People often assume that eating well is complicated and time consuming. It’s actually quite the opposite. Sticking to basic, whole fresh foods is an easy, healthy and flavorful way to eat. On a recent trip to Greece, I absolutely loved the simplicity of the diet — which studies have repeatedly demonstrated is one of the healthiest in the world. Fresh fish, hearty legumes, savory feta cheese, plump tomatoes, olive oil and creamy yogurt are some of culinary staples, and the last item in particular has multiple health benefits for those of us with spinal cord injury.
Good health starts with a healthy digestive system. A spinal cord injury, however, significantly compromises digestive and bowel function, leading to issues such as chronic bloating, gas and constipation. An easy, enjoyable and highly effective way to support your gut health and help prevent these issues from occurring is to simply incorporate yogurt into your diet several times a week. Yogurt contains probiotics (good bacteria) that actually enhance the digestion of nutrients and support peristalsis (the involuntary muscular contraction that propels matter through the intestines). These good bacteria also help produce B and K vitamins and boost the immune system (which is compromised after SCI).
Healthy bacteria consume the nutrients that would otherwise feed unhealthy microorganisms and block receptor sites that harmful bacteria latch onto to cause an infection. However, the main reason that probiotics protect us is that they produce substances such as lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which stop harmful bacteria from growing in the first place. They are so effective at enhancing our immune system that they are sometimes referred to as nature’s antibiotics (probiotics can also be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and a fermented drink growing in popularity called kombucha).
I indulged in these natural antibiotics twice a day for my entire trip to Greece — every morning for breakfast with fresh fruit and every afternoon as a dip with vegetables. The yogurt recipe below can be enjoyed as a dip with fresh vegetables or whole grain pita, or as a salad dressing or sauce for grilled chicken. Not only is it healthy food, it is simply delicious!
Joanne Smith and Kylie James are co-authors of the book Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to www.eatwelllivewellwithsci.com.
First, shred cucumber and squeeze out excess water.
Next, combine shredded cucumber, yogurt, dill and garlic in medium bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour to combine flavors. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to a week. Enjoy anytime.