Supermarkets say: Please don’t buy the dreck we sell


I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I was in a Minneapolis branch of Byerly’s, an upscale grocery chain in Minnesota.  Scanning the aisles for a small extravagance for my dinner hosts, I noticed that the shelf labels included not just the price-per-unit, which I’m used to, but little blue and white linked hexagons marked on a scale of 1 to 100 – a “NuVal” score.

NuVal scores don’t tip you off to a bargain.  They tell you how good or bad a food is for your health.

Yeah, right.  The idea that a food store would admit – would explicitly declare, on the spot, as your hand is reaching for it – that a product it’s selling is nutritionally crappy: that violates every principle of Marketing 101, not to mention Ayn Rand 101.

This is different from the labels that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required since 1990.  Those are well-intentioned marvels of confusion, containing so much information (are you getting your minimum daily requirement of magnesium?), so much disinformation (calculating calories per serving, when a serving is half the amount a runway waif would eat), so much incomprehensible information (I forget – is tripotassium phosphate good or bad for you?) that you can get an anxiety attack trying to figure out which granola will nourish you and which will kill you.

But NuVal scores make that simple, and sometimes shocking. 

Cocoa Puffs, for example, gets a NuVal score of 26, but so does Life (“you don’t have to be a grown-up to benefit from the whole grain inside”), and Kashi Strawberry Fields Cereal (“plenty of whole grain goodness”) gets a 10, same as Cap’n Crunch.  Post Shredded Wheat ’N Bran scores a 91.

An apple gets a 96, which you might expect.  But unsweetened applesauce gets a 29, apple juice gets a 15 and Mott’s Original Applesauce (“a great tasting snack that’s actually good for you”) gets a 4. 

Nabisco Nilla Wafers (“simple goodness”) get a 6, and Keebler Townhouse Bistro Multi-Grain Crackers (multi-grain! surely good for you, no?) get a 3 (no).

It’s no surprise that fresh broccoli gets 100, as does Birds Eye Cooked Winter Squash.  Grapefruits are 99, and sweet potatoes are 96.  But Vlasic Old Fashioned Sauerkraut gets a 4.  

Skim milk comes in at 91, one percent milk at 81 and two percent at 55.  But Capri Sun gets a 1.  So does Odwalla Pomegranate Limeade with 20 percent juice.  Who would buy products like these if they actually knew what poison – I mean, um, empty calories – they amount to, and if they had manifestly better alternatives an arm’s reach away? 

The NuVal numbers are the brainchild of David L. Katz, M.D., MPH, an adjunct associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine.   A dozen doctors and nutritionists, funded by the nonprofit Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., developed the scoring system, based on 30 factors including vitamins, fiber, salt, sugar, fat quality, protein quality, glycemic load, energy density and calories.  From the public health evidence about those factors, they constructed an algorithm that processes the data into a single number.  As new food science research is published, and as products are reformulated by their manufacturers, the algorithm and the scores are updated.  (If that’s happened to any of the products I’ve mentioned, I’ll be glad to revise the numbers online.)

It’s a miracle that some 30 retail food chains are adopting the scores.  You won’t find them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and from the locations page of the NuVal website it looks like the only chain in my neck of the woods – Kroger, which in Los Angeles owns Ralphs and Food4Less – is running a “pilot program in select areas” (Kentucky, apparently).  But Lunds and Byerley’s, which use NuVal, are venerable markets in Minnesota, as is King Kullen on Long Island, N.Y.; grocers in the NuVal fold aren’t just a bunch of crunchy hippies.     

As you might imagine, there’s been pushback.  Ocean Spray, whose Light Cranberry Juice Cocktail gets a 2, says NuVal doesn’t reflect its product’s urinary tract health benefits.  Sara Lee, whose Ball Park hotdogs get a 7, says other Ball Park products score higher.  General Mills complains that details of the algorithm aren’t public, as does the National Consumers League, which turns out to be an astroturf front for the likes of Monsanto, Bristol Myers Squibb, the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association and the National Meat Association.  And according to Dr. David Katz, the NuVal founder, the algorithm “has been described in detail in peer-reviewed publications accessible to all. It has been made available in its entirety to research groups throughout the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.; to federal agencies in the U.S.; to the Institute of Medicine; and to private entities that have requested such access.”

I’m no food puritan.  My culinary patrimony consists of shmaltz, gribenes and kishka.  (Don’t ask.)  I believe that the joylessness caused by renouncing “bad” foods – and the guilt that’s caused by consuming them – conceivably undoes the good that’s done by substituting celery for Oreos.  I know that adding eye-popping 1-to-100 scores to grocery price tags won’t cut down on gargantuan portion sizes; or make meals more mindful occasions; or alert us to our complicity with corporate farming; or prevent the processed food industry from addicting us to salt, sugar and fat; or get our butts off the couch and start moving.  But giving consumers a no-brainer tool while they’re standing in the supermarket aisle is surely a more promising way to stop the slow-motion suicide we call the American way of eating than declaring March to be National Nutrition Month.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Being American is bad for your health


“Americans are sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy nations.” 

That stark sentence appears in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and it comes from the authors of a landmark report – “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health” – on differences among high-income countries.

You probably already know that America spends more on healthcare than any other country.  That was one of the few facts to survive the political food fight pretending to be a serious national debate about the Affordable Care Act.

But the airwaves also thrummed with so many sound bites from so many jingoistic know-nothings claiming that America has the best healthcare system in the world that today, most people don’t realize how shockingly damaging it is to your wellness and longevity to be born in the U.S.A.

This is made achingly clear in the study of the “U.S. health disadvantage” recently issued by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which was conducted over 18 months by experts in medicine and public health, demography, social science, political science, economics, behavioral science and epidemiology. 

Compare the health of the American people with our peer nations – with Britain, Canada and Australia; with Japan; with the Scandinavian countries; with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  Side by side with the world’s wealthy democracies, America comes in last, and over the past several decades, it’s only gotten worse.

With few exceptions – like death rates from breast cancer – we suck.  Our newborns are less likely to reach their first birthday, or their fifth birthday.  Our adolescents die at higher rates from car crashes and homicides, and they have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections.  Americans have the highest incidence of AIDS, the highest obesity rates, the highest diabetes rates among adults 20 and older, the highest rates of chronic lung disease and heart disease and drug-related deaths. 

There is one bright spot.  Americans who live past their 75th birthday have the longest life expectancy.  But for everyone else – from babies to baby boomers and beyond – your chances of living a long life are the butt-ugly worst among all the 17 rich nations in our peer group.

In case you’re tempted to blow off these bleak statistics about American longevity by deciding that they don’t apply to someone like you – before you attribute them to, how shall we put it, the special burdens that our racially and economically diverse and culturally heterogeneous nation has nobly chosen to bear – chew on this: “Even non-Hispanic white adults or those with health insurance, a college education, high incomes, or healthy behaviors appear to be in worse health (e.g., higher infant mortality, higher rates of chronic diseases, lower life expectancy) in the United States than in other high-income countries.”  And by the way, “the nation’s large population of recent immigrants is generally in better health than native-born Americans.”

Why are we trailing so badly?  Some of the causes catalogued by the report:

The U.S. public health and medical care systems:  Our employer- and private insurance-based health care system has long set us apart from our peer nations, who provide universal access.  The right loves to rail against “socialized medicine,” but on health outcomes, the other guys win.

Individual behavior: Tobacco, diet, physical inactivity, alcohol and other drug use and sexual practices play a part, but there’s not a whole lot of evidence that uniquely nails Americans’ behavior. The big exception is injurious behavior.  We loves us our firearms, and we don’t much like wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets. 

Social factors:  Stark income inequality and poverty separate us from other wealthy nations, who also have more generous safety nets and demonstrate greater social mobility than we do.  In America, the best predictor of good or bad health is the income level of your zip code.

Physical and social environmental factors: Toxins harm us, but our pollution isn’t notably worse than in other rich nations.  The culprit may be our “built environment”: less public transportation, walking and cycling; more cars and car accidents; less access to fresh produce; more marketing and bigger portions of bad food.

Policies and social values:  To me, this is the richest, and riskiest, ground broken by the report, which asks whether there’s a common denominator – upstream, root causes – that help explain why the United States has been losing ground in so many health domains since the 1970s: 

“Certain character attributes of the quintessential American (e.g. dynamism, rugged individualism) are often invoked to explain the nation’s great achievements and perseverance.  Might these same characteristics also be associated with risk-taking and potentially unhealthy behaviors? Are there health implications to Americans’ dislike of outside (e.g., government) interference in personal lives and in business and marketing practices?”

My answer is yes, but I’d plant the problem in recent history and politics, not in timeless quintessentials.  Since the 1980s, in the sunny name of “free enterprise,” there’s been a ferocious, ideologically driven effort to demonize government, roll back regulations, privatize the safety net, stigmatize public assistance, gut public investment, weaken consumer protection, consolidate corporate power, delegitimize science, condemn anti-poverty efforts as “class warfare” and entrust public health to the tender mercies of the marketplace. 

The epidemic of gun violence has been fueled by anti-government paranoia stoked by the gun manufacturers’ lobby, the NRA.  The spike in consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been driven by the food industry’s business decisions and its political (i.e., financial) clout.  In the name of fiscal conservatism, plutocrats push for cuts in discretionary expenditures on maternal health, early childhood education, social services and public transportation.  The same tactic that once prolonged tobacco’s death grip – the confection of a phony scientific “controversy” – now undermines efforts to combat climate change, which is as big a danger to public health as any disease.

More accidents may be shortening our lifespans.  But we’re not getting sicker by accident.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

CON PROP 37: Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?


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PRO PROP 37: Should genetically engineered foods be labeled?


[Read the con argument here]

Did you know that you have been enrolled in the largest research study ever conducted in the United States, but you never signed a consent form or agreed to participate? That’s because since 1996, you — and basically everyone you know — have been eating genetically engineered foods.

Genetically engineered foods, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are created by forcing a piece of DNA from a totally different species, such as bacteria or viruses, into the DNA of a plant or animal. For example, genetically engineered soybeans have DNA from bacteria and viruses spliced into their DNA to help them tolerate weed killers such as Roundup.

This genetic feat creates a whole new species of plant that would have never occurred in nature. Most soybeans, corn, canola, cotton, sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, some zucchini, yellow squash and alfalfa are genetically modified. Products such as oil, high fructose corn syrup and sugar are created from these crops and added to processed foods. This explains why nearly 80 percent of processed foods, including baby formula and most fast foods, contain GMOs.

The question is, are GMOs safe for us and the environment? The answers are not clear. When we decided to write an article on GMOs, we quickly realized there is no evidence that GMOs are safe for humans. We also found that the Food and Drug Administration did not do its own safety testing before GMOs were put into our food supply. The “studies” done by the companies that created the seeds compared genetically modified corn to regular corn and found that they were similar and thus thought to be safe.

However, there are animal studies with negative findings, including organ damage, tumors, infertility and immune system changes. Toxins from GMO corn and soy have been found in the blood of 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of their umbilical cords. It is clear that more research is needed.

The environment is another issue. What are the implications when a genetically engineered plant crossbreeds with other plants? Monarch butterflies are declining due to the destruction of milkweed. Super bugs and super weeds are already appearing. What other consequences are possible? Do we really want to irreversibly change the face of plant life with unknown consequences?

The bottom line is that we have a product in our food supply with unknown health and environmental implications. At the very least, we should have these foods labeled. However, try as we might, we cannot make that happen in the United States. Polls show 90 percent of people want them labeled, but the biotech companies and food manufacturers do not. If their products are beneficial and safe, why not be proud of those products and label them? Nearly 50 countries, including China, require GMO labeling, and some countries ban GMOs. Don’t we have a right to know what’s in our food?

What do Jewish leaders have to say about labeling? The Resolution on Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods issued by Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action states that “GE [genetically engineered] products ought to be labeled as such, since the concealment of vital information (and this information is vital, important to the decision of the consumer to use it) is a violation of the prohibition against deceitful advertising.” (Shulchan Aruch) Similarly, a Conservative rabbi and a Chabad rabbi told us they support labeling because “it’s important for Jews to know what is in their food.”

