Eat this, not that: comfort foods edition
With final exams on the horizon, students are beginning to feel the pressure of pulling all-nighters in the library. This may cause them to drown their “I’m going to fail everything” sorrows by indulging in comfort foods like Domino’s cheesy bread.
According to a 2008 poll by the American Psychological Association, 48 percent of Americans manage stress by overeating or consuming unhealthy foods, and one in four skipped a meal because of stress.
“Stress eating is a quick fix,” professor of psychology, Rose Spielman, Ph.D. said. “It’s easy and comforting. It helps students cope with stress. With food, you can’t stay away from it. There is always going to be food surrounding you.”
Spielman mentioned that people tend to gravitate toward sugary foods or foods that remind them of home that are deemed comforting. But this tends to include unhealthy, fattening snacks.
While it’s easy to indulge in unhealthy comfort food, particularly during finals week, there are ways to avoid it. Instead of turning to Easy Mac or potato chips, eat foods that cater to comfort food cravings but have a healthy twist. These alternatives can also improve energy levels for more productive studying, as well.
Easy Mac (230 calories): Many college students have Easy Mac somewhere in their dorm, but many fail to recognize the high levels of sodium listed on the packaging. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommended adults limit their sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day. One pouch of Easy Mac contains 550 mg, which is about 24 percent of your daily needs. Instead, eat items that are high in fiber, such as whole grain pasta, with shredded cheddar and a small dash of salt and pepper. This will have you feeling fuller longer, and it only takes 15 minutes to cook.
Chocolate/Brownies (243 calories): Chocolate contains caffeine, which is a stimulant, and therefore temporarily raises blood pressure and increases heart rates according to the Mayo Clinic. These reactions to caffeine are similar to our reactions to stress. This isn’t ideal, especially if students are frazzled already. Instead of indulging in baked goods or whole chocolate bars, try soothing your sweet tooth with Dove dark chocolate squares or chocolate-covered almonds from Au Bon Pain. You’ll get a chocolate fix while consuming fiber, vitamin E and antioxidants from the almonds.
Nacho Cheese Doritos (250 calories): Try to avoid chips, especially since it’s easy to overindulge in one sitting. Chips contain empty calories, or calories from solid fats and added sugars, and one bag of Doritos contains 13 grams of fat. These largely consist of saturated fat and can raise cholesterol levels according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also, chips have few nutrients the body can use for energy. Instead, try baked tortilla chips (which aren’t cooked in fatty oils) and dip them in fresh salsa.
Chicken Tenders (100 calories each): Deep-fried favorites like french fries and chicken tenders are a go-to comfort food. But, they’re never a healthy choice since like chips, they’re high in trans and saturated fats. Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, which is the most harmful to cholesterol levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, opt for grilled chicken breast from BYOB, which is lean and high in protein, and get hot sauce on the side for an extra kick. And if you feel like cooking, try adding cajun spices to seared chicken.
Domino’s Cheesy Bread (1,120 calories): This is a classic, anti-stress, “I’m bored and feel like eating” food. Its website states that cheesy bread is 140 calories, which doesn’t sound that terrible—except that’s only one piece. Each order of cheesy bread contains eight pieces, which totals 1,120 calories, more than half the recommended daily calorie intake by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Instead, buy a loaf of whole grain bread, melt mozzarella and cheddar on top and add garlic powder.
If heading to the grocery store isn’t an option, or students want to eliminate the temptation of comfort food altogether, experiment with stress-coping mechanisms such as taking a walk or a shower to relax.
Spielman, however, recommends eliminating temptations all together.
“Do not have unhealthy foods accessible,” Spielman said. “Sugar gives an instantaneous, feel-good high. You need to plan out your healthy and unhealthy habits and realize what kinds of foods you should keep out of your room during finals week. Pursue the healthy habits instead.”