Comfort Food Defined
Today I propose that we begin to adopt a new definition of comfort food. The phrase comfort food has a few definitions and frequently refers to food that reminds us of home, or that has sentimental appeal. Eating comfort food can also be one of the ways we deal with stressful or emotionally difficult situations. I don’t think the definition needs to change entirely, but I do think we should at least add another layer to the meaning of the word. Comfort food should include having the awareness that what you are eating is:
- High quality; properly raised, grown and prepared
- Appropriate for your body
- Improving your health
Don’t panic, it’s organic!
Have you seen the bumper sticker “Don’t panic, it’s organic”? It perfectly summarizes my new definition of comfort food. The most important trait of the new definition of comfort food should be the quality and source of your food. Last week in my post The “Integrity Food” Revolution I discussed the importance of only purchasing animal products from farms that use pasture based management, and avoiding confinement based industrial agriculture. If a burger is your favorite comfort food that reminds you of dad cooking on the grill when you were young then wouldn’t it be comforting to know that the meat you are eating came from a cow that grazed freely on a pasture of green grass while breathing in fresh air and absorbing the warmth of the sun? I never order meat at a restaurant that doesn’t reveal their sources. I find that it is much more comforting to know that the food I am eating is nutrient dense, and will nourish my body because it came from an animal that was healthy rather than an animal that needed antibiotics just to stay alive. Besides animal products, when I am eating fruit, vegetables, grains and seeds I find it to be very comforting to know that the food is free of harmful chemicals, and that while the plants were growing the surrounding environment wasn’t polluted with herbicides and pesticides.
Is it appropriate?
An example of this situation might be a person who knows they are lactose intolerant, but loves ice cream, and turns to a pint of their favorite artisanal ice cream after work every time they have a stressful day. I’m not saying that having a treat on a bad day is a terrible idea, but if you know that ice cream will bring you digestive problems then perhaps it is time to adjust your strategy. Continuing with the example of ice cream, another scenario might be a person who chooses ice cream as their comfort food after a bad day even though it is January in Minnesota. Though it is not the worst thing you could do to your body, it is still inappropriate to be eating foods that are so clearly out of synch with the season.
Will it improve your health?
Comfort foods are not always used in response to negative situations. For my last birthday I had the pleasure of celebrating with a homemade cake that was prepared using the highest of quality ingredients. With each bite I actually felt as if I was becoming stronger, AND it was incredibly delicious, thanks Jenny! Compare this to the birthday party in my office last week. I thought it was very kind and thoughtful that somebody brought a cake to the office for my coworker’s birthday, but I couldn’t ignore all the sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors shown on the ingredients list. Come on people, we’re not getting any younger, and when is this more obvious than on your birthday? We need all the help we can get, and a cake like that isn’t helping.
Boiled spicy milk
This simple recipe is a favorite of mine before bedtime, especially during a cold winter night.
1 pint whole milk (organic, grass fed, raw, local…)
1 spoon ghee, for further details see How to make Ghee and move beyond the low fat era
¼-1 tsp powdered: turmeric, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger
Alternative spices include: cardamom, coriander, fennel, or licorice.
Alternative to ghee: coconut oil
Melt the ghee in a small pot and add the spices. Heat the spices for a few minutes on low heat and be careful not to burn. Add milk to the pot and use medium-low heat. Stir often to avoid burning, and boil the milk until the froth nearly spills over. Simmer for another five minutes.
Dairy in Ayurveda
In the US macaroni and cheese is a common comfort food for many people, and it is easy to understand why. However, in Ayurveda most dairy is considered to be heavy and difficult to digest. Since food and digestion are at the very core of Ayurveda it is important to understand how to properly prepare and consume dairy products to ensure maximum nutritional benefits and to avoid the negative effects of poor digestion. One common method of preparation that improves the digestion of dairy is to choose fermented products such as cultured butter, ghee, and yogurt. Another strategy is to use digestion enhancing spices such as those mentioned in the spiced milk recipe above. Personally, I do eat dairy, but in minimal quantities compared to the average American. The one exception to this is ghee, which has most of the aggravating proteins and sugars removed leaving only a dairy fat. Unlike many dairy products, ghee is considered to actually enhance digestion. Unless you are hyper aware of how the animals were raised, and how the product was produced it is probably easier and healthier to avoid dairy. For those who have strong digestion and know how to find and prepare high quality dairy products I think dairy can be consumed in small quantities. As for the mac and cheese, there’ not much I can say to help other than to have a side of steamed greens, and maybe add some cracked black pepper or crushed red pepper flakes. Enjoy!