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Comforting Foods in Uncomfortable Times

by Diane Lofshult on Jun 01, 2003

AICR researchers found that in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, almost 20 percent of Americans upped their consumption of comfort foods.

As we go to press with this issue, images of the war in Iraq have been a constant presence in our lives. From newspaper headlines read at the breakfast table to nightly news reports consumed with our dinners, it’s been hard to avoid talk of this war. But how has all this war exposure been affecting the health of the American public?

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), troubled times like these wreak havoc with peoples’ diets. During wars, Americans have historically turned to “comfort foods” like mashed potatoes doused with gravy, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. AICR researchers found that in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, almost 20 percent of Americans upped their consumption of comfort foods. While these foods may be comforting to the spirit, they are typically high in fat and calories and dismally low in nutrients and disease-fighting properties.

John Foreyt, PhD, a past IDEA author who conducts research at the Behavioral Medicine Center at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, says such unhealthy eating behaviors are exactly what you would expect in war times. “When we are anxious or fearful, we fall back to foods we associate with times of lowest stress—that is, with childhood.” Foreyt is an expert in research studies that focus on how emotional responses impact patterns of food consumption.

As a preemptive strike, AICR has released a free brochure called “Comfort Foods,” which outlines strategies to battle these unhealthy emotional responses.

“We’ve seen this pattern before,” says Melanie Polk, RD, director of nutrition education for AICR. “That’s why we’ve prepared some simple strategies that make foods like beef stew, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and even chocolate chip cookies more healthy, without sacrificing the flavors and textures people yearn for.”

Single copies of the “Comfort Food” brochure can be ordered for free by calling (800) 843-8114, ext. 65; by writing to the AICR Publications Department at 1759 R Street N.W., Washington, DC 20009; or via the Internet at

The AICR provides an array of educational programs designed to teach the public how simple dietary changes can lessen the risk of cancer.

IDEA Health Fitness Source, Volume 2004, Issue 6

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About the Author

Diane Lofshult

Diane Lofshult IDEA Author/Presenter

Diane Lofshult is an award-winning freelance author who specializes in nutrition and weight management topics. She is the founder of In Other Words, an editorial consulting firm based in Solana Beach, California. Reach her at