The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) says that kashrut would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Surprisingly, kashrut agencies may decide that salmon with eel genes (which may soon be sold unlabeled) is kosher. But, observant Jews may feel otherwise and want to avoid it. Vegetarians may prefer to avoid ice cream that is now sold with GMO yeast with fish genes in it. 

Everyone has the right to be informed, through labeling, and thereby avoid foods that violate their personal standards of conscience and religious observance.

Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, will be on the November ballot. Companies such as Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta will probably create ads telling us that labeling is expensive and unnecessary because GMOs are safe. But, prices did not increase when Europe introduced GMO labeling in 1997 or when companies began labeling trans fats in the U.S.

Food labels already tell us if a food has high fructose corn syrup, trans fat or is irradiated. Why can’t we know if it’s genetically engineered? These companies’ biggest fear is that once GMOs are labeled, we won’t want to eat them anymore. And that may happen, just like it did when we found out there was pink slime in our hamburgers.

Our country is based on a free-market economy. If you supply a product the public does not want, the market dictates it will go away. So, biotech companies and food manufacturers will probably spend $50 million to $100 million to prevent the labeling of GMOs.

Whether you are concerned about health and fertility, the environment, or kosher or ethical eating, we hope you will join us and vote for the right to know when there are genetically engineered ingredients in our food.

Adapted with permission from an article at laprogressive.com.


Carole Bartolotto, a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in exercise physiology, has worked in the field of diet and health for more than 20 years. She blogs about nutrition and health at healthyeatingrocks.com. Lisa Goldwag Kassner lives in Northridge and can be reached at labelgmos80@gmail.com.

Feeding the hungry, keeping It ‘light’


On a recent Friday morning, about an hour and a half into his regular weekly shift as the Friday manager of the North Hollywood Interfaith Food Pantry (NHIFP), Jerry Rabinowitz, 86, broke into a smile.

A young mother and her two young boys had come to the food pantry with about a dozen bags of food. One of the boys had just celebrated his 10th birthday, and, instead of gifts, his mother said, he had asked his friends to bring nonperishable food items. They came to the First Christian Church of North Hollywood that morning to see where the donations would end up.

“Let’s start with some tuna,” Rabinowitz told the two boys, who then started distributing the cans among individual bags of groceries. The boys’ mother stood near the door, watching.

The pantry was founded in 1983 by a group of local Christian and Jewish congregations, and Rabinowitz joined its all-volunteer staff about 25 years ago as a packer. Now, as then, volunteers work in the basement of Temple Beth Hillel in Valley Village and assemble donated foods into 20-pound bags of groceries, intended to feed a family for two or three days.

Story continues after the jump

The bags are moved by pickup truck to the church’s former nursery school annex, where the pantry distributes more than 5.5 tons of food every month on an annual budget of about $70,000. Every Monday and Friday morning, starting at 7:30, families come to the door, some from close by and others from as far away as Santa Clarita. There, they meet volunteers like Rabinowitz and a rotating roster of children and teens who come to lend their hands.

“When a kid gives out a bag of food for the food pantry, there is what I call a magic moment,” Rabinowitz said later that morning. “It’s when a kid’s eyes go from the bag of food he’s holding to the face of the person he’s giving it to.”

Rabinowitz retired 30 years ago — from the grocery business, coincidentally — and he fills his weeks mostly with volunteer work. A decorated World War II veteran, Rabinowitz spends Mondays with fellow veterans, Tuesdays volunteering in a hospital’s medical library, and on Wednesdays he accompanies his wife to the Braille Institute, where he helps pack Braille books to be sent to developing countries. On Thursdays, the Rabinowitzes go bowling (his typical score is about 145).

But the pantry is Rabinowitz’s primary commitment. “Of the whole ball of wax, this is the most important thing I do,” he said.

On Fridays, Rabinowitz is the go-to guy. He decides how many cooked eggs go into bags for people without kitchens (two), whether donated bagels should be packaged with donated tubs of cream cheese (yes), and is the one who had to tell one regular pantry visitor that he would not be going home with the 12 boxes of cereal he had asked for.

Rabinowitz is always ready with a joke, mostly about the beautiful younger women who staff (and rely on) the pantry. “Get me the telephone numbers of pretty girls,” he told a volunteer, with a wink and a nod.

“Everything’s gotta be light,” Rabinowitz said, explaining his tendency to crack wise. “Nothing heavy. These people have enough heavy in their lives.”

Kosher coaching fuses spirituality, nutrition


Do women and food always have to be locked in a complicated, co-dependent relationship? Not if Shimona Tzukernik and Miriam Wiener have anything to say about it.

Tzukernik, a kabbalistically oriented “spirit trainer,” author and speaker, recently led a live seminar with Wiener, a nutrition consultant, herbalist and mother of six, called “Nourishment of the Soul: Uncovering the Hidden Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss.” The event drew nearly 20 women to Wiener’s La Brea-area home as well as nearly 100 others watching via Webcast across the country and as far away as Germany and Israel.

Miriam Wiener’s Superfoods Weight-Loss Smoothie Recipes
Superfoods Fruit Smoothie
4 ounces almond milk
2 heaping scoops raw sprouted rice protein
1 teaspoon raw coconut oil or coconut butter
2 tablespoons sprouted chia seed powder
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder (optional)
1 banana (or frozen berries)

Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding water as desired.
You may add additional superfoods and herbs, such as spirulina, maca and ashwagandha, according to your unique needs and taste preferences.

Vegetable Smoothie
8 ounces water, cranberry juice (no sugar added) or 4 ounces almond milk
2 heaping scoops raw sprouted rice protein powder
1 teaspoon raw coconut oil or coconut butter
2 tablespoons sprouted chia seed powder
1 green apple, cut in pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in pieces
1 handful fresh parsley
Juice of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth, adding more liquid as desired.

The two-hour coaching session on Dec. 5 was billed as a way for women to learn how to heal their relationship with food, eliminate cravings, achieve weight-loss goals with ease and purpose, learn about the kabbalah of nutrition, and “joyfully manifest your desires.”

It was a tall order, but Tzukernik’s message clearly resonated with the mostly Orthodox crowd. They nodded in agreement when she said that the right focus on food can serve as a means to elevate the soul and create a stronger bond with God. Underscoring that point, she quoted a verse from Deuteronomy: “A person doesn’t live by bread alone, but rather by the utterance of God’s mouth.”

“We can control our hearts by controlling our mouths, which involves both speech and food,” she said. “Not only is kabbalah a blueprint of reality, but there is also a kabbalah of food. In our society, people often look at food as entertainment, when we should focus instead on food as a way to connect our souls to our bodies. There are godly sparks inside food, which allow us to know God intimately.”

After Tzukernik laid the spiritual framework for eating and nutrition, Wiener followed with a rapid-fire delivery on such topics as superfoods, supplements, setting goals and body type testing to discover what may be triggering food cravings and food sensitivities. The session was designed in part to encourage attendees to sign up for Wiener’s S.T.E.P.S. (Superfoods, Testing, Energy, Planning and Supplements), an individual assessment and coaching program. “Women need to know not only the foods they love, but the foods that love them in return,” she said.

Wiener also explained that women often get tripped up on the road to better health by conflicting and sometimes confusing diet and nutritional advice, as well as an abundance of family and professional obligations that prevent them from making a plan and sticking to it. She added that natural spikes in estrogen levels and other endocrine changes in women can also elevate insulin levels, which in turn increase fat, and can make women feel discouraged.

Boosting cellular health and energy through the right supplements, diet and superfoods can remedy those problems, Wiener asserts. (Her exceptionally healthy glow, extremely trim figure and energy make it easy to believe that the almonds she had soaking in a bowl in her kitchen to make an almond-milk base for her morning smoothie did not appear as a mere prop.)

The women scribbled their notes even faster as Wiener listed thermogenic (fat-burning) foods,  including cayenne pepper, dandelion, ginger, turmeric and fennel; her recipes for superfoods morning smoothies; and the benefits of water therapies, such as breathing in steaming water with essential oils.

One attendee asked Wiener how it was possible to recommend supplements and superfoods in general, if people’s body types make them respond differently to the same foods. Wiener clarified by saying, “My emphasis is on understanding your nutritional uniqueness and how it is connected to spiritual and emotional wellness. You can’t lose weight permanently using nutrition alone. You must always look to balance the physical, emotional and spiritual parts of yourself.”

With far more information than could possibly have fit into the morning session, the Nourishment of the Soul program has since been expanded into a six-week teleclass; the next course is scheduled for Jan. 10. As part of the program, Wiener and Tzukernik show how to add specific foods, lifestyle tools and techniques one at a time.

“This doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to involve pain, deprivation or starvation,” Wiener said. “This can be fun!”

What to look for, where to find help


As a loving and concerned parent, you may notice that when your daughter enters puberty she will gain weight. Most of this gain is due to her body developing and preparing her to grow taller; the weight usually precedes the growth spurt. A healthy adolescent may gain anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds. Because there is so much focus on weight and body size in our culture, however, adolescents are not given the opportunity to go through these changes with the weight fluctuations that are necessary for normal development. This is the time that most eating disorders start. Over the years, I have heard my clients say that they started their eating disorder between the ages of 11 and 15 years old. Most started with a diet or over-exercising.

It is very hard to tell if your daughter is going through normal changes or has the beginning stages of an eating disorder. Research reports that 50 percent of girls between the ages of 12 and 14 say they are unhappy because they “feel fat,” 45 percent of elementary-school-age children report wanting to be thinner, and 40 to 60 percent of high-school girls in the United States are on a diet.

Here are some eating disorder signs to look for:

• Uses food when upset or stressed.

• Has lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time.

• Uses laxatives, diuretics and/or appetite suppressants .

• Must exercise or goes to the bathroom during or following meals.

• Has a preoccupation with body, weight, diets and/or food.

You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. The eating disorder is used as a way of coping with the stresses of life. It is a way to avoid feelings or some traumatic event that a person does not want to face. Left untreated, the eating disorder can cause disruptions in emotional and physical development, including osteoporosis and infertility later in life.

Many people ask me, “What are the best ways to avoid an eating disorder?” One of the most important factors is role modeling and dieting. We now have generations of women brought up with dieting and not liking their body. A child sees Mom looking in a mirror and being upset about her weight. She sees her going on one diet after another. She thinks Mom is beautiful and wants to be just like her.

Research is showing that 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to disordered eating that may last a lifetime. Alterations occur in brain chemistry from restricting food then binging. People start using food to feel better. Food uses the same reward system as mind-altering substances. This is one of the reasons for cravings and obsessive thoughts about food. Also, some foods are addictive to some people.

Currently, 11 million people in the United States have eating disorders. Disordered eating is not entirely about what we eat. Most people with disordered eating could write books about nutrition. They know the calories, fat grams and carbohydrate contents of the foods they eat. They know what they should eat and how much; they just cannot put that into practice. The real problem is that food or the compulsive thoughts are being used to avoid some part of our life. Usually they do not know what feelings they are avoiding.

In our treatment center, we see so many people who are not only disconnected from their feelings, but also from their appetite and themselves. When dieting, they may be hungry, but they tell themselves, “I am doing well, because I am sticking to my diet.” They are not listening to their body signals. Over time, they do not even know when they are hungry or full. They search for an external source (the diet) to regulate their food intake. With each failed diet, they lose a little more self-esteem, because they did not stay with their diet. Yo-yo dieting or other forms of external control only work temporarily. The real issues need to be dealt with so that there is no need to use food to shove these issues down. Only an internal shift can produce lifelong changes.

Many people have followed the steps outlined in my book, “Diets Don’t Work” (ReBu, 2009), so that they can once again eat when hungry and stop when full and make healthy choices.

Obviously, there is a continuum of eating disorder behaviors, but if disordered eating is causing a problem in your life, relationships or self-esteem, you should consult a professional who specializes in eating disorders. Eating disorders and disordered eating do not go away on their own; they require professional help. There is no simple cause of eating disorders, nor is there a simple cure.

It is usually a good idea to start treatment with a team of experienced eating disorder professionals. The collaborative approach — including a medical doctor, registered dietitian, exercise physiologist and therapist, along with group therapy — is necessary to facilitate dealing with the core issues and build a solid foundation for long-term recovery. The dialogue among these professionals is indispensable in planning the best treatment for each individual. An eating disorder treatment program will help the person deal with the underlying reasons why he or she has been using the eating disorder, and create the foundation for lasting recovery.

