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Are Healthy and Kosher Mutually Exclusive?

I am not kosher but I am certifiably Jewish:} I actually have wondered this for years... many foods that are certified as kosher are not overtly healthy. For example, kosher meat is extremely salty. The salt technically is not supposed to penetrate the meat but rather be used to draw out blood. However, I have known many people whose doctors forbid kosher meat (my grandmother included) due to the high salt content.
Then of course is margarine which many on CH have already condemned to a lonely place after death:} Margarine has been a savior for Jews who cannot cook butter with meat, but obviously it's extremely high in trans fat.
Obviously someone following a strict kosher diet can eat tons of fresh produce, but even that has difficulties- as you're not supposed to eat bugs, organic produce probably provides some difficulties. Does anyone know how many times you have to wash your produce?
Any thoughts?

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  1. There are lots of elderly orthodox Jews, so kosher must be healthy, unless it's all that roughage from fried matzo

    1. The answer to your question is no. Kosher Jews who choose to do so can and do eat healthy diets. The traditional Israeli breakfast of cucumbers, tomatoes and yogurt with fresh bread is as fine as any traditional breakfast in the world. So are many American kosher homes.

      That said, there is lots of food in the contemporary American diet that is unhealthy. And American Jews are as American as french fries and processed cheese.

      There are admittedly a couple of problem particular to the kosher diet. Kosher meat does have extra added salt, albeit it is a drop in the bucket in a country where salt is routinely added to virtually ever processed food and vast amounts of salty snacks are consumed.

      Margarine is often made with some form of milk or butterfat as an ingredient or flavoring agent, so Jews seeking parve (diary free margarine that can be eaten at meat meals) are limited to a small number of brands. That said, Fleishman's and Willow Run and Smart Beat are respectable parve brands, margerine is not inherently unhealthful, and Jews can and do use butter and olive oil, we are even as capable as other humans of producing fat-free, salt-free meals.

      Vegetables aren't that big a hassle. It's no big deal to dunk you cauliflower in a basin of water and check for bugs.

      3 Replies
      1. re: AdinaA

        IMO Kosher and healthy can coexist. I find this true when I prepare my own meals. However, I find it very challenging to find strictly Kosher prepared ready to eat foods .There are not enough healthy frozen foods (eg. entress), baked goods, restaurant entrees, etc.

        It also depends how you define healthy. My definition of healthy means consists of low fat, whole grains, little or no animal products (meat, eggs or dairy) present). realize that my definition may be somewhat limiting.

        However, it s unfortunate that when one attends affairs or kiddushim that the healthy (low fat and whole grains) selection is minimal. Sometimes, I will find raw vegetables and cut fruit. More often, I will not find anything that I feel comfortable eating in terms of my health.

        1. re: moegreene

          Do attend more non-kosher American event.s I regularly see bacon and eggs served for breakfast at medical meetings. (i.e. to physicians at professional meetings)

          I recently attended a large dinner banquet put on by a Medical Association. (Jews attended, but this was neither a kosher event nor a Jewis one.) There was a creamy bisque, then a salad slistening with oil, followed by a main course that consisted of a choice followed by steak topped with fried onions and mushrooms or stuffed, roasted chicken, the side dish was garlic mashed potatoes with gravy and there were perhaps five long green beans, prettily arranged to balance the plate.

          Up front, the surgeon general was giving a heart-felt speech on healthy eating as my colleagues consumed their extremely high-fat - and probably heavily salted - meals and their elaborate chocolate desserts.

          American diets are unhealthy insofar as they are fatty, salty and sugary, and most of us consume too many calories. Kosher American Jews eat like Americans.

          1. re: moegreene

            I agree that it can exist and does exist more than it ever has. It is getting much easier to find healthy certified kosher products especially in health food stores. In terms of prepared foods, it is more challenging, but not impossible. In California, it is usually fairly easy to find healthy options on kosher restaurant menus. There are also restaurants and caterers that will provide food made with organic kosher meats and vegetables (Delice and Got Kosher are two examples). In terms of bakeries, there several bakeries with commercial distribution that are excellent healthy choices (such as Sunflour or Rudi's). I also agree that I have not yet found widely distributed decent healthy frozen kosher certified entrees, however Hotzstuff, one of the caterers in Orange County, CA provides kosher and organic food options to the kids and staff at the local community day school and provides weekday meals to families as well.

        2. My Zeidy was told to stay away from kosher meat because of his heart issues, but that was over 40 years ago. We've got plenty of Orthodox Jews living past 80 on their kosher meat today, so I think it's a non-issue. As for margarine, I don't use it at all in my cooking or baking except for one baked blondie recipe that my children love. I use canola oil. I have relatives who swear by their flaxseed and walnut oils. We've got a variety of options today. Vegies and fruit are staples for everyone I know. We either check them for bugs ourselves (there are instruction for that) or buy the checked versions. Many do not require any bug-checking. Does the standard eastern European diet call for lots of starches and fattier food? Sure, but first of all, we Orthodox are not all of eastern European backgrounds (Sephardic Jews follow a Mediterranean diet) and second of all, this is 2011 and while we do enjoy a good old-fashioned, high-fat, starchy Shabbat Kiddush (buffet after the morning synagogue services on Saturday), most of us are trying to incorporate healthier foods in our regular daily meals. BTW, anecdotally speaking the Orthodox women I see around are thinner than ever. I don't even know if that's such a good thing for our female teens. Plus, we haven't even touched on the new health food trend that is growing among a contingent of kosher food eaters.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cappucino

            I I apologize for sounding very preachy, but it is very important to have healthy Kosher food options available because of the increasing incidence of Type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity in the Kosher eating community.

            It is also important to expose children to healthy Kosher eating options in order for them to have a better chance of having healthy eating habits in the future.

