Eat, drink and be healthy
There is an age-old question about what’s the “perfect” diet. The idea behind this question is if we just find the perfect diet and we follow it, we can stop looking, stop worrying, stop stressing over too many carbs or sugar or meat or butter.
But what does “perfect” really mean in the realm of diet and nutrition? Perfect for whom? At what age? In what region? At what activity level? In what culture and society? With what kind of metabolism and immunity and digestion and brain function? At what stress level?
And, perhaps most importantly, will it still allow us to eat kugel?
The answer is complicated. In the health and nutrition fields, you will find more dietary theories than you can possibly imagine. Some nutrition experts believe in looking at what our ancestors ate; others think we should look at our DNA for answers. Then there’s the idea that our blood type might have something to do with our nutritional needs.
So many people, including health professionals, think of nutrition as pure science — as if the science will lead us to the best diet. Science has us believing that reducing food to its vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, fat, protein and calories, and consuming those in the proper balance, is the answer.
What this approach overlooks, however, is that this “proper balance” is almost impossible to determine. After all, no two of us are exactly alike, and there are plenty of other variables: Our well-being is influenced by our thoughts and feelings, our environment, the toxins all around us and in our food supply, the health of our digestive system that determines what nutrients we absorb from the food we eat, and our life circumstances.
This isn’t to say that you should give up. There are plenty of general guidelines for healthy eating that everyone can follow.
An easy one is to manage what’s on the end of your fork — think quality over quantity. If you eat meat, fish, eggs or poultry, buy organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range and/or wild-caught.
Stop eating processed junk foods, including regular and diet sodas, and get processed sugar out of your diet. (Also cut out fruit juices, which are high in sugar.) Instead, use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup or raw organic honey — in small amounts, of course.
You should also try to consume whole food in its natural state, where all of its nutrients are fully available. This includes raw nuts and seeds, grains and beans, vegetables and fruits.
Be sure to have lots of green leafy vegetables at least twice per day, and make sure you eat good fats, daily and in moderation (coconut and olive oils, olives, avocado).
When it comes to what you drink, a good rule each day is to consume at least half an ounce of good quality spring water for each pound you weigh. (It may sound like a lot, but check out how much your water bottle holds and do the math. You can do it!)
Finally, no matter what kind of diet you choose, make sure you eat with joy. No joke — it increases your ability to digest. When you eat under stress or anger, digestion shuts down, leading to weight gain and poor nutrient absorption.
How can it work with Jewish foods?
Don’t think that just because you’re trying to eat more healthfully that you have to give up your favorite Jewish dishes:
- Substitute almond flour (lower in carbs than wheat) or coconut flour (contains healthy fats and is low in sugar) in breads, pastries and matzo balls. Be careful with ordinary flours, since some people have a sensitivity to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
- Substitute carrots or yams for white potatoes or noodles in your kugel dish. This helps keep down your sugar intake.
- Gefilte fish is often made with sugar and matzo meal, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out the following delicious recipe without these unhealthful ingredients.
- 1 pound white fish (e.g. Dover sole) fillets, skinned and deboned
- 1/2 pound salmon fillets, skinned and deboned
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
Cut the fish into large chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground; do not puree.
Heat oil in a large frying pan. Sauté diced onion over medium-low heat until soft and transparent; cool for 10 minutes.
Pulse onion, eggs, salt, pepper and lemon juice into fish mixture. Pulse in dill, carrots and parsley. Refrigerate mixture for 3 hours.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Shape fish mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Drop balls into water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through. Place balls in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and refrigerate to cool. Serve with horseradish sauce made from horseradish root and apple cider vinegar (no added sugar) and garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley.
Makes 18 fish balls.
Recipe adapted from Elana’s Pantry (elanaspantry.com), the website of New York Times best-selling author Elana Amsterdam.