Rebecca Cooper is a licensed therapist, certified eating disorder specialist, the author of “Diets Don’t Work” and the founder of Rebecca’s House Eating Disorders Treatment Program in Laguna Hills.

For more information about Cooper’s work, visit www.DietsDontWork.org and www.Rebeccashouse.org, or call (800) 711-2062.

My anorexia: How I became a survivor


About seven of us have gathered for group therapy in a large room scattered with chairs. A woman with frizzy red hair and a head that looks several sizes too big for her emaciated body sits across from me. Next to her, a statuesque blonde has a polished demeanor that belies the fact that, after lunch, staff members will try to keep her from going to the bathroom to vomit.

It’s just weeks before my 16th birthday, and I’ve been deposited here in the eating disorders unit of the Waltham-Weston Hospital in Massachusetts because, after a year and a half of starvation, my vital signs have dropped dangerously low. With my knees tucked under me to guard against the chill, though, I feel fine, and the fact that I’m the youngest person in the room gives me a smug sense of accomplishment.

This moment stands out to me now, 15 years later, because I credit what happened next with saving my life: Looking around at the ghosts of my future that bright September morning, a voice shot into my head, replacing my self-satisfaction and shocking me with the following epiphany: “I don’t want to die.”

And with that, I became one of the lucky ones.

My battle with anorexia began when I was 14. I was wrapping up my first year at a private school and at the same time coming out of an adolescent rebellion that involved a lot of dark eye makeup and short skirts. If I was going to fit in with my new Polo-wearing classmates, I figured that I would have to change my look, starting with dropping the extra 20 or so pounds of baby fat that stuck stubbornly around my middle.

One afternoon in the spring, I mentioned my diet to a delicate, ethereal-looking girl who was one year younger than me.

“All you have to do,” she said breathlessly, “is just not eat.”

It was both brilliant and incredibly obvious. Almost immediately, the gears in my mind that carry whatever glitch causes eating disorders were sent into overdrive. All of my mental energy stopped, pivoted and turned toward her suggestion, becoming completely focused on ridding my body of unwanted, excess pounds.

I weighed and balanced calories with the precision of a molecular chemist. I went from eating three meals and two snacks a day to eating one meal a day and nothing else.

As soon as summer rolled around, I convinced a friend to spend every afternoon doing hours of workout videos with me in the basement of her house. Once the sun went down, I would jog the two miles back home through the sweltering New England humidity.

When I went back to school in the fall, though, the ride came screeching to a halt. My now-bony body caught the eye of the class ballerina, who was experienced enough in such matters to notice when the flesh covering a girl’s rib or hipbone was stretched just a bit too much. She tipped off a teacher, who in turn notified my parents. 

The news was met on their end with palpable fear, and within weeks I was set up with a psychiatrist. He was the best of the best, the head of the eating disorders program at Massachusetts General Hospital, and for one hour every Tuesday night, in the basement office of his imposing gray mansion in Newton, I would sit silently as he worked his magic, peppering me with questions for which

I didn’t have any answers.

Two afternoons a week, my mother would drive me to my pediatrician’s office in Weston, where I would strip down and don a plastic gown, remove all my jewelry and empty my bladder, and then watch with delight as the numbers on the scale continued to drop.

On the way home, I never knew whether my mother’s silence meant she wanted to scream or cry.

As the year wore on, despite my continually plummeting weight, the eating disorder lost its thrill. I began to get exhausted, and my rituals became obligations that I could no longer comprehend. Food had turned into an obsession that drove me to think up ways to eat without eating. When I knew I was alone, I would take out snacks or leftovers, smell them and put them away. Other times I would chew them up and then spit them out.

But I couldn’t stop; the sicker I became, the more successful I felt.

My psychiatrist was the one who broke the news that my bags were being packed for Waltham-Weston. After getting an EKG and blood work done, I landed in his office, where he informed me from underneath his bushy gray mustache that I was going to be taken directly to the hospital.

“Like, to stay?”

“Yes.”

It was another year or two before my weight became stable, but after that, I shut the door on what I viewed as a one-time episode. I didn’t want to think or talk about my anorexia; I didn’t understand it, and it seemed no one else did either. The details also seemed unsavory at best — I was certain that they would repulse normal people.

When I was assigned to write an article for The Jewish Journal about eating disorders several months ago by my unsuspecting editor, I took it on thinking that I was far enough removed from the topic that I would be unfazed.

I was wrong. It took shockingly little to jog the memory of the flesh on my body feeling almost parasitic, and how satisfying it once was to starve it off. But as I’ve been telling people that I’m writing this, a surprising number of women have confided that they have battled eating disorders, too. Many of them are Jewish. Many still struggle, every second of every day.

And I suppose that’s the point: to expose my thoughts and feelings and secrets to the light of day, for myself and for anyone else who might be affected. I am one of the lucky ones. But I don’t want to sit by silently anymore.

When challah becomes the bread of affliction


Rabbi Marvin Hier fondly recalls bakery-fresh buns and muffins in his lunch when he attended yeshiva. He also admits to a penchant for challah.

“I didn’t just nosh on a piece of challie. I could have, on Friday and Shabbos, two slices, three slices of challie at the same meal. And the same with bagels,” he said.

Hier hasn’t eaten challah, let alone matzah, in several years. But this bread-free existence isn’t part of some Passover-inspired, Atkins-style diet. The founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was diagnosed with celiac disease (CD) more than four years ago.

CD, also called celiac sprue, is an autoimmune disorder, like Crohn’s and multiple sclerosis. The ingestion of gluten — a protein in wheat, rye and barley — leads the immune system to identify the lining of the small intestine as a foreign object and mounts an attack, hampering the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The disease was thought to be rare, but it is now believed that 1 percent of the population — roughly 3 million people in the United States — have the condition, according to the Center for Celiac Research at University of Maryland School of Medicine. CD is especially common among Jews, along with Italians, Irish, British, Scandinavians, Spaniards and Palestinians.

CD typically presents with multiple symptoms, which can include various stomach and digestive ailments, as well as anemia, weight loss, depression or anxiety. The disease can also increase the risk of infertility, osteoporosis, arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, liver disease and certain types of cancer, like esophageal cancer and intestinal lymphoma.

Diagnosis can be challenging, because many medical professionals are not familiar with CD, and its symptoms overlap with other diseases. Research has shown that a celiac can see a succession of physicians and specialists over an average period of 11 years before the true source of the illness is diagnosed, according to The Celiac Disease Foundation, which is holding its annual Education Conference and Food Faire on May 3 at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Before his diagnosis, Hier, 69, recalls a life filled with acid reflux disease, which doctors treated with prescription medication.

It could have been years before the true cause of his digestive problems was found, if at all. His condition was finally discovered when one of his grandchildren was diagnosed in 2003 after suffering from almost daily stomach cramps. The entire family underwent testing because the disease is passed on genetically, and Hier was found to carry the genetic markers.

Looking back, he’s fairly certain he knows whom he inherited CD from in his own family.

“My father for sure had celiac,” he said. “He had a very skinny face, drawn.”

The disease can surface as early as 1 or 2 years old or can suddenly appear in women in their 40s. There is no cure for the condition and no pill to alleviate symptoms. While a few drug manufacturers are attempting to develop a vaccine, only a strict diet free of gluten can ease symptoms.

Dr. Michelle Pietzak, a pediatric gastroenterologist with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, says many celiacs remain undiagnosed because physicians get little nutritional training in medical school and the education doctors receive afterward is partly based on information from drug companies, which currently have no drug-offering incentive to discuss the issue, she says.

“Also, there is some skepticism on the part of the physicians,” Pietzak said. “I’ve heard some physicians say, ‘Oh, this is just a trend like low-carb or the Zone Diet,’ and it’s not. [A gluten-free diet] is the medical treatment for the condition. But the awareness still has a long way to go.”

Elaine Monarch, executive director of the Celiac Disease Foundation, says she had symptoms growing up, but wasn’t diagnosed until she turned 41, in 1981. She said doctors attributed her problems to anemia because she was female or bloating due to her stressful lifestyle as a busy mom.

“Then I got violently ill, and they thought I had food poisoning, and then they thought I had a parasite,” she said.

When she was finally diagnosed, she said, the knowledge about the disease was so limited in the 1980s that she was told to stay away from bread, except for maybe a bagel on the weekends.

Studio City-based Celiac Disease Foundation has been a key player in helping the Food and Drug Administration adopt rules about how to define “gluten free” on product labels as part of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act; a final ruling on the voluntary law is expected by August.

Shopping for food, toiletries and medications can be confusing for those with celiac disease or other gluten-sensitive conditions. Wheat can be listed on labels in different forms: modified food starch, rusk, edible starch, cereal binders, cereal filler, thickener. A similar problem exists for rye and barley.

To help clear up some of that confusion, many celiacs turn to gluten-free blogs and online message boards for answers. And if you Google the name Rabbi Gershon Bess, at the top of the list is mention of his “Passover Guide to Cosmetics and Medications” on Celiac.com. The annual report features products like toothpaste, denture cream, vitamins and over-the-counter drugs that are free of wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt. (Gluten is too large to be absorbed through the skin, so cosmetics do not pose a problem for most celiacs.)

Bess says he fields requests for the Kollel L.A. guide from several non-Jews, and one woman has even asked to get a regular update each year. “She has said that she finds sometimes it’s more accurate than what the companies report,” he said.

Increased celiac consciousness among corporations has benefited kosher consumers during Passover by reducing the inclusion of wheat, rye and barley in foods.

“The companies are very sensitive to the needs of the celiac patients, which makes our job easier,” Bess said. “If they had a choice between corn or wheat starch, they would definitely go with the corn.”

Loving your veggies can lighten the seder


Faye Levy doesn’t look like anyone who’s ever had a problem with her weight. The prolific cookbook author stands at 4-foot-10, and weighs about 100 pounds.

But somewhere in the mid-1980s, just as she was working on “Chocolate Sensations” and “Dessert Sensations,” she realized that testing those recipes, on top of six years at cooking school in Paris — and following every enticing smell into street markets and cafes — had added a lot of weight to her tiny frame.

“For many years, I thought that since I love food so much, there is no way I can ever be at the right weight for my height. I was just going to be chubby and that’s it,” Levy said recently over a cup of coffee in Woodland Hills, where she lives with her husband, Yakir.

Good thing her next book focused on vegetables.

“I found out that you can have good meals from mostly vegetables. If you have vegetables and a legume, and maybe a little lean protein, whole grain rice or whole grain bread — but just a little — you can lose weight,” said Levy, 56, an award-winning author of around 20 cookbooks, including “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Wiley, 2000) and “Feast From the Middle East” (William Morrow, 2003).

She’s translated that knowledge into her new book, “Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home: 200 Recipes for Eating Well on Holidays and Every Day,” (William Morrow, $29.95). Unlike her low-fat books of the late 1990s, this one focuses not on what to cut, but on the wide variety and interesting ways to prepare components of a nutritious diet.

Written for foodies and novices alike, the book offers recipes with adventurous spice blends that perk up vegetables and healthy alternatives to traditional favorites. Passover is the perfect time to take some courageous leaps with vegetables and put colorful organics at the center of meals that might otherwise be laden with fatty meats, dense matzah and ubiquitous potatoes.

In fact, Levy and her husband once experimented with an all-vegetable diet. They managed on only vegetables for three weeks — it was all the chopping and preparing that eventually got to them — and then slowly added fruit, legumes and then finally small amounts of vegetarian protein and whole grains.

Now, they have a more moderate diet. She and Yakir enjoy all varieties of meats, grains and legumes, but she throws double vegetables into everything. And, she still leaves room for the things she loves too much to swear away, like homemade pasta with creme fraiche and ganache (two ingredients: really good chocolate and cream).

Talking to Levy, it became clear just how much she loves food — and not just because she kept saying so. The emotion poured from her eyes and smiling voice as she told stories that wandered from Jerusalem to Santa Monica to Istanbul, of meandering through the new markets she is always discovering, of the friends she loves to eat with and the people — family, neighbors and professionals — who taught about cooking.

