Why they are not the same and why you should know the difference.

By Coach Emily 

As a nutrition coach, I suggest my clients increase the amount of whole, unprocessed foods and decrease the amount of processed foods they eat. A friend recommended a podcast to me and it reminded me of a really great reason why.(1)

The foods you eat can affect you in many different ways. Two of those ways are physiologically and psychologically. At first glance both words look very similar, so what’s the difference? 

PHYSIOlogical describes the effect food has on your body, including the chemical breakdown of food and the neurotransmitters that your body produces that lead to an alteration of your mood. (2)

PSYCHOlogical describes how you think you feel. The actual definition states that psychological is of, affecting, or arising in the mind; related to the mental and emotional state of a person. (3)

What does this have to do with the podcast? There are HAPPY FOODS and there are COMFORT FOODS. Happy foods ACTUALLY affect your mood on a chemical level in your brain after eating them. Comfort foods make you THINK you feel a little happier while eating them.

A group of happy foods are ones that include folate (folic acid or Vitamin B9). Folate helps regulate serotonin, the chemical messenger sending your brain happy thoughts! Foods high in folate include dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fresh fruits, whole grains, liver, seafood and eggs.  Eating kale might make you feel relaxed, calm and in a good mood…I am happier just thinking about a big bowl of kale ;)!

Comfort foods on the other hand are more like I feel happy rather than I am happy. Again, comfort foods affect us psychologically, they alter our emotional state temporarily. Comfort foods are different for everyone. They could be grandma’s mashed potatoes that you remember eating as a kid with her bomb gravy or the mint chip ice cream you had at a Fourth of July party where you met that special someone. These foods provide comfort emotionally, they do not necessarily lead to overall happiness. 

As a nutrition coach, I am not against enjoying mashed potatoes and ice cream once in a while. If we compare mint chip ice cream and kale, one is much more nutrient dense, has less calories, and is much harder to overeat and the other doesn’t do a whole lot for you nutritionally, is higher in calories, and can be easily devoured. One is comfort food and one is happy food. Both have their place. 

As I said before, I recommend you eat more whole, unprocessed foods and less processed foods because whole, unprocessed foods have the potential to make you happier. More kale = more happy brain chemicals. 

When you go to eat, think: Does this food make me happy in the long run or does it just make me feel happy for a few moments right now? 




  1. Short Stuff: Happy Foods by Stuff You Should Know,

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