While it would be presumptuous to award pizza the prize of being America’s number one comfort food without an appropriate census count, pizza being on a shortlist of America’s favorite foods would not be a shocking discovery. And we can all agree that pizza can, in fact, be classified as a comfort food. It’s warm, cheesy and we usually have the privilege of picking our own toppings when it comes to pizza, where other dishes are sometimes less customizable.
Let’s not forget that pizza is often the most suitable choice at almost every occasion, from winning a sports game to a broken heart. With all this in mind, it’s actually hard to think of reasons why pizza isn’t the best comfort food. It very well could be.
What Are Comfort Foods?
The phrase ‘comfort food’ was added to the Oxford English dictionary in 1977 to describe foods that bring solace. Originally, the meaning was related back to home-cooking and childhood favorites. Yet, your favorite lady from your afternoon sitcom doesn’t churn the ice cream she eats after a bad breakup. She buys it at the market and hides it in the freezer until the opportunity arises.
In reality, there are a variety of foods that bring us comfort, whether they are bought from a store or made in our kitchens. The real benefit of comfort food is emotional in nature. We eat comfort foods based on trustworthy associations we have with the act.
For one, eating comfort foods typically triggers the happy chemicals in our brain. When we eat comfort foods, we feel like we are being rewarded, and our minds act accordingly. Tasty foods were found to activate the same regions in the brain that were switched on in drug addiction cases. Sometimes, the anticipation of eating the food alone is enough to get our brains whirling in an excited frenzy.
People also use comfort foods to self-medicate. We know it feels good, so if we’re ever in a high-stress or painful situation, it’s great to know that a simple indulgence can put our minds at ease. Emotional eating as a coping mechanism can have both positive and negative outcomes. Those with negative feelings tend to indulge in less nutritious foods. Those with positive feelings are inclined to do the opposite. In either situation, moderation is key to responsible indulging.
Comfort foods offer familial associations as well. One study demonstrated that people with strong, healthy relationships were able to rank comfort foods higher on a taste scale than those who didn’t. In other words, people who did not have secure attachment styles did not feel the same enjoyment in so-called comfort foods as others. Comfort foods are largely defined by the people who partake in them. Cultural foods remind us of our last family get-together, and pizza and candy remind us of a cherished childhood party.
What Makes Pizza So Comforting?
The stats on favorite foods in America are sliced up pretty sparsely. Still, most Americans list pizza as their favorite at 15 percent, which is twice as many likes as any other food choice listed. Ice cream is in second place with 7 percent. Pizza provides comfort for many reasons, but what makes it special and at the top of the list, is a combination of unique traits that only pizza can supply:
- Ingredient combo: Though more than a few people are opposed to the idea of pineapples on pizza, the very fact that we’re at liberty to have that option in the first place makes it obvious why pizza is a universal love. We have no option but to thoroughly appreciate a dish that allows for the mixture of sweet and salty. Even your basic pizza can easily utilize all the major food groups. Vegetables include toppings like mushrooms and olives. Tomato is a fruit now, and that’s a given on most pizzas. Cheese fulfills our dairy needs. The dough itself serves as a base grain. Pepperoni, sausage or a vegetarian substitute can be classified as a meat. Oils, which have an important position along with the rest of the food groups, are clearly visible on any fresh slice.
- Complimentary textures: Besides the tastes that combine effortlessly to make a delicious pizza, the texture of a pie complements its flavor. A crisp crust laid rigidly under a layer of lackadaisical, gooey and chewy cheese is very demanding to the tongue and teeth — but in a good way. The sauce, placating our palates with a wet ingredient, but not so lacking in thickness to be off-putting, is the cherry on top.
- Color palette: The shallow bits of our personalities only want to eat something that looks as good as it tastes, and pizza fits the bill. A classic pizza is externally designed with an orange-cream crust brazen with olive oil. This small sector of the triangle or pie is accompanied by an overall rustic red aura credited to a saucy marina foundation. Of course, this is topped off with a white, bronze-like coat of cheese.
- Addictive quality: Pizza is quite literally linked with symptoms of addiction. As scary as that sounds, if we had the option to choose an outlet for our addictive behaviors, pizza is probably a good choice. A clinical psychologist noted that its addictive quality could be allied with its reward potential. Seeing as the combination of ingredients found in pizza does not occur organically in nature, our reward system increases its effectiveness for satiety.
- A matter of preference: The nice thing about pizza is that it can be optimized for your personal preferences. Some people like thin crust. Some people like thick crusts. Most people don’t like anchovies — but some do. Go halfsies. There’s also a wide range of pizza styles. A slice in New York City is nothing like Chicago-style deep dish. And both of those are nothing like tavern style. So don’t fret — you have lots of options.
- Sharing is caring: Buying pizza is not like any other selfish food indulgence. When you buy a pie at least, you’re opting for a shared experience among friends. Ordering pizza requires social compromise and an understanding of friendship. And once you finally get to enjoy a pie together, everyone is brought a little closer together.