Her new book is something like that, too, full of tales of how she developed these recipes, the people she met along the way, and her many experiences at cooking school and in teaching cooking classes. In her recipe introductions, she offers tips and explanations that are just as valuable as the recipes themselves. It’s worth sitting down with this book to get to know Levy when you’re not frantically trying to craft your own impressive menu.

Her recipes blend a variety of traditions — her childhood in a kosher, Ashkenazi home; her husband’s Yemenite traditions; her training in French cooking; and her love for Chinese and Italian food. Levy uses tons of fresh ingredients — herbs and lemon juice are everywhere, and she seems to have a real affinity for ginger and jalapeño peppers, often in the same recipes.

Some of my favorite recipes in the book are not usable for Passover: baked barley with chard and garlic pesto; a cabbage and carrot salad with peanut sauce; a simple blend of bulgur wheat, fresh garlic and ginger.

But there is a lot to choose from for Passover. Levy’s Passover section includes twists on the traditional, like whole-wheat matzah balls floating in chicken soup with asparagus or sopping up flavor in a chicken and vegetable stew.

But leaf through the other sections to explore the bounty of vegetable recipes — it’s just the thing to offset the potatoes, eggs and meats that usually make Passover eating anything but healthy.

Braised Calabaza Squash with Chiles and Ginger
12-pound piece calabaza squash (or butternut or Japanese kabocha squash)
1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger
1 or 2 poblano chilis (called pasilla in California), seeds discarded, cut into strips
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander

Cut squash into pieces and cut off peel with a heavy, sharp knife. Remove any seeds or stringy flesh. Cut flesh into about 1-inch cubes.

Heat oil in a stew pan. Add onions, cover and sautÃ(c) over medium-low heat, stirring often, for five minutes. Add ginger and chili strips and saute for five more minutes. Add squash pieces and a little salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons water, cover and cook for 15 more minutes or until tender, stirring from time to time and adding water by tablespoons if necessary. Stir in coriander. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or warm.

Makes three to four servings.

Cucumber, Jicama and Orange Salad with Black Olives
1 small jicama (12 ounces)

Semper Fiber


I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, especially of the weight-loss variety. I’ve even been known to renew my vows on a weekly basis. Yet, I have learned
that any drastic promises, such as, “I will never eat another bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream ever again,” never work.

Other sure-fail methods include eating “calorie-controlled” blueberry gelatin and promising that you will only eat three ounces of cold turkey (skinless, of course) for lunch every day. A coworker of mine ate this way until one day she opened her mouth to speak but started to gobble instead.
Last year, I also decided that I would only weigh myself on the summer and winter solstices.

Too-frequent weigh-ins can sabotage any diet efforts, because a woman’s weight is a mysterious, jumpy, undependable thing that does not follow any known laws of nature. Over-weighing would lead to stress. Stress would slow down my metabolism, which was already prone to sleeping in late.

When my scale realized it was being ignored, it had a digital breakdown. Now my husband and sons are perplexed why the scale registers a difference of 15 pounds from a Monday to a Wednesday. Finally, payback time.

This year, I looked for fresh ideas on reducing poundage. Fortunately, I found an article that uncovered facts never before revealed to the American public. For example, did you know that Krispy Kreme Doughnuts are full of saturated fats and sugar? Who knew?

Now that I am aware of this and other startling nutritional data, I don’t dare approach within 100 feet of a Krispy Kreme shop. (Frankly, they deserve a boycott for the spelling alone.) But I am going one better: I am also making a commitment to fiber. This inspiration came from my friend Helen, who went from a pleasingly feminine figure to a lean, mean marathon machine.

Each time I saw her, she had dropped another dress size, her skin glowed more radiantly than ever and the threat of middle-aged wattle under the chin had vanished. When she moved her arms, her biceps flexed insouciantly. Helen looked fantastic. If she didn’t knock it off, I would have no choice but to hate her.

“How have you done this?” I asked, faking wonderment instead of envy.

She took my arm and leaned in close. “It’s all about the fiber,” she said. “You’ve got to try it.”
“No thanks,” I said, holding my hands up in a “stop” gesture. “It may be ecologically friendly, but pure fibers are much too high maintenance for me. I bought a linen dress once, and the dry cleaning alone nearly killed me.”

“Not that fiber,” she said. “I’m talking bran cereal, garbanzo beans and broccoli.”

She whipped a small nutrition bar out of her pocket, where she apparently kept a stash. It was made of flaxseed, apricots and at least 25 percent recycled greeting cards.

“Try this. Fourteen grams of fiber in this little bar,” she said. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she laughed.

It was a strange laugh, perhaps the kind of laugh you get after ingesting too much fiber.

“Great,” I said, dropping the bar into the vast black hole of my purse. “If it works, I’ll ask my doctor for a prescription.”

“Oh, no need,” she said. “These are over-the-counter, even the blueberry. But if you’re really serious about prescription fiber bars, I know where you can order them cheap from Canada.”

And so, desperately trying to become sinewy and taut like Helen, I put my trust in fiber. Scads of fiber. My main food groups became split peas, collard greens and psyllium husks. I tossed soy nuts and lentils on everything, even cereal. One night, I dreamed that I had fallen into an open barrel of barley at the local Whole Foods store. I developed indigestion.

After two weeks of uncompromising fidelity to fiber, I had not lost any weight, but my pantry was four pounds lighter, because I had used up most of the lentils and several cans of kidney and white beans.

Then I saw Helen again, who looked more buff than ever. My indigestion flared up immediately. Probably too many raw red peppers at lunch. Not a good idea.

“What gives?” I demanded. “You claimed that you looked so great because of fiber. I’ve eaten so much fiber I could be the poster child for the National Colon Health Foundation. You must be doing something else. Come on, spill it ”

“I’m working with a personal trainer three times a week,” Helen said. “I’m sure I told you.”

I knew there had to be a catch. Helen’s confession vindicated me. A diet of chickpeas and cantaloupe might get you poster child status for colon health but would not get you on the cover of Brawny Babe magazine. The green stuff of Helen’s success wasn’t only kale, it was cold, hard cash for the trainer.

Since then, I’ve gotten used to my more fibrous diet, but sometimes I pine for hours for an empty calorie. Overall, it’s not really that bad, if you don’t mind indigestion. I can’t afford Helen’s personal trainer, but at least I know the secret of her success. Commitment, self-discipline and money.

Who knew?

Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” column at judygruen.com. Her next book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” will be published in May.

Nonverbal Baby Talk a Sign of the Times


While other infants and young toddlers let out a howl when they are hungry, 14-month-old Emmet Weisz simply brings his hands together at the heel and rotates the right hand over the left, making the hand-sign for his favorite food: cheese.

“He has a great love for dairy,” laughed Emmet’s mother, Rabbi Debra Orenstein, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area. “If I say it’s time for lunch or let’s go to the kitchen, he’ll sign ‘cheese.'”

Rather than waiting for her son to express himself verbally, Orenstein, like many Southland parents, decided to enhance Emmet’s language skills by taking baby sign-language classes. Teaching sign-language to preverbal hearing babies is one of the fastest-growing parenting trends in North America.

“Imagine that your baby is crying at night and you have to play the guessing game as to what the baby wants. Baby sign-language makes it so easy because they tell you exactly what they want,” said Etel Leit, founder of SignShine, a West L.A.-based company that offers American Sign-Language (ASL) workshops and classes for parents, caregivers and children.

Teaching her 19-month-old daughter, Zoë, more than 100 signs has quelled those late-night brainteasers. In addition, sign-language has become a unifying language in the family’s bilingual household.

While signing has only recently become popular for nondisabled children, it has been used to help special-needs children communicate for decades. At the UCLA Intervention Program, a program for infants and toddlers with a variety of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, sign-language is one of the typical means used to help children with language delays.

The recent popularity of baby signing is a comfort to many families with special needs children.

“It’s nice that [signing] has become mainstream,” said executive director Kit Kehr. “It helps the families in our program feel like it’s not an odd thing they’re doing.”

Research shows that sign-language reduces frustration between parent and child, helps accelerate verbal language development, can serve as a bridge between English and non-English speakers and may increase a child’s IQ.

Not everyone agrees. Critics of the trend feel that teaching babies to sign is a symptom of an overachieving parent. Other naysayers fear that parents will depend on sign-language and abandon the spoken word.

“I don’t think parents should ever use [sign-language] as a substitute for speech or as a way to teach children to develop language faster,” said Deena Bernstein, professor and chairman of the department of speech-language-hearing sciences at City University of New York’s Lehman College in the Bronx. “I think children are born to talk and some believe they are pre-programmed physiologically to do so.”

Leit, however, has seen the benefits firsthand.

In her Sign, Sing and Play classes, parents and/or caregivers and their children attend six one-hour classes consisting of interactive games, music, singing and storytelling. By the end of the series, parents and children are exposed to over 100 signs focusing on topics like mealtime, bathtime, clothing, bedtime, animals, family, colors, emotions and playtime. Students take home supplementary materials and are told to practice throughout the week.

Babies are ready to learn sign-language when they can point and clap their hands. Leit suggests that anywhere from 4 to 6 months is a good starting point and she claims that it’s never too late to learn.

Children who already speak can also benefit from sign-language because it enhances their vocabulary. At age 2, babies who sign have more than a three-month advantage over nonsigners in the area of speech; at age 3 they often speak at a nearly 4-year-old level, according to a National Institute of Health study conducted by Dr. Linda Acredolo, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, and Dr. Susan Goodwyn, professor of psychology at California State University Stanislaus.

West Hollywood resident Revital Goodman signs with her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Abigail.

“We use it when we’re at the park,” Goodman said. “Instead of yelling for her to come here or to come eat, we sign.”

Abigail, who is already bilingual, constantly asks her mother how to sign new words.

Dimple Tyler, a stay-at-home mom from Los Angeles, believes in the benefits of signing. After several classes, her 8-month-old son, Jonathan, is showing his first indication of interest in sign-language: a smile.

“Watching me sign is a game to him and it engages him,” Tyler said. “I can tell he’s learning the concept.”

Amusement is often the first stage for babies learning sign-language. Recognition, imitation and the baby’s first sign follow.

As a language teacher, Leit feels that her Judaism and Israeli roots have influenced her outlook on communication.

“People who know more languages are more open-minded,” she said. “Instead of looking at a deaf person or a person who speaks Hebrew or Farsi and saying how different they are, we realize how similar we all are.”

For information on SignShine classes, call (310) 613-3900 or visit www.babysignshine.com

 

Wanted: A General in the Obesity War


Obesity is the fastest growing health threat in this country, currently on track to overtake tobacco as No. 1.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30 percent of American adults older than 20 (more than 60 million people) are obese. The percentage of youths ages 6-19 who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980 to more than 9 million.

The lifetime risk of Type II diabetes is headed toward 30 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls, putting these kids at greatly elevated risks for debilitating health problems, like kidney and heart disease, amputation and blindness.

Locally, more than half the adults in Los Angeles are either overweight or obese, while 21 percent of the children are overweight, with an additional 19 percent at risk of becoming overweight.

And while Jews are far from immune, obesity is not an equal opportunity affliction — African American and Latino communities have obesity rates triple that of whites, and poorer Americans are almost 50 percent more likely to be obese than wealthier Americans.

The seriousness of the problem has begun to attract considerable attention both inside the public health community and beyond. Our state and local governments have been active in responding to this epidemic — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Obesity Task Force and his tireless cheerleading for more physical activity to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) healthy beverage initiative, which notably brings healthier food and drinks to schools without diminishing snack revenues.

The nonprofit sector has also mobilized through a variety of projects that empower kids to lose weight by making smart diet and lifestyle choices, and through innovative organizations like Students Run L.A., where young Angelenos train for the L.A. marathon. Forward-thinking foundations have pitched in some of their considerable resources to fight obesity.

Meanwhile research/advocacy organizations like the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College have expanded their missions to address obesity, noting that many of the same families at risk for hunger are also at the greatest risk for obesity.

So why the need for another alarmist editorial when we already find some of our best and brightest organizations fighting obesity? The answer lies in the dual nature of the epidemic.

At one level, obesity is an extraordinarily uncomplicated problem. According to Dr. Francine Kaufmann, head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, obesity is on the rise because we simply take in more calories in food then we expend in energy. Yet finding a correspondingly simple solution has proved maddeningly difficult.

