Passover is a week-long Jewish holiday that celebrates the freedom of Jews from Egyptian slavery and their Exodus from the country.
Passover is celebrated with a traditional meal, the Seder. The word “Seder” literally means “order”. And that “order” is exactly what happens during the Passover a meal. There are special foods eaten in an exact sequence in precise amounts. Each food, each action, each thought and each word at the Seder has a deep religious, historical, and traditional meaning. Everything that is done at the Seder is done with a conscious effort for very specific reasons. The Seder ends with the words “Next year in Jerusalem!” an expression of hope and desire to be in Israel, the Jewish homeland.
The rigidity of Passover is a wonderful lesson in order, organization, and conscious decision making.
Jewish sages taught that during Passover everyone should feel as if they, too, are being taken out of Egypt. How drastic of a change it must have been for people, who only knew the life of slaves to suddenly feel, act and BE free. That change, may have been difficult but it was necessary and essential. Just as following the order of the “Seder” may be challenging, leading a healthy lifestyle and following a daily schedule in one’s daily life is a challenge. And just like following the order of the “Seder” gets easier and easier every year you do it, leading a healthy lifestyle can become second nature if you will it.
Start your day with breakfast, -- a healthy breakfast that is. Muffins, scones, croissants, and chocolates fall under the category of sweets; they are not meals. Choose something that isn’t sweet, has lots of fiber and some protein. For example, a vegetarian omelet or scrambled eggs with a side of cucumber or baby tomatoes are great breakfast options. Eggs give you a healthy lean protein, veggies supply fiber and vitamins and the meal has no sugar. If you are on the run, try a protein shake with berries and fruit for flavor instead of juice or sweetened yogurt – this will minimize sugar intake and maximize the nutritional value.
Eat every three hours to support healthy blood sugar metabolism. These frequent meals do not have to be large or elaborate. Some fresh cut up vegetables such as baby carrots, celery, bell peppers with a dip of hummus or guacamole is sufficient. Try splitting a large salad for two meals, or taking left-over dinner to eat at lunch the next day. If your meals and snacks will be regular and will have plenty of vegetables and protein, you will not be ravenous and you’ll notice that you need less food to feel satiated.
Portion control is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle and it is especially important for weight management. Just as we are diligent about measuring out amounts of matzah to be eaten and wine to be drunk during the Seder we need to be conscientious with the portion sizes of our everyday meals.
A well-balanced meal should have a serving of protein, vegetables, and some healthy fat. It may also include complex carbohydrates but that’s optional. A serving of protein is 2-3 oz of animal protein (beef, chicken, fish), 2 eggs, or 1 cup of legumes (beans, lentils, peas), 4 oz of tofu, a small handful of raw nuts or seeds. For meats, visualize a deck of cards or just go with the size of you palm (no fingers), that is the rough estimate of YOUR serving size of protein. Load up on vegetables except for the starchy ones such as white potatoes and corn. Ideally, you should have twice as many veggies as you have proteins. However, if you are still hungry, just eat more vegetables. If you like math, your daily protein intake in grams should be approximately your weight in kilograms and your daily maximum intake of vegetables should be your weight in pounds. (Yes, it is a joke, but it is true.)
Carbohydrates should be limited in amount and type. Choose whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole wheat breads. Enjoy fruits and berries instead of candy, make sorbets out of frozen fruit rather than indulging in ice cream, choose dark chocolate over milk and white varieties. Remember, keep carbohydrate intake low, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Even ”healthy” sweets are sweets and should not be eaten daily. White foods such as white sugar, flour, white rice do not supply sufficient amount of nutrients and imbalance your body when consumed, moving you further away from health.
Healthy fats are essential for a healthy body. These fats include extra virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil, fats found in avocados, raw nuts and seeds, and in fatty fish. Essential fatty acids have a general anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They also optimize absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, all essential for optimum health.
In addition to a healthier diet, exercise is essential for health. If you cannot dedicate a certain time each day to exercise, use your free time for exercise, even if it’s only five minutes at a time. Move your body any way you can whenever you can. Lift your purse or backpack while waiting for a train or a bus. Jog or walk in place lifting your knees high while waiting to pick up your kids. Do modified push-ups off the counter or chair dips while waiting for a morning coffee to brew or a pot of water to boil for a soup-to-be.
Old habits and patterns are difficult to break. A new lifestyle, a new LIFE requires much dedication. You need to constantly be consciously aware of your actions and the reasons behind them.
For example, it’s evening and you are tired so you grab some popcorn and land yourself in front of the TV. Obviously, this is not a healthy scenario, however instead of judging pause and think of the root of the behavior. Are you hungry? If so, choosing a few cucumber slices instead is a healthier choice. Is TV just a habit? Occupy your hands with knitting needles or a crossword puzzle. Better yet, take dumbbells, and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: exercise and avoid and the unnecessary snack.
Changing habits is constant work. It requires time and perseverance, also forgiveness and patience. Your efforts will not be fruitless; if you work hard enough you will succeed.
As Jews left Egypt, they had a destination in mind – The Land of Israel. Regardless of their mistakes along the way, (such as the building of the golden ox calf) and their hardships (such as being attacked by Amalek), the Jews were eager to get to Israel and eventually they did reach the Promised Land. Millennia later, the Jews outside of Israel relive the same hopes and wishes for the destination promised long ago.
When we embark on a journey to health we need to know there will be hardships, there will be mistakes, there will be unexpected delays, and yet, we need to remember the goal and keep reaching for it learning along the way.
Next year – in health, love and peace!
Below are a few resources to help you have a healthy and delicious Passover.
- Recipe for GF homemade paleo matzah: http://elanaspantry.com/grain-free-matzo/
- GF and paleo Passover menu with recipes: http://elanaspantry.com/passover-menu/
- Another source for a complete menu for GF/SCD/GAPS Passover dinner: http://realfoodforager.com/recipe-passover-dinner-grain-free-scdgaps-paleoprimal/
- This one is a vegan site that offers a complete menu for Ashkenazi and Sephardi style Passover meals: http://www.vegkitchen.com/tips/holidays-and-special-occasions/passover-pleasures/
- Vegetarian Passover recipes from an amazing chef Myra Kornfeld, from whom I had studied during my school days: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/super-seder/
- GF matzah brands and where to purchase: http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/glutenfreeholidaymenus/tp/Gluten-Free-Matzo.htm
- Healthy and delicious, GF and paleo Passover muffins and banana bread recipes: http://petespaleo.com/paleo-dessert-recipes-passover/
- Link to paleo cooking blogs perfect for Passover as well as any day of the year: http://www.kveller.com/five-paleo-diet-food-blogs-that-are-perfect-for-passover-cooking/
Disclaimer: For informational purposes only; not for prescribing or endorsement