While winter is a time when we try to conserve energy and reduce activity, spring is a time of regeneration and new beginnings. Flowers and trees bloom, the sun warms the earth. Taking a walk outside helps us recognize the sense of renewal and new life all around us.
At Pesach, we eliminate all chometz (leavened products) from our lives. We scour and clean, and stop at nothing to remove all traces of breads and related foods—in actuality, and also symbolically, as Pesach is about ridding ourselves of what holds us back spiritually and physically. We try to shed the (often self-imposed) constrictions on ourselves—the barriers we must break through to get in touch with our innermost essence. We do this in order to clear the way to a closer connection to Hashem and renew our commitment to this relationship.
In Chinese Medicine, the liver is the organ associated with the spring. A healthy liver is necessary for storing blood and ensuring the smooth flow of Qi—or energy—to all organs in the body. The liver is our main detox organ. As spring cleaning occurs in nature and in our cognitive lives, it occurs in our bodies as well. We can help to keep optimal liver function by eating better at all times, but especially in the spring, when the liver can more easily be healed. Free-flowing liver energy allows us to be helpful, kind and compassionate. A poorly functioning or overloaded liver can lead to the kinds of blockages that not only hinder the normal detoxification process, but can also create negativity, anger, jealousy and resentment.
Here is a review of the usual foods we eat on Pesach and how we can improve our liver health during the holiday meals.
Eat matza in moderation. Calorie-wise, it is really no different than eating the equivalent of white bread. However, unlike bread, a piece of matza (which can have close to 100 calories) is not always so filling, so we are tempted to eat more of it. To get the most nutrition from matza, whole wheat or spelt may be better choices than white flour matza. It is recommended that a person consumes 25 grams of fiber per day. One matza contains only 3.4 grams of fiber, and eating too much matza is known to cause digestive system blockage, so make sure to drink plenty of water daily to prevent constipation. Making rolls out of almond and potato flour can be a healthier alternative and contains less calories. Aside from the amount of matza we are required to eat for the seder, why not try making lettuce and nori wraps filled with vegetables for the rest of the week?
Jewish moms joke that their whole Pesach is spent in the kitchen peeling potatoes. There is some truth to this, as potatoes are a main staple used by most families during this holiday. We can make potatoes more healthy by baking them instead of deep-frying them. Even baking fries is a healthier cooking method. Maybe choose to serve sweet potatoes, which will spike blood glucose at a much slower rate than regular potatoes. This is an important consideration for diabetics and for those of us who are tempted to rely on potatoes as a starch for every meal. Serve more salads, fresh, baked or steamed vegetables, and omelets as side dishes.
Healthy fats and oils
During Pesach, we actually use many foods that contain healthy fats, like nuts, avocado, almond flour and coconut products. Foods from this group form an important source of energy for the body and aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Ethnic groups that avoid eating legumes on Pesach do not use soy or canola oils, but they are not the healthiest oils to consume anyway, as they are high in saturated fats, which are difficult to absorb. Palm oil is considered a lesser quality oil too, so it is wise to stick with olive, coconut, and almond oils.
Most Pesach desserts are made of not one or two, but multiple, eggs per recipe. Our favorite cake contains 8 eggs, and my kids can go through 2-3 of these cakes per day! Years ago, one study concluded that eating eggs was the number one cause of increased cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease in the form of vessel blockage. Research has now discovered that it is sugar and unhealthy trans-fats, not eggs, which are the source of heart disease. However, with that being said, it would still be better to stick with desserts like fruit, compote and coconut-based foods, which have far less sugar and eggs than cake.
Overeating at the seder!!
As with every Jewish holiday meal, we end up consuming far too much food and not moving enough! Usually, after several days of eating and drinking, a good liver cleanse is what we need. Keeping some good detox teas on hand is helpful.
For instance, tea that is made with milk thistle, dandelion root, red clover and Echinacea make a wonderful liver cleanse. There is also an Indian remedy which includes green tea with cardamom seed and cinnamon. This tea is delicious in flavor and has liver health properties as well. Fresh ginger is not only effective in detoxification, but also aids in digestion. Ginger helps to increase circulation and moves toxins out of the body.
Recommendations for healthy holiday meals:
-Overall, it is best to consume food that is in the spirit of the Mediterranean diet (high amounts of vegetables, medium amounts of proteins, low amounts of carbs, and healthy fats).
-Serve water, not soda.
-Include vegetables and salads at every meal.
-Choose desserts that are fruit-based, like fresh fruit or compote, and decrease the amount of sweets and cakes.
Also, go on those tiyulim (day trips) which will give your family exercise, fresh air and bonding time.
Let this Pesach lead us down our own path of spiritual cleansing, help us renew our inner selves, and assist us with the task of refining ourselves, and not just our homes!