Reversing the tide requires taking on, in a coordinated manner, the variety of factors responsible for the epidemic, from unhealthy diets, insufficient exercise, reliance on automobiles, inadequate nutrition education, excessive junk food, scarcity of fresh produce to many other complicated, interrelated causes related to the way we now live. And while many of these causes are being addressed individually, success in fighting this disease requires a strategy that coordinates the present multiplicity of approaches.

To introduce this higher level of strategizing, we are proposing the creation of a joint county, city (and, if possible, LAUSD) obesity coordinator. The office would be modeled on the city’s AIDS coordinator’s office created by Mayor Tom Bradley, but would include the county to take advantage of its public health and health care resources and the LAUSD as one of the country’s largest educational institutions, while also leveraging the bully pulpit available to the mayor.

Following the successful AIDS coordinator model, the obesity coordinator would have various responsibilities:

• Education/Public Health. The coordinator would create an education campaign, leveraging the city and county media infrastructure, as well as the school system and a prevention program targeted at encouraging healthier food and lifestyle choices.

• Policy/Coordination. The obesity coordinator would spearhead the development of county-citywide obesity policies to ensure that governmental and nongovernmental responses to obesity are adequately coordinated.

• Analysis. The coordinator would analyze the efficacy of existing programs and facilitate long-term studies of the current approaches to identify and consolidate around the most successful ones.

• Programs. Following on the pioneering work of the food policy organization, California Food Policy Advocates, we would encourage the obesity coordinator to explore creative solutions, including programs to introduce green grocers into neighborhoods that currently lack access to quality fresh produce. These programs would require minimal capital (possibly leveraging new markets tax credits and other innovative financing sources) to help create and capitalize local businesses that sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

We believe that the Jewish community has a role to play in the campaign to appoint an obesity coordinator and to win the battle against obesity. Generating the political will to create an empowered obesity coordinator will require pressure from many communities, including our own.

In addition, many existing institutions can participate in this fight, from Koreh L.A., The Jewish Federation’s reading in public schools program that could incorporate obesity education curriculum, or Mazon, the anti-hunger effort, which could expand its mission to confront the obesity epidemic through its network of food banks.

Ultimately, this is a complicated and long-term problem that will require the kind of effort deployed against AIDS and smoking.

The appointment of an obesity coordinator would enable more effective cooperation and strategic management of our resources and hasten the day when we turn around this burgeoning affliction.

Brian Albert and Tanya Bowers are members of the New Leaders Project, which was founded in Los Angeles in 1990 and links Jewish values with a commitment to civic activism.

This op-ed piece is the first of three by members of
the New Leaders Project (NLP), a Jewish civic leadership training program of the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee. Participants researched three pressing issues — education,
housing and health — and presented their proposed solutions to a panel of community experts.

Pantry Gets a New Home to Help Hungry


This year, for the first time in SOVA’s 22-year history, food pantry volunteers won’t have to store and unpack thousands of grocery bags filled with High Holiday Food Drive donations in multiple cramped locations or larger rented spaces that are costly and inconvenient. Instead, SOVA volunteers will work at the new Daniel Lembark Distribution Center in Van Nuys, a cheerful 5,000-square-foot-plus warehouse with ample room for sorting and shelving the expected record-breaking 100,000 pounds of donated food and toiletry items.

The official dedication and community open house is Sunday, Oct. 9, though the center’s been up and running since Aug. 1. It’s named after Daniel Lembark, a passionate community advocate who understood the crucial need for a central warehouse to efficiently serve all three SOVA (Hebrew for “eat and be satisfied”) locations, one in the San Fernando Valley and two in Los Angeles.

Lembark was the first chairman of the JFS/SOVA Advisory Committee, formed in January 2002 when SOVA came under the auspices of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Even when diagnosed with cancer, Lembark continued to work toward the goal of a needed warehouse, forming the Daniel Lembark/SOVA Facilities Fund and even helping to draw up plans for the building. Shortly before his death on Feb. 3, 2003, Lembark instructed his wife, Connie: “You will raise the money for this building.”

The Daniel Lembark Distribution Center is part of a 10,000-square-foot building at 16439 Vanowen St., which also serves as the new location of SOVA’s Valley food pantry and administrative offices. The center was refurbished and equipped partially by $175,000 raised though Facilities Fund donations and the sale of artworks donated by established artists. That effort, called SOVArt, was the brainchild of Connie Lembark, a retired art consultant.

The entire facility — from the calming and uplifting color scheme to the semiprivate meeting areas, from the client sitting area and bathroom to the corner stacked with new and gently used books for children to read and take home — is designed to provide clients with comfort and dignity.

“We give people as much control as possible,” said Leslie Friedman, who has worked for Jewish Family Service since 1986, serving as director of SOVA since January 2002. SOVA also gives clients help beyond food, which is reflected in the name change from SOVA Food Pantry Program to SOVA Community Food and Resource Program.

SOVA’s clients include the elderly, low-wage earners, the recently or long-time unemployed, and those suffering from serious illness or coping with physical or mental disabilities. SOVA provides them and their family members with a monthly allotment of healthy foods — including fruits, vegetables and high protein items — that last about four days, with more available for those who are homeless or in crisis.

SOVA provides kosher foods as well as baby foods and diapers and personal hygiene products. The agency recently started stocking special foods and liquid supplements for those living with HIV/AIDS, diabetes, high blood pressure or other medical conditions.

The warehouse shelves are stocked with foods from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and Westside Food Bank. These sources provide free surplus commodities and lower-than-warehouse-priced case goods. SOVA also benefits from four community food drives — during the High Holidays, Thanksgiving, Passover and June — that are supported by more than 60 affiliated congregations and schools. Individuals, vendors and grocery stores also regularly donate foods and ancillary items.

Both new and returning clients meet with intake volunteers on every visit, completing or updating information forms and filling out personal grocery orders with needed and requested items, as all bags are individually packed.

Additionally, clients can meet with SOVA information specialist Eilat Gutman, who has set up resource centers at all three locations to help them find various low- or no-cost community services. In a private room, with a computer and telephone for client use, Gutman or one of her volunteers refers people to places that can help with housing, transportation, medical and dental treatment, legal issues and other needs. This assistance includes providing vouchers to the National Council of Jewish Women thrift shop to obtain clothes for interviews or school.

Also, on certain days, clients can meet with a representative from the Department of Public Social Services to determine food stamp eligibility or a counselor from Jewish Vocational Service regarding employment.

“We empower people to take steps to better their situation,” Gutman said. “A lot of them are really just surviving.”

SOVA opened its first pantry in July 1983 when members of the Jewish community discovered that seniors in the Santa Monica/Venice area, because of a recession and cuts in public welfare programs, were going hungry, having to choose between health care and food.

Since then, Los Angeles has become the hunger capital of the United States, with one out of every 14 hungry Americans living here, according to a Los Angeles Department of Health Services 2001 report. That amounts to more than 775,000 low-income adults living in Los Angeles County hungry or at risk of going hungry, according to a study released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research in June 2004. And employment is no guard against hunger, with almost 30 percent of employed low-income adults classified as food insecure.

The SOVA Pantries and Resource Centers are open four days a week, including Sunday mornings. In addition to the 10 full- and part-time staff members, more than 120 core volunteers, some in their upper 80s, work at least one day a week.

“These are nice people to work with,” said Jerry Cohen, 73, a twice-weekly Valley volunteer for 10 years. “It’s a mitzvah.”

Additionally, hundreds of other volunteers from schools and organizations pitch in.

SOVA is funded by The Jewish Federation, the Harold Edelstein Foundation, government grants and other foundation, corporate and private donors. In addition, the organization offers tribute cards and now sponsors Baskets of Hope, custom-decorated baskets of canned and packaged foods that can be rented for centerpieces for b’nai mitzvah or other events. And Connie Lembark continues to raise funds through her SOVArt Project, with artists lined up to donate works for sale through 2007.

When Daniel Lembark became the founding chairperson of the JFS/SOVA Advisory Committee in January 2002, the organization was providing food for about 2,000 people a month. Now it supplies food to about 3,500 a month, with the numbers certain to increase. But SOVA can effectively meet that need, thanks to Lembark’s vision and persistence.

 

You Are What You Eat


 

I am a vegetarian. I know there was a big controversy brewing over kosher meat, but I’m not sure what the Jewish position

on vegetarianism is. I suppose as long as the vegetables are pulled from the ground in a quick and humane manner, no one can object too strenuously to it. I know God created animals, but I can’t imagine He’d be offended if I didn’t eat them. I’d hate to think of God pouting in His room saying, between sobs, “I worked so hard on that lamb and Nemetz doesn’t even touch it!”

People usually become vegetarians for either health concerns or humane reasons. It is, in theory, healthier to eat lower down on the food chain. Foods are more easily digestible (with the notable exception of my mother’s potato kugel, some of which has been lodged in my small intestine since the Thursday before my bar mitzvah). The problem with doing anything for health reasons is that you’re just staving off the inevitable — like carrying an umbrella in a meteor shower. It may slow the meteor down a tad, but not enough to change your ultimate destiny.

As for the inhumanity of eating animals, while I applaud the sentiment, I think it is a somewhat misplaced compassion — like the anti-abortionists who value the fetus but have no problem killing the abortion doctor. All one needs do is turn on the National Geographic channel to see that, out in the wild, fast eats slow and big eats little — although for some unknown reason, nothing eats the guy holding the camera. If I ever go on safari, I’m renting a Betacam.

I have chosen to eschew meat for a third, more self-obsessed reason — it’s annoying to those around me. You know how some people say that they don’t want to be a bother? Not me. I love being a bother. It really puts people out when they want — or feel obligated to — have me over for dinner (I’ll accept either; a meal’s a meal).

Upon learning of my restrictive diet, the host or hostess will invariably ask me the same question, “Do you eat fish?” Now I’m not a biologist (although I was a genetics major my first year in college — until my grades came out, at which point the university and I agreed that I should pursue a degree in English), but it seems to me that fish hardly qualify as a vegetable. They’re living things. Granted they don’t have much of a life, but then neither did my Uncle Alec. In fact, he would have loved nothing more than to swim around in circles all day, hiding in fake rocks. He wasn’t what you’d call an overachiever — or even an achiever.

Now, as vegetarians go, I’m not that difficult to please. Aside from a major food group, I will eat pretty much anything. There is another, stricter level of vegetarianism. They are called vegans and they consume no animal products whatsoever. There is even a small sect of vegans — I don’t like to use the word fanatical because fanatics tend to get, well, fanatical when you use that word (go figure) — who are so concerned with not taking any life whatsoever that they walk down the street with brooms, sweeping ants out of their paths lest they crush the poor vermin and take a life. The fact that they sweep the critters onto the road into oncoming traffic seems lost on these well-meaning souls. It is this line of flawed thinking that gave us the leaf blower — it doesn’t eliminate the leaf but it does blow it onto your neighbor’s property where it’s no longer your problem.

I find, however, that while familiarity usually breeds contempt, in my case it breeds indifference. The more often I go to someone’s house for dinner, the less effect I have on his or her diet. At first, everyone eats a vegetarian meal because of me. After a while, the host makes a vegetarian meal with a dish for others to eat. Finally, I’m invited to a meat meal with a dish that I can eat. I can see the writing on the wall. Next I’ll be asked to eat something before I come over. Well, I’m not going to wait for that to happen. I’m going to get new friends. That’s why I’m asking you out there to invite me to dinner. I’m willing to go as far as Calabasas. Just remember, I don’t eat fish.

Howard Nemetz is almost as good looking as his picture.

 

Is Tomato Sauce a Vegetable?


"I hate this healthy food. It’s tasteless and disgusting," says Gabe, my 17-year-old son.

He’s protesting the culinary revolution taking place in our kitchen. The white rice that is now brown, the white bread that is now whole wheat and the Cheetos that have morphed into Lite Cheddar Puffs.

But the most egregious of the new foods, in Gabe’s view, are the soy meatballs, which, breaking every rule for developing a trustworthy parent-child relationship, I try to pass off as turkey, hiding them under a pile of spaghetti.

He takes a bite and runs to the sink, where he spits out the offending mouthful.

"What is this?" he demands. "Why can’t we have normal foods?"

