and make us feel empowered, thereby contributing to the overall comforting effect.

Social Connection

Comfort food is often associated with sharing and socialization. These types of foods are often served at gatherings, family dinners, or shared among friends. The act of coming together and enjoying comfort food with loved ones enhances feelings of connection and support. It provides a sense of belonging and reminds us of the relationships and support systems we have in our lives.


Comfort food’s ability to make us feel better is not purely anecdotal; it is supported by science. The combination of neurological, emotional, and psychological factors contributes to the comforting effect of these foods. By understanding the science behind comfort food, we can appreciate its positive impact on our well-being and use it as an occasional tool to lift our spirits during challenging times. However, while comfort food can provide temporary relief, it is important to remember to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet for optimal long-term health.

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