          2. I think the question could as easily be "are healthy and american mutually exclusive?" As AdinaA said, people that are kosher can choose to eat a healthy diet, and I don't believe they are any more challenged than their non-kosher american counterparts. Yes, our meat is (marginally) more salty. But that is the only example I can think of where kosher laws have an inherent health disadvantage, and its a small one. On the flip side, Kosher eaters have no access to the worst aspects of the American diet: fast food chains are often blamed for the high rate of obesity in the US, and they are simply not as pervasive on the kosher scene. Even fast-food style kosher restaurants don't have the economies of scale to produce the absolute junk-food of a McDs. And with the relatively high prices of kosher meat and poultry, many kosher families consume less of that, and more fish or other protein sources, which more than counterbalances the salt. In terms of the other concerns you state, they are non-issues. Margarine is not healthy but butter is not great, either. Health conscious people I know use olive oil, kosher or not. And I buy organic fruits and veggies all year round. I've never had a problem with bugs, and have no reason to consume less of them than my non-kosher friends. Finally, the law prohibiting consuming milk and meat together makes it alot easier to make things "parve", or neutral. This translates to my using less milk, butter, or animal fat in recipes than I would if not kosher. So overall......I would say the answer to your question is NO!

            1. I haven't seen any articles of late pointing to the existence of cardiovascular disease in Jews being any higher than in the population as a whole...or any particular note of the population of Israel being stricken in disproportionate numbers.

              So I think it's the choices one makes within the framework of kashrut that affect one's health much more than the rules themselves.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sunshine842

                There is no connection between the laws of kashrut and unhealthy food. There is healthy kosher food as well as unhealthy kosher food. However, as moegreene indicated, there may not be as much availability of commercially prepared kosher food as there could be.

              2. Nothing good ever comes from generalizing. Kosher meat is no more/less unhealthy than any other. The salt thing applies to a minority for whom there are concerns other than kashrus. Similarly, margarine is not the only fat around. Earth Balance is an example of a "healthy" alternative for kosher use. "Organic" and "kosher" are not diametrically opposed and our local kosher mart has increasingly expanded its organic produce section to respond to an obvious demand. And when using organic, meticulous washing is advised not just for kosher observance.

                Eating kosher and healthy in 2011 is far easier than in 1971, as a random example, when the choices were far more limited (as was awareness).

                1. Kosher visitors to Berkeley where I live are often surprised at the food eaten here. Many of us are strictly kosher and strictly healthful eating. Of course, it's easier here because we can get fresh produce (not imported from Chile) year round and because the culture here is vegetarian-vegan friendly. I am vegan and my husband eats meat on Shabbat. The rest of the week we are happily kosher and healthful eaters.

                  There is a wide variety of opinions re produce. The strictest won't eat heads of broccoli, strawberries or brussel sprouts. We are a little more liberal. We check our produce by adding a drop or two of vinegar or organic, non toxic dish soap to a large bowl of water and washing the produce, then rinsing it separately. This is a good practice to prevent food illness. Many organic salad packs come triple washed as well. So it doesn't take much more than ordinary good kitchen practice to check for insects, even on organic produce.

                  There are many newer Jewish cook books that adapt traditional foods. At our house we prefer food adventuring. Every Friday we make kosher versions of food from a different country. We go by the alphabet. Last week, Denmark, next and "E" country. All kosher all healthful. The best hint for healthful eating is to avoid processed foods whenever possible. This includes Passover. If I don't need cake mix the rest of the year, why buy it for Passover? And yes, vegan Passover can be nutritious and delicious.

                  1. In the same vein, there's an article in the current issue of Jewish Action (the OU's magazine) called "Is Orthodoxy Unhealthy?" It cites more examples that seem specific to the frum lifestyle: overeating at a kiddush only to go home to then eat what amounts to a second full meal, eating a full meal after eating a ton at the shmorg at a simcha, onegei shabbos or Shalom zachar after a full meal on a Friday night . . . the examples can go on and on. I do think I see more obesity in the frum world than the outside world.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: queenscook

                      Again waaaaaay to easy to generalize. Plenty of Orthodox who exercise or eat appropriately. It's just silly to make assumptions based on anecdotal evidence. Plenty of people gorging themselves at "Old Country Buffet" or Brazilian Steak Houses. The Venn diagram or syllogism should read:

                      All Orthodox Jews in America are part of the American population; some Americans have issues with overeating; therefore some Orthodox Jews have issues with overeating.

                      Until we get to a place where each Orthodox Jew will have to buy 2 seats in shul for Rosh Hashona, it's a flawed set of assumptions.

                      1. re: ferret

                        "Until we get to a place where each Orthodox Jew will have to buy 2 seats in shul for Rosh Hashona, it's a flawed set of assumptions."

                        Because one in the Ezras Nashim?

                        1. re: The Cameraman

                          Because they're so wide, they need two each.

                    2. I don't keep butter or margarine in my (kosher) apartment so that's not a problem.

                      I really don't eat very much meat (other than fish) period. Some Orthodox Jews think you have to eat meat on shabbos and yom tov but (1) that's not a universally held view (either among Orthodox or among Conservative kosher-keeping Jews). And even if you followed that view, a token amount of meat would satisfy your obligation.

                      Produce I worry more about, and that's more complicated- different rabbis have different views. But even if you are strict about this sort of thing, it doesn't apply to all types of produce- cucumbers, tomatoes, corn for example are fine- its really mostly the leafiest vegetables.

                      1. Check out this website for a group dedicated to totally kosher totally healthy eating. Their conferences are awesome. Also, you might check out Sephardic Jewish food, in general a lot healthier than the Askenazi food many people associate with being "Jewish."