Vegemite toast to chicken soup — these are your ultimate comfort foods

Posted March 08, 2019 07:39:11

It’s something of a cliche to bury your head in a bucket of ice-cream when you’re feeling down. But sometimes that’s all you want, right?

There is a growing body of research to say that certain food can affect our mental health and even be associated with our risk of developing depression.

Professor Felice Jacka has spent the better part of a decade researching this and finding which foods actually make us feel better and which ones just make us feel worse.

But before we delve into that, here are the foods ABC readers told us they turned to when they wanted to feel better.

For many, it was all about going back to basics

A thick slice of very fresh and crusty bread with wayyyyyy too much butter — Bill

It’s gotta be a Vegemite roll, crunchy white bread and loads of butter — Steve

Freshly toasted bread with a generous lather of butter — Anna

Cheese on toast — Jacqui

The simple cheese and tomato sandwich with a touch of salt and pepper on lightly toasted and buttered white bread — Frank

Others went super healthy

Two bowls of chicken noodle soup on a table with bowls of chilli, spring onion and corianders illustrating our simple recipe Photo: Do you turn to chicken soup when a cold sets in? (ABC Life: Edwina Storie)

Munching on crisp, clean, fresh celery makes me feel good — Lorraine

Couscous mixed with lots of veg and chickpeas — Jaci

Chicken breast poached in broth with steamed rice with a little chopped coriander sprinkled on top — Jocelyn

Calamari and a good old-fashioned salad — Suzie

Chicken soup — Pamela

Many went the other direction

Custard-filled slice with white icing Photo: Sweet treats are a favourite for many. (Supplied:

And the winner is … CHOCOLATE — Gary

Apple crumble with cream — Sam

A really good vanilla slice — Pam

Chips and ice-cream — Skippy

Fried chicken and waffles — Marcus

Others wanted the homely hits

A family recipe of split pea and ham soup that’s not only delicious but reminds me of being in the kitchen with Grandma — Quadruple X

My mum’s cauliflower cheese or my gran’s corned beef and cabbage with parsley sauce — Clarindaj

Some got a little weird (and specific)

PUMPKIN & SPELT HOT CROSS BUNS FOR EASTER Photo: Is it sacrilege to put Vegemite on hot cross buns? (Sophie Zalokar)

A toasted hot cross bun with melted butter and Vegemite (yes, I am aware that this is horrific) — Rebecca

A hot milk Milo with cream, then dipping in a Caramello Koala until it partly melts then sucking off the koala’s head — DoNut

Baked beans, boiled cabbage and poached egg sandwich — Longjohn

White chicken salad sandwich with pineapple & onion — Hardz

Fresh mud crab meat on high-top bread, butter, onions, salt, pepper and vinegar/lemon to taste — Nee

You are (and feel) what you eat

Professor Jacka is an expert in nutritional and epidemiological psychiatry and has spent years researching the links between diets and mental health.

She was part of an Australian team that recently completed the first randomised control trial studying 56 individuals with depression.

The trial found the participants who switched to a healthier diet significantly improved their mental health.

“The research that we have done for nearly a decade now shows that the quality of your diet is associated with your risk for depression, very clearly,” she said.

“This is true across countries, across cultures, across age groups, not explained by things like education and income.”

Professor Jacka is no stranger to mental illness, having experiences depression and anxiety in the past.

This helps inform her research, but she is far from alone. It’s estimated that worldwide, more than 300 million people live with depression.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Professor Jacka said the research suggested the foods that were best for our brain were the ones we already associated with healthy living.

“They’re foods like vegetables and fruits, legumes — so chickpeas and lentils — nuts and seeds, fish, olive oil, the Mediterranean-type diet,” she said.

“And of course it’s really important to avoid things that we know have a direct detrimental impact on the brain, the immune system and mental and physical health.”

A hot tea and buttery toast. Photo: Hot tea and toast makes everything better, right? (Flickr: John Meehan)

‘Avoid junk food and takeaway’

Academic and tutor Megan Lee recently wrote of the risks associated with unhealthy eating, and the benefits of a better diet.

These were the things to steer clear of:

  • processed and takeaway foods
  • processed meats
  • fried food
  • butter
  • salt
  • potatoes
  • refined grains, such as those in white bread, pasta, cakes and pastries
  • sugary drinks and snacks.

And what we should eat more of:

  • fruit (two serves per day)
  • vegetables (five serves)
  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • oily fish
  • dairy products
  • small quantities of meat
  • small quantities of olive oil
  • water

“Depression has long been treated with medication and talking therapies — and they’re not going anywhere just yet,” Ms Lee wrote.

“But we’re beginning to understand that increasing how much exercise we get and switching to a healthy diet can also play an important role in treating — and even preventing — depression.”

Topics: lifestyle-and-leisure, food-and-cooking, health, mental-health, australia

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