A Healthier, Sweeter and Lighter New Year

By Susie Davidson

Advocate Correspondent

As we gear up for the holiday season, let's take the time and effort to focus on ourselves. It's time for physical as well as mental and spiritual internal cleansing, and our food and lifestyle choices are paramount to this end.

Doctors agree that we are normally given a set of genes which should easily take us into our 70's and 80's. Lifestyle factors - obesity, lethargy, smoking, excessive sun exposure, seatbelt shunning - often intervene. And we Jews are often highly guilty culprits.

Mythbuster #1: Kosher food is not necessarily healthy food. Entenmann's, with its paragraph of chemical additives on top of the hydrogenated fat and sugar, is not healthy. Kosher salami, hot dogs and cold cuts, made with nitrites and red dye on top of the gristle and salt, aren't healthy. Knishes, kugels, kishke, oily and greasy behemoths that they are, are for moderate intake only. That means one piece. Creamed herring, chicken fat anything, regular cream cheese, cheese blintzes - all are arterial assassins.

Mythbuster #2: It is not "normal" to sit down at a holiday gathering and chow down irresponsibly on everything in the name of celebration, family and fun. Is it really fun when your stomach is out to there, you can barely move, and you feel like a schleppy cow? Sure, there are smorgasbords of treats out there. Learn to taste and sample, and to favor the vegetables, fruits, plain breads and water. Respect yourself, as Aretha sang.

"Everything is given with an obligation," says Pamela Granovetter of Netanya, Israel, in her weekly "Judaism for Beginners" blurb. "This means that we DO NOT own our bodies, nor can we do anything we want with them…without consequence. Our bodies DO NOT belong to us; they have been given to us as a loan, in order to clothe our souls. We must treat our bodies with respect. We must take care of our bodies in terms of health and modesty."

A trend towards more sensible eating and exercise habits is definitely out there. But look around. In this country, where obesity is creeping up past 30% and significant overweight past 60%, we are often a very sad reflection on common sense skills.

Low fat Jewish cooking? "An oxymoron," says Faye Levy, author of "The Low-Fat Jewish Cookbook" (Potter Press). "But still, people are always asking for low-fat recipes."

"Early comedians made fun of it," remarks food maven Joan Nathan. "But it doesn't have to be heavy."

"You don't want to step on the scale the day after the holiday and say 'I've gained three pounds!'" says Levy.

How to trim? Levy suggests adding pureed chickpeas, which add much moistness and a sweet, mellow flavor. Applesauce is another gold standard for oil substitution in lighter cooking. Matzo balls? Pureed carrots and rice instead of cream make the balls lighter and whiter (carrots are often a part of Rosh Hashanah fare as they signify abundance in the new year). Use yolk-free noodles, non or low fat cream cheese and sour cream in noodle kugels. And don't even look at the schmaltz. That's a bygone era.

Helen Nash, who wrote "Helen Nash's Lower-Fat Kosher Kitchen," adds shiitake mushrooms, radicchio, sun-dried tomatoes, low-sodium soy sauce, Japanese horseradish and sesame seeds. She wraps and steams fish or poultry (parchment paper is a good non-plastic choice) and substitutes turkey for beef everywhere.

Sephardi meals feature grains and vegetables as opposed to heavier, meat based Ashkenazic cuisine. We don't live in icy Russian winters or work in fields, and don’t need the traditional rustic diet.

So - revise recipes and buy low fat. You'll learn to love the taste. Take a good walk before and after dinner. Drink eight glasses of pure, room temperature water per day. Eat frequent, small, low fat meals to keep blood sugar even. Keep your protein up in relation to the carbs (low fat - i.e. hard boiled egg whites, soy hot dogs, turkey and chicken breast, low fat cheese, fish, nonfat soy cheese).

Remember, this isn't a holiday stratagem, but a daily, lifelong one that will become your friend and help those genes do their thing.

L'Shanah Tovah!