Nutrition And A Torah Lifestyle

Living Healthy
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Through the ages, Jewish sources have consistently stressed the importance of our physical bodies as being intricately involved in reaching the spiritual goals that our souls strive to accomplish.  Consequently, it’s a Torah obligation to take care of our bodies by conscientiously maintaining healthy lifestyle habits.  In fact, many sages who codified Jewish law - among them the Rambam, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried in his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the Ben Ish Chai, the Kaf HaChaim, and the Chofetz Chaim - included chapters about proper health care in their halachic writings.

Nonetheless,  observant Jews today face unique challenges, particularly related to choosing nutritious foods on a consistent basis. In my book L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, I address a number of these concerns and offer possible strategies to deal with them.  For example, at times it may feel easier, or at least manageable, to maintain healthy eating habits during the week. But as soon as the weekday eating routine is broken—whether on Shabbos and Yom Tov, or when making a simcha—it becomes more difficult to stay on track.

On Shabbos and Yom Tov, this challenge usually comes in the form of high-fat side dishes and desserts. Kugel, for example, is one of the most popular traditional foods associated with Shabbos and Yom Tov meals. But it doesn’t have to be saturated in oil and full of sugar to be tasty.  By including healthier ingredients and cutting out unnecessary extra sugar and oil, it’s possible to prepare tasty, nutritious side dishes and desserts that will enhance your festive meals.

The topic of kugels naturally brings me to the topic of food eaten at kiddushes and simchas in general. Some suggestions for nutritious low fat choices to be served at these special occasions include salads (Israeli salad, whole-grain pasta, couscous or tabouli salad, tossed green salad, chickpea or bean salad), dips (hummus, tahini, avocado), whole-grain crackers, raw vegetables platters, colorful fruit platters, dried fruit, roasted nuts, vegetarian cholent, vegetarian chopped liver, and of course…lighter vegetable kugels.

As far as Shabbos and Yom Tov meals are concerned, it’s advisable to plan well in advance to have plenty of nutritious choices on your shopping lists so they’re available when you start cooking.  Healthiest meals include whole grains and a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, together with moderate amounts of lean animal protein.  Remember that the true mitzvah is to eat special tasty foods on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but not to the point of overindulging and jeopardizing your health. 

We know that family is an integral aspect of a Torah life. While we are making efforts to improve our diets and exercise more, we have a great opportunity to teach our children about making the right food choices. If taking care of our bodies is a mitzvah, then we want to educate our children in this mitzvah just like any other.  After all, our children represent Klal Yisrael’s future. We want to give them every advantage to help them fulfill their potential.

Recently an alarming trend has arisen children today are being diagnosed with medical conditions previously associated with middle-aged adults. Much of this can be attributed to poor diet that leads to obesity and diabetes and not enough physical activity.

I had the opportunity to discuss this with a prominent Rebbetzin After decrying the American food industry’s harmful impact on food choices, the Rebbetzin emphasized how important it is to educate children from the earliest ages about healthy eating. Nutritious meals and snacks have to be available both at home and in school, and adults must be role models of health-conscious behaviors.  To achieve this goal, she added, parents should be made aware of the dangers stemming from poor food choices and encouraged to assume responsibility for their children’s safety in this area. A concentrated communal effort is sorely needed; Rabbanim, teachers, administrators, doctors, and journalists all must become involved.

Personally, I find the issue of snacks to be the most challenging. The typical sugary and greasy nosh food available today—whether given out as prizes, eaten as Shabbos treats, or included in Mishloach manos baskets—may stimulate unhealthy weight gain, sugar addictions, and overactivity. What are healthier alternatives for both children and adults?  Try low-fat baked chips, air-popped popcorn, high-protein bars, soy crisps, unsalted nuts and seeds, whole-grain pretzels and crackers, sliced raw fruit, berries, raisins, dried cranberries, and homemade oatmeal cookies.

Of course, that’s all well and good when the children are at home. It’s more difficult to implement when children are away at school or yeshivah, where the menu is typically fraught with fried foods, saturated fats, processed meat, sodium, sugar, and white flour. Removing these harmful ingredients will help to reduce future risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer.  Parents can make a concerted effort to encourage our institutions to serve healthier lunches and snacks - or at least send their children with these from home - in order to transmit the Torah value of guarding your health to the next generation.

Dr. Shmuel Shields is a N.Y.S. certified nutritionist and the author of L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, a Torah-based book on health.  He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 718-544-4036.  For more information about his services visit