Chew on This

Yes, you can indulge in comfort foods, but try to make them a wee more healthy

Try to make mac & cheese more healthy by using low-fat dairy and adding vegetables to it.
Try to make mac & cheese more healthy by using low-fat dairy and adding vegetables to it. MCT

Sometimes you need a pizza.

That is what hit me after 10 incredible days in Japan. I enjoy learning about food culture, sampling new tastes and textures and have always loved Japanese food. My time in Japan offered me all that and more.

But the feeling of comfort from eating something familiar can’t be ignored. And after eating the first raw shrimp of my life, eyes and all, the familiar was calling out to me.

Eating raw shrimp in Japan Sheah Rarback

Researchers define comfort food as foods people eat in response to specific situations to feel physically or psychologically comfortable. What is interesting is that one’s mood influences comfort food choices. A positive mood leads to healthier food choices while a negative mood steers one toward more indulgent foods.

The power of comfort foods may lie in the associations they call to mind. Chicken soup, a powerful comfort food, brings to mind healing, warmth and being nurtured.

It is not necessary, nor productive, to deny comfort food urgings. If it is a daily occurrence of a highly sugared food, that might be a signal to examine what is going on in your life. But if you find comfort in grilled cheese, pizza or mac and cheese, the most popular comfort foods, then make them more nutritious.

Adding vegetables to any of those dishes bumps up the nutrient content. If it’s a French fry craving, try baked sweet potato fries. For grilled cheese, use crusty whole grain bread and add grilled vegetables and tomato. And everyone’s favorite comfort indulgence, chocolate, can also be improved. I found intriguing chocolate recipes at

After I had my pizza, I was ready to once again immerse myself in Japanese cuisine.

Sheah Rarback MS, RDN is voluntary faculty at the Miller School of Medicine.