Kosher Dieting

Great tips to stay healthy.

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Dieting--the practice of controlling one's food and drink intake with the hopes of losing weight--is a fascinating and frustrating phenomenon. With near-religious fervor, American dieters purchase protein shakes, juicers, or a slew of expensive packaged meals from dieting services--and, more often than not, they end up disappointed by the results. Unfortunately, the extra restrictions of a kosher lifestyle can make dieting even more complicated.

Kosher + Dieting = Hard to Find Food

In "on-the-go" situations it can be especially difficult to make choices that are compatible with both kashrut and a particular diet's specifications. For example, when lunchtime rolls around at the office, many dieters rely on nearby restaurants for a quick salad, grilled chicken sandwich, or other fresh, nutritious meal.  But unless the restaurant is certified kosher, observant dieters cannot partake in that convenience.
kosher dieting
At home, many kosher keepers--along with many other Americans--rely on pre-packaged and frozen foods. The booming kosher industry has done its best to entice Jewish consumers into the convenience product fold--according to the Star-K website, the kosher market is growing at an annual rate of 15%, with 3,000 new products being introduced each year. The vast majority of these products are processed, often filled with sodium, fat, and chemicals which, when eaten regularly, do nothing to help a dieter's cause.
Traditional Jewish foods such as blintzes and heavy kugels also pose a challenge. These dishes come from Eastern European "poverty cuisine," created at a time when eating enough calories was a challenge in itself, and they similarly interfere with weight-loss goals.

Diet Laws and Jewish Laws

But kosher-keeping dieters need not lose heart.

Chana Rubin, a registered dietician and author of Food for the Soul: Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating, suggests that a healthy lifestyle--kosher or otherwise--depends on cultivating eating habits focused on whole foods: lentils and beans, vegetables and fruit, lean meats, whole grains, fresh herbs, and--yes--the occasional homemade sweet treat (ideally one made without chemical-laden pareve whipped topping!). These foods nourish the body and provide essential vitamins and minerals without the added salt, fat, and sugar loaded into packaged and processed foods. Rubin's approach to healthy living is generally supported by nutrition and dietetics organizations, but has been slow to catch on in the kosher community.

Rubin roots much of her nutritious eating philosophy in the words of the 12th century Jewish sage and physician, Maimonides, who wrote extensively on eating and exercise. For example, he wrote, "One should not eat until one's stomach is [very] full, but one should [only] eat until one's stomach is three-quarters full," (Deot 4:1) and "One should take care to eat and drink only in order to be healthy in body and limb" (Deot 3:2).

Inspired by this wisdom, Rubin argues that one of the real secrets to successful kosher dieting is learning to cook. "In my opinion, you have to start back in the kitchen," she said. "Nothing that you buy is ever going to be as healthy as what you can make at home." In addition to being nutritionally better, cooking balanced meals is also significantly less expensive than relying on kosher diet delivery services.  Like regular diet services, kosher services charge exorbitant prices to deliver frozen or vacuum packed meals that are low in calories--and usually low in flavor.

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Leah Koenig

Leah Koenig is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Gastronomica, Jewish Living, Lilith, Culinate, Beliefnet and other publications.