Yes, normal foods. To Gabe, who has never eaten a fruit or vegetable in his life, unless you count tomato sauce and onions, these are french fries, bagels, sodas and pizzas. Foods that have contributed, the surgeon general says, to tripling the number of overweight adolescents over the last two decades to 14 percent of all 13- to 19-year-olds.

My husband Larry and I don’t want to add to these statistics. Nor do we want to contribute to the $238 billion already spent annually, according to the American Obesity Association, for weight-related conditions.

It’s a tough "re-education" process. But one not unfamiliar to Judaism, which gives us the concept of shmirat haguf, the obligation to guard one’s physical health. As Maimonides says, "One must avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger." Or, as we used to say in the ’60s: "You are what you eat."

The laws of kashrut assist in fulfilling this obligation, not, as some people assume, by ensuring that the foods we consume are hygienically safe but rather by elevating the act of eating to a spiritual realm. And even those of us who don’t keep strictly kosher (though we vegetarians are practically there), as Jews, ideally, we have a reverence for life and an awareness of pure and impure foods.

"You shall not eat anything abhorrent," the Torah (Deuteronomy 14:3) tells us. And while the Torah is referring to camels, rabbits, badgers and pigs, I would today include foods that that are high in fat and sugar and low in nutritional value. Foods that have been injected with hormones and antibiotics or treated with pesticides. Foods with a shelf life longer than the average life span.

"The more you can eat foods in their original state and the less they are messed with, the better," my friend Debby says. "But try telling that to any red-blooded American adolescent."

We get mixed messages in the United States, the land of overabundance and overindulgence, where, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 million Americans are overweight. Yet another 32.9 million Americans, including 11.7 million children, live below the poverty line, often facing barren cupboards at the end of the month when paychecks and Food Stamps run dry.

But this is the United States, where the abhorrent has become the obscene; where food is grabbed, gobbled and guzzled on the run; where single servings are super-sized; and where advertisers hawk green and purple ketchup, neon blue "funky" fries and pizza that magically (read chemically) changes colors.

Judaism gives us no mixed messages, however. Judaism teaches us, unequivocally, that the act of eating is holy: that we must be thankful for our food, that we must be reverent toward life, and that we must feed the hungry.

But to complicate matters, Judaism also gives us, save for the fast days, no occasion in which we don’t eat. In fact, Judaism practically mandates specific holiday foods. What is Shabbat, for example, without noodle kugel? Or Chanukah without latkes, Purim without hamentashen or Shavuot without blintzes? And try making a low-fat, healthier version of these favorites, as I did with noodle kugel.

"No offense, Mom," says Danny, 13, "but this isn’t very good."

Nevertheless, Larry and I continue to battle our kids’ propensity for junk food, reinforced by peer pressure and scores of food-related advertisements, all with unhealthy messages, that bombard them on a daily basis. And we receive no shortage of well-intentioned advice.

"Eat more protein," my pediatrician recommends.

"Eat five or six mini meals a day," a nutritionist advises.

"Eat carrots," my grandmother used to say.

But there are no easy answers — only temptations, good intentions, bad eating days and difficult choices. And those days when drive-though fast food is the best we parents can manage.

And, of course, there is the issue of balance.

"Why does everything have to be healthy, healthy, healthy?" asks Jeremy, 15. "Why don’t you ever have a double scoop of ice cream and a caramel Frappuccino? Live it up and be happy."

Jane Ulman lives in Encino and has four sons.

A Pass-SOVA Tradition


A jar of gefilte fish, a bottle of Tzali’s grape juice, Manischewitz matzah ball soup mix, Streit’s macaroons, Trader Joe’s horseradish, matzah, Sun-Maid raisins. All the makings for a Passover seder — even if you’re homeless.

On a sunny Friday morning in March at SOVA’s humble West Los Angeles storefront, about 10 people — young and old — work together in assembly-line fashion to package these nonperishable items. These volunteers are unpaid, and the Passover kits are aimed at low-income, homebound and even homeless Jews.

Helping the needy is what SOVA (Hebrew for “eat and be satisfied”) has been doing since 1983, when Santa Monica deli owner Hy Altman and wife, Zucky, created the nonprofit organization.

SOVA’s three storefronts are open for four hours a day during the weekdays, during which the Los Angeles and Valley locations provide grocery packages for more than 2,000 people a month. A typical four-day supply of groceries — designed for homeless people without cooking facilities — includes canned and packaged grocery products, produce, liquid supplements and can openers. In addition to its food pantry services, SOVA provides referrals to an array of employment, legal and medical help services, as well as bus tokens.

There is a cap on how many times people off the street can solicit SOVA’s services: twice a month for the homeless, once a month for low-income, although exceptions are made for emergency situations.

Originally a Jewish Community Centers (JCC) program, SOVA transferred over in 2002 to the authority of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFS), a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, as part of a post-crisis reorganization of JCC assets. SOVA operates on an annual budget of $560,000 culled from The Federation, government and municipal grants, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and private donors, such as the Edelstein Family Foundation and Carolyn Spiegel. Spiegel, who has purchased and donated products to SOVA for several years, even developed a system for combining coupons and advertised grocery store specials to donate goods. In 2002, she single-handedly donated more than $39,000 worth of products for SOVA’s clientele.

“Their income is so low, they can’t afford to cover their day-to-day costs,” said Leslie Friedman, SOVA’s director since the JFS takeover.

SOVA is a real roll-up-your-sleeves kind of team effort.

“The most rewarding element has been working with volunteers,” said Lirona Kadosh, the 25-year-old manager of SOVA’s West L.A. location. “In the end of the day, it’s tough, it’s draining. But you learn a lot.”

SOVA thrives from food collection campaigns supported by more than 50 area congregations, as well as other community entities. Passover — along with Rosh Hashana, Thanksgiving and Chanukah — is one of several holidays each year for which SOVA holds special distributions. The food collected during the High Holidays translates into an estimated $80,000 saved.

“We have a lot of regulars — homeless veterans, Russian immigrants, Latino families that just can’t stretch enough,” said volunteer Myrna Dosie, who is in her 12th year as a volunteer. About a quarter of those helped by SOVA are Jewish, many of them elderly, some Holocaust survivors.

Enter Hans, a man with a German accent, who comes in for his typical SOVA care package, which might included cooking oil, tuna, pasta, rice, spaghetti sauce, tea, cereal and toiletries, such as toothpaste, shampoo and hand lotion.

Minutes later, in walks another regular, Paul, who lives in the Crenshaw District. He feeds a family of five and has been turning to SOVA twice a month for supplemental help since 2000. He also has AIDS.

“They’ve been very helpful,” said Paul, an African American who learned about SOVA through AIDS Project Los Angeles. “They’re very personable and have always treated me with kindness. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

Since 1989, Paul and Ruth Mittleman have dropped by the West Los Angeles station every week to donate their time. Ruth even got her friend, Dosie, involved.

What might not be so obvious on the surface is that SOVA not only assists total strangers, but often even helps the very people volunteering for the nonprofit organization.

Ezra Shemtob, 82, struggles to suppress tears as he tells his story, even after nearly two decades have passed. The Mittlemans helped Shemtob adapt to America when he was just a stranger to the United States in 1989. The former high school teacher came to this country a broken man — his apartment, career and car confiscated by Iran’s government, simply because he was Jewish. Upon his arrival in America, his wife died of a heart attack as a result of all of the stress they had endured.

Every day after synagogue services, the observant Shemtob comes down to SOVA to volunteer a few hours of his time. Given all that he has experienced, Shemtob credits the volunteering as crucial to his mental and spiritual health.

“He’s been here for 14 years,” Paul Mittleman said. “He’s been very sick, but he’s OK now. He’s been a very loyal worker.”

Shemtob, who has a son living in Los Angeles and a daughter stuck in Iran, gives back to the community “as a mitzvah, for the United States, which gave me everything.”

He appreciates the scope of SOVA’s outreach.

“SOVA is a good organization,” Shemtob said. “They don’t look at race, what color, what religion — they help everybody.”

Also helping expedite things on this Friday morning are a clutch of students from the Archer School for Girls and Harvard-Westlake School who are fulfilling required community service hours. Abram Kaplan, a Harvard-Westlake 10th-grader, chose SOVA because he remembers the charity group from his Temple Emanuel days.

“I’ve met a whole lot of cool people like Ezra,” said Kaplan, 16, who sees SOVA as something he would volunteer for even if his school did not require him to. Kaplan roped in his classmate, Eyal Dechter, who was less enthusiastic about his community service detail. But he conceded that SOVA is a good cause.

“It’s a good idea to help others in need, but I do it mostly because I have to,” said Dechter, 15.

First-time volunteer Simon Yeger had no problem getting into the SOVA groove.

“Everyone’s been very helpful,” said Yeger, now retired for four years and looking for ways to give back to the community.

What SOVA needs most right now is more volunteers, who can donate a couple of hours per week, and vendors, who would be joining supermarkets such as Ralphs and Gelson’s.

“We are very open and interested to hearing from vendors who’d like to contribute goods,” Friedman said.

Kadosh has seen a difference for the better since JFS took over SOVA.

“All of the adjustments have been for the better. We’ve had more access to food, an increase in help, more drivers and stronger support.”

And volunteers see SOVA’s mandate as an extension of what the Torah commands Jews to do.

“The middle name of Judaism is tzedakah,” Ruth Mittleman said. “Offering help to people is just a way of Jewish life, and here you can see your money at work. This is as hands-on as it gets.”

The SOVA Food Pantry Program is located at 13425 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 200, Sherman Oaks. For more information, call (818) 789-7633 or visit www.jfsla.org/sova/.

The three SOVA storefronts are: SOVA Valley, 60271¼2 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana. (818) 342-1320.

SOVA Metro, 7563 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 932-1658.

SOVA West, 11310 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 473-6350.

Mother Knows Best


My mother is 85. But she doesn’t look a day over 70. She takes no prescription drugs, no hormones; her memory is razor sharp. And she’s never been in the hospital a day since I’ve known her. But she wasn’t born yesterday. In any sense of the word.

When I was growing up I had no idea how enlightened Celia really was. All I knew was that she wasn’t like the other moms.

What was I supposed to think when folks uttered expletives behind her back? “Health Nut!” “Health Food Freak!” “Food Faddist!”

I remember my embarrassed apologies, which I’d utter with a small giggle, when my friends at Melrose Avenue Elementary poked inside my lunchbox and found nary a chocolate chip cookie, potato chip or even a white bread, packaged cheese and bologna sandwich.

If they only knew that at home our milk was raw, our eggs fertile; our bread bulged with brown, grainy nuggets. But I wasn’t talking.

The last thing I got when I left for school wasn’t a chocolate doughnut. It was a shot glass full of vitamins with some freshly squeezed juice. And the worst part, my breakfast bowl wasn’t filled with blue and green marshmallows floating in a sea of snap, crackle and pop. We had to wait a full 20 minutes while mom patiently cooked our oatmeal, then topped it with blackstrap molasses (never sugar), raw butter (never margarine), unsulphured raisins and organic cheddar cheese.

While Celia was busy telling me “I was what I ate.” I spent most of my waking moments wishing I could have bagels and lox for breakfast on school days, and delicatessen with sweet rolls on the weekends. And just once, a real sandwich in my lunch instead of a pita filled with veggies, sunflower seeds and hummus. Did my mother even care that I was the kid sitting alone on the bench while all the other lunches got traded?

It wasn’t my Grandma Fradel’s fault. She was a good kosher housewife who cooked typical Ashkenazi food, much the same as her mother and grandmother in Vilna, Poland had before her. She and Grandpa Charlie moved to America in 1914, with a short stop in Philadelphia and Atlantic City before settling in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights. Okay, Los Angeles 94592.

Celia and Dena were 5 and 8, respectively. To their delight, in Los Angeles they could bask in the sun all day without their clothes sticking to their bodies from the humidity or their arms annoyingly itching from mosquito bites. (Pesky critters weren’t allowed west of the Mississippi in those days.) Most of all, they loved the California fruits and vegetables, especially oranges and avocados, their favorites to this day.

Mom remembers the Breed Street Shul on Friday nights as a great social event, second only to Brooklyn Avenue on Thursday nights, when all the mamas schlepped their children while shopping for Shabbos. She and Dena loved getting dressed up, taking turns helping Fradel push the shopping cart up, choosing kosher chickens and freshly baked challahs, waving to their friends, begging Fradel for an ice cream cone. Since they didn’t have enough money to go to the movies, Brooklyn Avenue was their entertainment.