Can Pizza Be Good for You?
For some reason, many people look to pizza as a comfort food or guilty pleasure — this is likely because we associate indulgence with negative perceptions about our bodies and assumptions about health. If we were knowledgeable, however, we’d realize this is not the case — let’s not villainize the things we like.
Contrary to popular belief, pizza can play a healthy role in a balanced diet. Tomatoes, for example, contain lycopene. Lycopene can be found in other vivid red fruits, like raspberries and strawberries. This antioxidant lowers both cholesterol and blood pressure. Cooked tomatoes, as opposed to fresh tomatoes, let the body absorb more lycopene. One tablespoon of pizza sauce has the equivalent amount of lycopene — 2000 micrograms — as a half-cup of cherry tomatoes.
Choosing whole-wheat pizza dough as an alternative to white flour will pack some extra fiber into each bite. You’ll get some more vitamins and minerals too, with the opportunity to reduce your carbohydrate intake. Pizza is loaded with dairy because pizzerias know we love cheese. Dairy items like cheese are excellent sources of calcium, which is vital for your bones.
Plus, vegetables are a go-to topping for most pizza lovers. Each vegetable contains an abundance of micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals that contribute to your immune system, energy levels, blood clotting and various other bodily systems. The more vegetables you consume, the more micronutrients you’ll gobble up as well.
Special occasions always call for some divergence from your normal diet. Diets are best maintained when they’re flexible and optimized for you. Restricting yourself from a slice of pizza because it has a couple too many carbs may only stress you out in the end and lead to a worse indulgence later. Your health is determined by the average of your food and fitness choices. Having a slice here and there won’t stop you from living a healthy lifestyle.
Pizza can also be good for you in an emotional sense. Because it’s meant to be shared, pizza encourages social interactions, which can boost your confidence and self-esteem. There’s nothing quite like gathering some of your closest friends around some pizza pies after a long day. Even though pizza doesn’t have the same nutritional benefits as traditionally healthy foods, it’s good for your soul.
Is Comfort Food Just for Bad Days?
You shouldn’t just reserve comfort food for the bad days. We already know that comfort food has a positive effect on our general well-being. Then why deny ourselves that? Waiting around for something tragic to happen before we seek out the things that bring us comfort seems like a horrible way to practice self-care and self-love every day.
In lieu of a bad day and the specificities of an unfortunate event, as humans, we’re still prone to negative emotions. Food has a profound effect on our happiness. Our mood has a direct response to the consumption of fatty acids. Fatty acids, like fats and oils, are common attributes of comfort foods, like pizza and macaroni and cheese. As a matter of fact, comfort foods generally have a significant amount of fatty acid.
Participants in a 2011 study were asked about their mood, hunger and satiety. Keep in mind that these participants were non-obese and healthy. Some of these participants were injected with fatty acids, and the others with a placebo. The participants were then shown an onslaught of sad images while listening to sad music. Again, they were asked to rate their mood, hunger and satiety several times during the MRI scan that took place. Those who received an injection of fatty acids versus the placebo, a saline solution, reported feeling only half as sad as those who were injected with saline.
The study revealed that besides taste or emotional attachment, comfort food’s impact is deeply physiological. Our stomaches communicate with our brains when we eat comfort food and compel us to be more content and less sad. Scientists had supposed that comfort foods affected our brains psychologically because of the pleasant stimuli. What they hadn’t conjectured is that comfort foods would have a physical impression on the brain.
Areas of the brain related to mood were positively activated by the fatty acids. The exact biological process of this phenomenon is unknown. But it is clear that a chemical reaction occurs post-digestion. Evolution has provided us with a means to counteract anxious and depressive feelings with a mere indulgence of our favorite foods.
Visit a Giordano’s Near You
We’ve established many reasons why pizza is the best comfort food, without the need for a census collector. Pizza is a shoulder to cry on during the bad times, and a party hat for the good times. We’re addicted to the stuff, and for good reason. There’s nothing quite like it. Mother nature’s cooking doesn’t have the same kick, and nothing else man-made is worthy of competition.
With an amalgamation of flavors, textures that go together like puzzle pieces, an enticing color scheme, a sense of insatiability, a platform for the picky all in conjunction with its friendly nature, pizza perhaps makes the most uncomfortable situations surprisingly comfortable. If you’re anything like the majority of Americans who love pizza, then you’re craving a slice right now.
Giordano’s features traditional Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. This means a thick crust you can sink your teeth into, so your mouth can be met with luxurious deposits of cheese and chunky tomato sauce stuffed to the brim. Imagine everything you like about pizza, but in excess. From the bottom up, you’ll have your crust, toppings, cheese and a supplementary thin layer of crust topped with sauce. And if that’s not your style, we have thin crust too.
Either way, we have over two centuries of experience perfecting our recipe and exalting your taste buds. From Italy to Chicago, and everywhere in between, we encourage your indulgence. America’s best comfort food is at your fingertips. Find a location near you and indulge.