August 16 is known to many Elvis Presley fans as the anniversary of his untimely death at the age of 42 in 1977.
It is also the perfect occasion, for many, to honor him by indulging in his favorite foods, including fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches (with or without bacon), fried biscuits, bacon-wrapped meatballs, chicken fried steak, jelly doughnuts and vegetables saturated with butter and salt.
While it may be OK to indulge in these foods occasionally, it is not healthy to make a regular diet of them.
What was it about these foods that appealed to Elvis? He could have afforded spa cuisine and high-end restaurants, but he maintained his love of southern-style comfort food, always in large portions, even when his weight crept up and his health went down.
As a food researcher and registered dietitian for more than 20 years, I have studied some of the reasons we turn to comfort food – and also how eating to feed our emotions can sometimes get out of hand.
Elvis was a known comfort eater, and many say his dietary habits contributed to his death
The King's sandwich: Elvis was partial to his own style of a sweet PB sandwich: peanut butter, bacon and banana, dubbed the 'Fool's Gold'. He was known to eat 15 in one sitting
Why do we eat comfort food? Reason 1: We like it
There are many theories as to why we choose food we know is not good for us, not least of which is that it tastes good.
Other ideas range from social norms, environment and memories to emotions, genetics and the microbiome; the nature versus nurture debate is alive and well for eating habits.
Social norms, or acceptable rules of behavior, affect both food choice and amounts eaten. If we are surrounded by others who eat, prepare and condone unhealthy foods, we are more likely to consume them.
Similarly, our environment influences our dietary choices, for better or for worse. Growing up poor in what are now known as food deserts may preclude the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Additionally, food preparation methods are influenced by culturally acceptable traditions, such as cooking greens with pork fat, as is common in the South.
Presley was raised in a poor household, where it is rumored that dinners sometimes included squirrel meat, but his mother was an excellent cook. He spoke fondly of her specialties, such as fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn bread and gravy.
These foods probably later reminded him of both his family and simpler times. It is easy to see the appeal of eating foods from our childhood; reminiscences of family outings, holidays and sporting events often lead to conversations of the foods that were eaten there.
Even the smell of those foods can bring back happy memories. There is something to be said for food that is good for our soul.
Presley’s long-time cook, Mary Jenkins Langston, reported that Elvis said the only thing in life he got any enjoyment out of was