Celia was still in grammar school when Dena came home from a lecture, her cheeks flushed, raving about the amazing man she’d just heard. She asked her baby sister if she wanted to go with her the next night; she’d even offered their ushering services in exchange for free admission.

The lecturer was groundbreaking nutritionist Gayelord Hauser, who mentored movie stars such as Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson (gorgeous into their 80s) about diet and lifestyle. It wasn’t very long before Celia and Dena were meeting holistic doctors Henry Beiler and Linus Pauling; famed chiropractor Bernard Jensen; Paul Bragg, who opened the first health food store in America and popularized nutritional products such as his liquid amino acids, which mom still pours over just about everything. But their biggest heroine was nutritionist and best selling author, Adelle Davis, who convinced them to become vegetarians at ages 13 and 16, respectively.

They felt lucky to be living in California. If they saved their avocado pits and brought them back to the mom and pop grocer, he gave them a penny for each one. Fradel didn’t know what to make of her daughters, but since fruits and vegetables were less expensive than meat, she didn’t complain too much. Of course Grandpa Charlie, tired and hungry from working as a scenic artist at Warner Bros. all day, wasn’t too thrilled; so Grandma would whip up his own meal of flesh.

Since all of Celia and Dena’s friends were interested in diet and health, they went on group hikes to Griffith and Hollenbeck parks, and they continued going to more lectures. God was in his place. All was right with the world. Until Milton Levitt spotted Celia on a date with his friend and felt compelled to literally sweep her off her feet. Little did she know that her salad days were about to come screeching to a halt.

Since Milton was her only beau who owned a car — a 1930 Ford roadster with a rumble seat — he proceeded to wine and dine her. They drove downtown for dinner at Clifton’s Cafeteria, the Chili Bowl, the original Canter’s and Cohen’s. They saw movies at the Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood, went to dances at the Jewish Community Center and Palomar Auditorium, swimming at Bimini Pool and Ocean Park, where Milton insisted on jumping off the high diving board.

Celia had hardly been outside B.H.

She tried luring him to her lectures, her hiking, her vegan-eating activities, but he preferred playing baseball and chowing down his mom’s Ashkenazi cuisine. And he was used to getting his way.

Celia learned how to make Fanny’s brisket and carrot tzimmes, chopped liver and matzah ball soup. But in her heart, and, when left to her own devices, she’d slip some salad — go heavy on the avocado — on to his plate.

Six decades later, Celia and Milton just moved into a brand new condo in Beverly Hills (the other B.H.) and are never home when you call them. For the past three decades, Dena has lived in La Costa and Oceanside in beautiful houses crammed full of supplements. She got her master’s in psychology at 70, and was a marriage and family counselor for a decade. They are all in perfect health.

Celia and Milton are still very much in love. This October they will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Celia is a 99 percent vegetarian. Milton loves meat. She even lets him eat it once in a while.

As for their three children — oops, I gotta go, I have just enough time to take my 17 supplements before dinner.

In the Soup


My parents visited a year ago while I recuperated from lung cancer surgery and they developed a division of labor.

My father would do odd jobs around the house. My mother would feed me.

This was a good plan in theory, but in reality, it had loopholes. My father’s tasks were well-defined: fix a fence, change a light bulb.

But my mother struggled. What is it exactly her middle-aged daughter with upper-middle-class tastes liked to eat? The fact is that both of us had long since stopped cooking most of our meals, taking our nourishment from restaurants and take-out. Nevertheless, there persisted in her the belief that when a "child" is sick, only homemade foods will do. Familiar, nourishing, Jewish foods.

It had been decades since we’d all lived together. Immediately, she returned to the rigid cooking rhythm I recognized from my youth — Monday and Thursday she served fish, followed by sour cream and fruit; Tuesday and Wednesday, meat. If it seemed awkward to me, like stepping into a sepia photo, to her and dad it was preordained, as natural as lighting candles on Friday.

But it wasn’t to work.

Within hours of the folks’ arrival, my friends indicated that they knew me better than she did. Day after day, well-wishers came by the house loaded with platters and casseroles. My mother stood miserably at the door as the parade came by, stunned by the variety and creativity of the offerings. Little did she know that in sunny California, health and healing was based on soup: chicken soup, of course, but also barley, lentil, squash, tomato-vegetable and bean.

Overwhelmed by an overstuffed refrigerator, my mother surrendered, serving from the bounty that was given us.

I ate the donations my friends delivered, and she did, too. She returned home to Florida, plainly stewed.

Fast-forward. I healed from the surgery. But the long-distance phone calls were confusing. I was undergoing high-level biotech cancer treatments that seemed to transform their daughter into a one-woman human genome project. In frustration at the scientific complexity, mom and dad threw up their hands. OK, no parents should have to know from signal interference and cell aptosis. But the real question was: What was I eating?

Mom and dad arrived again to see for themselves.

This time, mom had a plan. While dad got right to work on his home repairs, mom settled into the kitchen: Operation Soup.

Out of my kitchen came scalding vats of chicken noodle soup with matzah balls, vegetable soup, bean and barley. With mom busy night and day, the word went out to friend and neighbor: hold the pottage.

The trouble was cancer treatment had ripped into my taste buds. I did my best to fake it. But I couldn’t abide the smell of vegetables, let alone chicken. What’s a mother to do?

One day we visited Elayne, whose home was perfumed with the ancient sugar-meat smell of tzimmes. Of the great dietary mysteries, somehow I could tolerate a brisket-potatoes-carrots melange, but not my poor mother’s barley soup.

"You eat tzimmes?" my mother stammered. "I’ll make you tzimmes!"

"Mom! Please don’t!"

But there she was, leaning her exhausted body over the sink, steadying herself while she cut yams and carrots into a boiling brew.

It broke my heart to see her work so hard, but she was unstoppable.

Then, a day later, the doorbell rang. It was my friend, chef Andy, with daughter, Sally, and dog, Abe. Andy carried a huge aluminum pan of an award-winning tzimmes of his own. His tzimmes is loaded with the flanken that for months I could not go near. By a fluke, this flanken I could stand.

Last week, my parents visited again. My father hung pictures and bathroom hooks. n

Mom served cheese blintzes straight from a New York deli. Delicious! See, you can’t keep a good woman down.

Pass the Hummus, Please!


Hummus, the popular Middle Eastern staple made out of chickpeas, packs a nutritional wallop, according to a new study by Dr. Ram Reifen and Dr. Shahal Abbo of the faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Reifen, an expert on digestive illnesses and child nutrition, and Abbo, an expert in plant genetics, succeeded in creating hybrid chickpeas which are high in antioxidants, protein and minerals, such as calcium. Antioxidants contribute to the prevention of heart disease and cancer.

In their research at the Rehovot Campus, rats and goats were given a diet supplemented by chickpeas. The animals were found to have faster growth rates than those fed only animal proteins. In addition, chickpeas are less allergenic than other high-protein plant food sources, such as soy, which points to the possibility of developing chickpea-based baby foods. The European Union has recognized the value of Hebrew University’s research and has allocated more than $1.5 million toward continuation of the work. Cooperative development is proceeding with Israeli and European researchers and commercial firms toward developing chickpea-based alternatives for milk powder for babies and children’s foods.

Chickpeas also contain elements that prevent wrinkling of skin, which holds out promise for its use in developing ointments for skin care. Cosmetic firms in Germany and France are working on the development of chickpea-based anti-wrinkle creams.

HEBREW UNIVERSITY HUMMUS

1 can (16-19 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons parsley

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Store in refrigerator. Serve with pita bread and salad.

Yield: approximately 2 cups — Staff Report

Overweight and Counting … Down


Reena Dulfon, 14, trudges home every day after school, and no matter how much she begs, her mother won’t pick her up in the car. Robin Dulfon is not being a mean mom, but is helping Reena accomplish her goal. And though Reena sees this 30 minutes of daily exercise as a chore — after all, it’s all uphill — she’s secretly proud of walking the distance.

Mother and daughter have twice participated in Dr. Lydie Hazan’s eight-week PowerPlay Program for overweight and obese children and teenagers.

When Reena first entered the program a few years ago, she was a shy and baggy-outfitted 12-year-old, weighing 170 pounds, unsure if this would be just another boring visit to the doctor. But her single mom, a registered nurse, is acutely aware of the health issues involving overweight children.

“She made me do it,” Reena said, “but it was fun.” They learned about nutrition, how to read labels and count calories, and did aerobics, hip-hop and other exercises.

“It worked! The first week I lost a couple pounds, and then lost one pound a week,” said Reena, who is now a svelte 146 pounds and still counting … down.

Obesity in children is no small matter, but a health crisis of epic proportions. According to a July 2000 Newsweek article, one out of three children in this country are seriously overweight.

That statistic seems hard to believe, until you look around. Go to any mall or playground and see the results of a fast-food, fried-food diet. Children as young as 3 are being referred to Hazan, and that’s not exactly what she had in mind when she started her clinic.

“I thought I would make a difference to the older children, but I have 6-year-olds crying in my office because they are so ashamed [of] getting teased at school. I have a 7-year-old in the program that weighs 242 pounds.”

Five years ago, as an energetic Los Angeles emergency-room pediatrician, Hazan began to notice the correlation between severe asthma attacks and obesity.

“To give you an idea of the enormity of the epidemic, kids would come into the E.R. and have to be intubated [have a tube inserted to help breathing] twice a year. One night a girl almost died because we couldn’t tube her, she was too big,” Hazan said. “After that, I swore I would make sure she lost weight.”

Hazan found, however, that there were no resources for overweight and obese children in Los Angeles. And it wasn’t only Los Angeles; the entire country was lacking.

Eventually, Hazan hooked up with the Center for Disease Control’s Dr. Bill Dietz, a pediatrician specializing in overweight and obese children.

“By talking with Dietz, I soon found out there were no immediate solutions available, so I started thinking about long-term [solutions]. I developed PowerPlay based on that,” Hazan explained.

PowerPlay is a comprehensive eight-week weight-loss program that combines medical, psychological, nutritional and physical treatment, and that seeks a balance between what goes in and what goes out. A child cannot double his exercise routine for a day and expect to pig out the next, although, Hazan confesses, there are some compromises. But consistency is key, for both children and parents.

“Lead by example” is Hazan’s mantra for what she believes makes the program work. “When a child enters the program, the whole family begins to lose weight,” she said.

As a first step, Hazan gives each child two medical screenings, during which health problems, such as type-two diabetes, are often detected.

“It used to be that type-two diabetes was considered an adult-onset disease, but no more,” Hazan said.

After the medical screenings, the program provides nutritional consultation with a licensed dietitian, daily fitness classes, group and/or individual therapy, art and music therapy and continual progress assessments of both child and parent. Hazan estimates a weight loss of 10 to 30 pounds can be accomplished during the eight-week session.

“When talking to the parents, I try to demystify the whole stigmata — that weight is health — and that’s it.”

Still, Hazan fights against cultural and societal pressures. She finds the stigma attached to being overweight crosses all cultural boundaries, a little less for African Americans, a lot more for Latinos, and a whole mixed bag for Jews.

Being overweight or obese is a “huge epidemic among Orthodox Jews,” Hazan admitted. “And especially among Orthodox girls,” for whom Hazan has developed a special program.

“First of all, there are no healthy places to eat. All of the kosher restaurants serve fried foods on white or rye breads, with huge portions. Secondly, there is Sabbath, a celebration where instead of a three-course meal, there are four-course meals that start on Friday and continue until noon the next day. Challah is loaded with calories,” Hazan said.

Nevertheless, Hazan has developed a few tricks. “I’ll talk to the kids and work out a compromise for Sabbath. ‘OK, you can have half a portion of kugel, if you take a walk afterwards.'”

“I know why doctors avoid this [issue],” Hazan sighed. “It’s a very frustrating field. Kids stop losing weight, stop being motivated, and you have to be the cheerleader, the evil endorser of the program. Parents love me for that, because their child must be accountable to me.”

Robin Dulfon couldn’t agree more, appreciating that her daughter “knew I wouldn’t be nagging her anymore.” She added, “I’m such a believer in this program, I want Reena to do it again!”

