Healthy Living During Passover
For the Jewish people, the spring season means that it is time to prepare for Passover (Pesach) with shopping, cleaning, and lots of cooking. Pesach, which this year begins April 15, celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Each of the first two nights of the eight-day holiday is marked with a Seder, a ritual festive meal that tells the story of how the Jewish people were liberated. The story is, that in fleeing Egyptian slavery, the Jewish people did not have enough time to bake loaves of bread and thus only could take with them unleavened bread.
For this reason, during the Passover holiday, Jewish people eat unleavened matzah and are not permitted to eat grains, beans, peas and corn or certain other foods.
With ingredients so limited, a lot of meals rotate among the same items: matzah, cheese and eggs. Dairy and eggs can be high in fat and cholesterol, and the low fiber content of many meals can lead to intestinal distress.
While these traditions are important, Einstein experts offer several ways in which you can maintain a healthier lifestyle during the holidays — both in what you eat and what you do.
Megan Carrier, MS, RD, LDN, a dietician at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, suggests these tips for healthy eating:
- Incorporate high-fiber foods like vegetables as often as you can; include as much color as you like. Vegetables keep you full longer and help your stomach and intestines work smoothly.
- Limit potatoes, which are lower in fiber and break down in the body quickly.
- Try to make half of your plate vegetables. Divide the other half between protein and starch. Consider starches like sweet potatoes, because they have more fiber.
- Control portions, a step that’s essential for maintaining a healthy diet.
- Include a serving of any kind of fruit daily. One medium apple or pear, a handful of berries, one cup of melon, or one-half cup of pineapple is a serving size.
- Consider using unsalted margarine or butter. Foods higher in sodium (salt) – like cheese, store bought bone broth, salted butter, and baked goods – can increase blood pressure.
- Plan non-Seder meals to decrease saturated fat consumption. Saturated fat is found in milk, cheese, butter, oils and baked goods.
- For a snack, try a handful of permitted unsalted nuts, which are good for the heart. Or put a few nuts on leftover apples or applesauce, with cinnamon.
(For tips on cooking a healthier brisket and chicken soup, plus more advice, see “Healthier Eating for the High Holy Days.”)
Balance Food With Exercise
“With so much rich food, it’s important to fit in exercise whenever possible,” says Joshua Copeland, MD, a cardiologist at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. “Try to preserve 30 minutes per day of a moderate-intensity exercise for everyone.”
He defines moderate intensity as “doing some activity at a pace where, if you are having a conversation, you would have to pause to catch your breath before finishing a full sentence.”
“If you don’t have time to dedicate to exercise,” he says, “walk whenever you can – on the way to work, to the grocery store and so on – to better balance your blood sugar, lower blood pressure, support mental health and relieve stress.”
“Exercise can reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease (blockage in the blood supply to your heart) or having a heart attack or stroke,” Dr. Copeland says.
Diet also matters, he notes, because poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and excess alcohol consumption increase your risk of developing diabetes as well as heart disease.
A Drink Is a Drink
Passover tradition involves drinking four cups of wine at each Seder. However, Einstein hepatologist Richard Kalman, MD, notes that the four glasses of wine don’t have to be full.
During the holidays, some people drink potato vodka because they can’t have grain vodka. Dr. Kalman says. For total alcohol consumption, he recommends “keeping it to less than one drink a day for women and less than two drinks a day for men.”
Dr. Kalman, whose specialty is liver disease, notes that drinking alcohol in excess can lead to liver damage.
Many factors, including genes as well as liver disease, may affect a safe consumption level for individuals, he says. “If you have an underlying liver problem, you may potentially be asked to consume no alcohol or substantially less than the recommended maximum.”
“If wine will make someone sick or if they have a health condition that could be worsened by alcohol use, they should consider a non-alcoholic option like grape juice or non-alcoholic wine,” Dr. Kalman says.
Dr. Copeland points out that the World Heart Federation recently said there’s no strong evidence of any health benefit from drinking alcohol. This statement was based on a new analysis of many years of research on moderate alcohol consumption (up to one or two drinks a day).
As another option, Dr. Copeland noted that non-alcoholic wines are increasingly available.
To help control and balance intake, Carrier recommends alternating glasses of alcohol with a glass of water.
Finally, Dr. Kalman reminds us that celebration “doesn’t necessarily mean we can forget about what’s going to be good for our health in the long term.
“Make sure to take care of yourself by exploring healthier ingredients, moderating alcohol intake and getting in as much exercise as you can.”
Carrier and Drs. Copeland and Kalman are part of Einstein’s Jewish Health Resource Center (JRHC), which was established to provide culturally sensitive healthcare to observant Jewish patients.