The Jew And The Carrot

Nutrition and the Jewish Diet

By Susie Speer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Flickr: Rooey202

Chicken soup dripping in schmaltz, sweet noodle kugel swimming in cream and butter and sprinkled with brown sugar, potato pancakes fried in oil, with that deep fried odor that permeates the house for days (can’t you just smell them right now?), beef brisket made any number of ways. I imagine many of us have a special family recipe handed down to us, for any or all of these and other traditional Jewish food dishes that are typically served during any holiday. Even if we don’t have a stained or yellowed recipe card, we have searched the web for someone else’s traditional recipe.

It wasn’t until I became a nutrition student that I began giving thought to the nutritional value (or lack thereof?) of our cherished recipes. But then again, what’s the point? If these traditional foods are only eaten three or four times a year, why not enjoy the calories, fat, carbohydrates and sugar that they so richly provide? We all need a diet “cheat” day once in a while, right? Well, right for some, but for those with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or obesity who are trying to improve symptoms, unhealthy changes to their (hopefully) healthy lifestyle can be dangerous. For example, an insulin dependent diabetic works diligently each day by monitoring blood glucose levels and adjusting their diet appropriately. Even one time, eating “cheat” foods can lead to spikes in blood sugar and serious consequences such as imbalances that may be difficult to restore, leading to other problems.

One of my current classes is entitled “Food & Culture.” It is an interesting course that details traditional food habits, food staples, nutritional intake and special occasion foods from cultures throughout the world. The purpose of the course is to learn how, as a dietician, to be able to effectively counsel immigrants and their families who have very specialized beliefs around food and health. Early on in the course, a chapter about food and religion covered the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity (among others). We were asked to discuss whether or not our religious or spiritual views affected our views on “over-and under-eating,” meaning alternating indulging and retraint. What a great question for a Jewish girl to answer! As a second generation Jewish American whose parents were born during the depression, living currently as a Reconstructionist Jew in Evergreen, Colorado, there are a couple of ways that I would answer this question.

I can easily justify overeating among my parents’ generation; they were depression-era babies who grew up during a time when food was scarce. One of the darkest periods in Jewish history followed the depression years, and it’s difficult to argue why some of that generation have chosen to indulge in today’s blessings of abundance. On the other hand, as someone who is passionate about nutrition for health and longevity, I can also argue that our religion/culture/upbringing have led to appalling eating habits responsible for today’s increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Our mothers and grandmothers urged us to “eat, eat, you’re too thin.” If there wasn’t meat on the table, it wasn’t a meal.

So what’s the solution to honoring cherished family recipes without the guilt of forgoing our healthy habits? Eating healthy takes work, especially if we weren’t raised to eat this way. One web site that I was pleasantly surprised existed is geared towards Jews with diabetes; it is the Jewish Diabetes Association. For anyone with diabetes, or for those of us who want to continue our healthy habits even during a Jewish holiday such as Pesach, whose traditional foods can be loaded with fat, calories and sugar (but don’t have to be!), this is a source of information that you want to refer back to frequently. The web site even gives information on how to eyeball serving sizes when you’re unable to weigh them. For example, a 3-ounce cut of meat is similar to a deck of cards. Portion control, carbohydrate balance and calorie counting is critical for those with diabetes, but time honored traditions such as Bubbe’s recipe shouldn’t have to be eliminated on special occasions.

I’m excited to help plan and attedn the Rocky Mountain Jewish Food Summit on April 29 at CU Boulder and plan to participate in the presentation: “Adapting Bubbe’s Recipes to Meet Your Dietary Needs.” At this session, you’ll learn how to honor those age-old recipes, without the guilt on the side. Hope to see you there!

Susie Speer is a nutrition student living in Evergreen, Colorado. She is on the planning committee of the Rocky Mountain Jewish Food Summit.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Traditional Food, Rocky Mountain Food Summit, Nutrition, Diabetes

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.