American College of Nutrition Certified Nutrition Specialist | Author | Professor of Nutrition

 

It All Started In May

What Greece Taught Me…

Crete countryside

I spent the last two weeks of May in a glorious Greek haze of delicious food, lovely people, and a deep connection to human history. The plan was to share everything with you all when I got back. However, what I found when I returned was my husband barely able to walk and in need of spine surgery, which led to an aggressive attack of rheumatoid arthritis. 

Having surgery limits the medications available to treat inflammatory arthritis like this, so we had to use mostly diet to reduce his inflammation and pain. Sugar provides an initial numbing of the pain, but the pain comes back even stronger the next day. Fruits, vegetables, and other anti-inflammatory foods actually help ease the pain and move the healing forward.

His months of recovery were grueling and stressful. Just when our life was getting back to normal, my father went into the hospital with multiple health issues. Weeks spent in the hospital having test after test was exhausting (especially for my poor Dad), and I was reminded of the limits of drugs in keeping chronic illness at bay. Our blood cholesterol numbers may look great with medication, but if our diet isn’t great we can still have a heart attack. 

Caregivers need to stay healthy during times like these and take care of themselves as well as their loved ones. While there is rarely time for things like long walks or bubble baths to relieve stress, we all need to eat and the foods we choose can be both comforting and very nourishing. 

One of the most interesting lessons we learned in Greece is that vegetables can be comfort food. In fact, most family meals are a vegetable stew or beans and greens, some bread, and a small piece of cheese. We so often think of comfort food as junk food or just fatty, unhealthy food here in America. Other places around the world find comfort in foods such as silky, soft vegetables cooked in olive oil with herbs, and soups full of beans and vegetables that warm us to our bones. Absolutely necessary when we are spending days in a freezing cold hospital. 

Vegetables cooked this way are a long way from overcooked, canned vegetables that are nothing but mushy, watery,  and salty. These vegetables start fresh and are cut into chunks because no one has time for cutting them into tiny pieces. They are sautéed in olive oil, with fresh herbs like thyme, oregano, and basil. There is often onion and tomato in the mix. They then cook in their liquid (and maybe some wine too) until they are cooked through, silky and fully flavored. Sometimes grains are added, sometimes the vegetables are served with some hearty bread. The dishes are simple, delicious, comforting, and easy to make. 

Click here for my Greek Style Vegetables recipe, here for my ratatouille recipe, here for my lentil soup recipe, here, and here for two wonderful bean soup recipes. They are all easy and perfect for cool fall nights. 

This food is also full of nutrients, which means it provides lasting comfort instead of the numbness and emptiness of ice cream or other junk “comfort foods.” Our bodies crave additional nutrients in times of stress, and eating plenty of vegetables and legumes provides these nutrients. Along with some dark chocolate, of course. 

The lessons I learned:

  1. Vegetables can be the ultimate comfort food.
  2. Medication can not take the place of a good diet and exercise to keep us healthy.
  3. Caregivers need to take care of themselves too.
  4. Nothing is better than soup after spending a day in a freezing cold hospital.
  5. Long-cooked vegetables are delicious if done right.
  6. Greens can be addictive – details coming soon.
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