Reena isn’t so sure about that, but both agree that PowerPlay is effective. Her weight loss “makes me happy,” Reena said, “and makes me look better. My friends at school really didn’t say much about it, but my family members said, ‘Wow! You look good.’

Fat and Fit


Looking at television and magazine ads these days, you’d think the surest route to health is a diet that goes something like this: an apple slice and a thimbleful of skim milk for breakfast, a carrot with a gallon of water for lunch, four grains of rice, one strawberry and a shot of wheat-grass juice for dinner. Most of us resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll never be cover-girl skinny, but that doesn’t stop 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men from trying to lose weight at any given time in the United States. These days, however, the old weight blueprint of five pounds for every inch over 5 feet tall is slowly losing ground, as more and more researchers discover that thinness doesn’t equal health, fitness does. And fitness comes in all shapes and sizes.

“The medical community says we’re eating ourselves to an early grave,” said Glenn Gaesser, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia and author of “Big Fat Lies” (Fawcett 1996), “and it’s a big overstatement.”

Gaesser claims that while there are limits to a person’s weight — a 1,000-pound man, for example, is simply unhealthy — folks 50 or 75 pounds beyond the weight-chart suggestions may be as healthy as someone who nails the chart dead-on. “A 5-foot-4 woman should weigh no more than 145 pounds, according to the chart, [and have] a body mass index of 25,” Gaesser said. “But that woman could probably go up to 200 and not have much to worry about as long as she exercised regularly.

“Studies are quite clear in showing that if you take a fat person of any size and get them eating better and exercising more, their health problems greatly clear up, even if they don’t lose much weight,” he added.

One of the main ways of determining if you’re overweight is by calculating body mass index (BMI) — essentially a ratio of weight to height. The government has determined that a BMI over 25 is considered overweight, which categorically puts those people at higher risk for blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol and other problems. But, according to Gaesser, there are 97 million Americans with BMIs over 25, and “probably 90 million are unnecessarily stigmatized and [said to be] destined for an early grave.”

The key to health, many researchers agree, is not weight, but exercise. A good litmus test, Gaesser maintains, is that a man or woman who walks at a brisk pace — say, 3.5 miles an hour, three to five times per week for 30 minutes — would be considered fit enough to achieve health benefits. The 30 minutes can even be incremental, 15 minutes in the morning and 15 in the evening.

Dr. Henry Kahn of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at Emory University says fat, in and of itself, may not be cause for concern so much as where that fat is distributed throughout the body. Researchers like Kahn have found that abdominal fat poses the greatest health risks but that thigh fat may actually be favorable. “What you read on the scale in your bathroom may not be the best way to measure weight in terms of health risks,” he says. In recent years, a waist-to-hip ratio, measuring circumference, helped determine which people were most at risk, but recent studies have shown, Kahn said, that a waist-to-thigh ratio is “substantially stronger for sorting out the people who are at risk versus those who are not.”

Several years ago, Kahn compared first-time heart-attack victims with a control group who’d come from the same neighborhoods and who were comparable in socioeconomic status, sex, weight and age. What he found was that while the BMIs of the victims were no different from those of the control group, they tended to have higher proportions of abdominal fat and smaller thighs, whereas the control group tended toward larger thighs and less abdominal fat.

The good news, says Gaesser, is that abdominal fat is the easiest to burn and generally comprises only 10 percent to 15 percent of fat on the body. Besides regular exercise, people who want to lower health risks associated with weight gain should maintain a diet with reduced fat and loaded with fiber, he says.

“We think we’re fattening up as a country … [but] actually, only 10 percent of the population weighs over 200…. We’re heavier than we were a generation ago, but only by 8 or 10 pounds,” said Gaesser, whose new book about healthy fitness and healthy fat, “The Spark,” is due out this year. “That’s cause for concern, but we’re not bursting at the seams.”

Adding Zeal to the Golden Years, Simply


Americans are now living about three decades longer than they did at the start of the last century. But for far too many older Americans, the so-called Golden Years are tarnished by diseases that seriously undermine the quality of those extra decades — diseases that with tools now at hand are usually preventable, postponable or detectable at a curable stage.

Studies of centenarians, most of whom are healthy and independent, have revealed that it is possible not only to live long, but well. Only about 30 percent of the differences in longevity among people can be traced to heredity. The rest can be attributed to how people live, especially their dietary, exercise and smoking habits and their use of protective medical services like vaccines and early detection tests.

Yet recent surveys have shown that many older Americans are not taking advantage of established methods of protecting their health and lives, including those paid by Medicare. Unless healthy behaviors become the norm for more Americans, too many baby boomers will suffer needless sickness and die prematurely.

“Disease and disability need not be inevitable consequences of aging,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“Simple changes in lifestyle: more physical activity, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and using preventive services like mammograms, colorectal cancer screening and vaccinations can contribute to more years of health and a better quality of life.”

The centers in Atlanta last month released data from several surveys showing that older people fall far short of the goals to promote lasting good health. For example, fewer than two older people in five eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. These foods are strongly linked to protection against heart disease, stroke, some common cancers and loss of vision.

Even for people with small appetites or limited budgets, the five servings are within reach. A serving equals a cup of raw leafy vegetables, a half cup of cooked or raw chopped vegetables, three-fourths cup of vegetable or fruit juice, one medium apple, banana or orange or a half cup of chopped, cooked or canned fruit.

These foods are loaded with protective nutrients and, along with whole grains like oats, whole wheat, bulgur and brown rice, they are the only sources of dietary fiber, which is essential for normal bowel function.

Nor are the elderly getting enough exercise. The centers reported that a third of those 55 to 74 and nearly half of those over 74 are physically inactive. According to experts who prepared an article for a recent issue of Patient Care magazine, “Regular exercise is the single most important health behavior to prescribe for longevity. Exercise can reduce or prevent declines in cardiovascular function, psychological health, muscle mass, postural stability and flexibility. Exercise also improves sleep and decreases the propensity to fall. It is important for all older people, including those in their 80s and 90s, to keep mobile according to their ability.”

The experts recommended swimming and described walking as “probably the best and easiest exercise for aging adults.” A recent study showed that walking improved the mental abilities of people over 60, including those who had previously been sedentary.

Other preventive measures are likewise underemployed. You’d think that when something is free nearly everyone would get it. But not when it is a vaccine or test for cancer.

Medicare pays for all these: annual flu vaccine; pneumococcal vaccine; annual mammogram; Pap smear and pelvic exam every three years (or annually for high-risk women), and screening tests for colon, rectal and prostate cancers. A 20 percent copayment is required for the cancer tests.

But most older Americans, it seems, are likely to forget about these medical services, and most doctors fail to remind them.


Jane E. Brody writes for The New York Times.

Getting Healthy


With all of the different diets out there and all of the infomercials on TV selling exercise equipment, how do you decide where to begin? Start with knowing what’s important in order to achieve good health and what’s not.

Important:

Your diet and the total calories you consume each day are important to regulate. Don’t let anyone overcomplicate a diet. It should be made up of good foods which are low in saturated fat and should not place an over reliance on carbohydrates.

How many calories are right for you?

That depends on your age, sex, health status and current level of fitness. But a common problem for many people is that they don’t eat enough food. They have conditioned their bodies to survive in a state or semi-starvation. No one should eat less then 1200 calories per day.

Each meal should consist of a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Yes, fat! While we want to avoid saturated fats because they have been associated with high cholesterol levels and some heart disease, the real problem with fat is that it is so nutrient dense. That means that very small portions of foods high in fat contain a high number of calories. But fat makes food taste good and we need fat to keep our bodies healthy. So, read those nutritional labels on the food you eat and be aware of how many calories you are eating at one time.

Exercise is important. The American College of Sports Medicine and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have published the “Exercise Lite” program as a baseline for everyone to aspire to. It states that every adult should accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.

Moderate intensity exercise can be defined as activity that you would rate between 3 and 6 as your level of perceived exertion on a scale from 1 to 10.

The goal is to work up to a point where you are expending 200 to 300 calories per session. If fat loss is your goal, this will allow you to lose two pounds of fat (not water weight like all of those fad diets cause you to lose) per month.

Unimportant:

Fad diets:

they don’t work. The only way to get healthy is to learn good eating habits that you can stick to for life. Learning what’s in food and keeping your eye on caloric intake is the best way to start getting healthy.

Supplements or diet pills. Some supplements (far from all that are sold) can give very serious fitness enthusiasts some measure of benefit. But, until you obtain a high level of fitness, they are a waste of time and money. Diet pills are at best ill-advised short cuts and at worst they can be fatal. You don’t need them.

Exercise tapes and infomercial products are little more than slick advertising. If you want to spend money on something that will help you get into shape, go buy a good pair of walking shoes. Every athletic shoe manufacturer makes walking shoes. Buy a pair. Go for a walk each day. Get a friend to go with you and enjoy being out-side.


Lewis Kramer is the owner of Mobile Fitness. He is an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health/Fitness Instructor and a National Strength Conditioning Association Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. You can e-mail him at: mobile fitness@ earth link. net.

The Sephardic Diet


Let’s review. In the ’70s there was the eat-only-grapefruit diet. In the ’80s, I knew a woman who followed the eat-all-the-blueberries-you want diet. “They have no calories!” she enthused. “You can eat as many as you want!” Then the cavities and fainting spells kicked in. In the early ’90s, a few dear friends sacrificed their heart valves to Phenfen. That brings us to the current fads, those protein- or carbo-heavy diets, which duke it out for best-sellerdom and celebrity endorsements. It makes me nostalgic for blueberries.

My own take on dieting is supremely simple-minded:

1. Eat more sensibly than you want to.

2. Exercise more than you want to.

Don’t we all know what sensible eating means by now? Not too much fat, and good fats at that (olive oil, nut and seed oils, etc.); more grains and vegetables and fruits; less meat (lean), dairy products and fish. Am I missing something? Is another 30 years of diet scams and food fads going to change this?

That’s where my new fad diet idea kicks in: Sephardic cooking can be a different matter. Think of the ingredients: a lot of vegetables, couscous, rice, beans; meat in a cameo, not starring role, very little dairy products aside from yogurt, and olive oil instead of schmaltz or butter or margarine. It’s as if God favored His children from the Levant, then turned to the Ashkenazim and said, “I hope you know a good cardiologist.”

If you know your USDA food pyramid, if you follow the folks at the Framingham Heart Study, then adding more Sephardic dishes to your recipe file seems to make good health sense.

Fortunately, there’s no lack of cookbook resources to get you started. Joan Nathan, Claudia Roden, Faye Levy, Judy Zeidler and Gil Marks are all authors to look for. Or just wait until the big Sephardic Diet fad sweeps the nation. You heard it here first.

Sephardic Fresh Fava Beans

(from Gil Marks, “The World of Jewish Cooking”)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 medium yellow onions, chopped

2 pounds (about 2 2/3 cups) fresh shelled or frozen fava beans

1 1/2 cups low-fat chicken broth or water

1/4 cup fresh chopped dill, parsley or cilantro

1-3 teaspoons sugar

salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1 cup plain non-fat yogurt

2 cloves crushed garlic

1. Heat oil in saucepan. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent. Stir in beans and broth.

2. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to low, and simmer until tender, 10-20 minutes for younger beans, 20-30 for older. For older beans, rub skins to loosen, then remove and discard. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with rice and yogurt sauce, if desired.

3. For yogurt sauce, mix yogurt with garlic.

Chicken Kebabs

Marinade

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 onion finely grated, with juices

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

1/4 teaspoon sumac or ground dried limes (available at Persian stores)

2 pounds chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch cubes

1 large eggplants

1 large onion, quartered

10 cherry tomatoes

1 large green pepper, seeded and quartered

bay leaves

salt and pepper

1. To make the marinade, mix all the ingredients together. Place meat in large bowl, cover with marinade, mix well, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.

2. Cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick slices, then quarter each slice. Preheat grill or broiler, with rack five inches from the heat. Make skewers of chicken cubes, alternating cubes with tomatoes and bay leaves. Make other skewers of eggplant, onion and pepper. Drizzle with additional olive oil.

3. Grill chicken until cooked through, about four minutes each side. Grill vegetables until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve together with rice.

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