Let's Eat

Making kosher food healthy

Avoid lokshen horror - making haimische food healthy


Some of Manchester's Charedi community are putting their health at serious risk through poor nutrition. 

In an NHS-funded survey, Jonny Wineberg, president of the Jewish Representative Council of Manchester, and his wife, psychologist Dr Sandi Mann, found that 50 per cent of children in the families surveyed were being given cake at least once a day. The survey (of 300 adults and 207 children) also found that 12 per cent of local Charedi men did no exercise at all.

Judi Rose and cousin Dr Jackie Lewis, a semi-retired GP, are on a mission to change that.

“It began when I was living in New York a few years ago and received an email from Jackie, who was increasingly concerned about the poor diet of the Charedi people she was seeing in North Manchester,” Rose explains. Lewis found that many of them did not seem to have any knowledge of how to modify their diet to reduce the chances of developing diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

Lewis, who has practised as a GP for 27 years, has a keen interest in preventative medicine and lifestyle. “I’m co-chairperson of the Jewish team of voluntary health group Salford Healthy Communities. The local public health department were aware of health inequalities which showed the Orthodox Jews as suffering a higher rate of cancer and heart disease.” The anecdotal evidence from health professionals was that lifestyle was playing a part in it.

The traditional Jewish diet is far from ideal. “Chopped liver and egg and onion are both high in fat. Cholent often uses fatty meat but is balanced by a good content of vegetables and pulses. Schnitzels, fish balls and goujons and kugels are also all high in fat. Cold meats for Shabbat are also unhealthy and high in salt and saturated fat and kuchens are very high in sugar.”

Lewis spoke to owners of kosher supermarkets and delis, where she was seeing fish deep fried in oil and cakes coated in sugar. “I’ve tried to persuade them to create healthy food aisles and make healthy foods more prominent.

“They’ve been open to speaking to me but change is a slow process,” she sighs. Many of the women she spoke to are fairly clued up on healthy eating. “They want to eat healthily and to stay slim, but they also like to cook traditional recipes as they feel their husbands want that type of food.”

Many see their healthy intentions crumble over Shabbat with large meals and a glut of treats. “I think it’s reasonable to say that things go to pot on Shabbat” Lew adds, noting that synagogue kiddushim don’t help as tables are often loaded up with sweet foods.

So Rose and Lewis have been working to educate and to develop new recipes for classic dishes that are lower in fat, sugar and salt and give traditional eaters a healthier choice.

“Food is such an important part of Jewish life that we couldn’t just tell people to eat salad,” laughs Rose, who finds it ironic that her mother, Evelyn, was preaching a similar message as long ago as 1961.

The pair have been developing healthier versions of traditional foods. “Jackie has researched academic papers on nutrition and we’ve used her findings for our recipes, replacing unhealthy ingredients with nutritious,” Rose explains.

“I’ve developed a recipe for matzah balls with no chicken fat. Instead, I’ve used light olive oil [a healthier fat] and chicken soup to give a rich flavour. I’ve also included oat bran — which adds fibre — and ground almonds, which also add healthy fats and vitamins but which you cannot taste.” Rose says she also uses ground ginger — which is anti-inflammatory — in the reworked classic.

“It’s not such a new addition. Florence Greenberg used ginger in her matzah balls, as did my mother.”

Another reworked dish is chicken soup. “When you make it with raw chicken there is a lot of fat that seeps into the soup. You can skim much of it off, once you’ve made the soup. But it’s even better if you render that fat off the chicken before you start making the soup. I brown the chicken pieces first in the oven to render off the fat.

“The chicken then also gives the soup even more flavour. Or you can make soup from the carcass from a roast chicken, so no surplus fat. I also add turmeric which boosts the antioxidant potential and can also prevent dementia.”

Another area Lewis feels strongly about is cutting down on sugar, so the duo have been working on cakes and bakes with lower sugar, experimenting with plant-based sugar substitutes like stevia.

“We’re about to do an experimental session on desserts and sweets and are using also focusing on the Sephardi way of making vegetables and fruits centre stage without the need for protein and carbs,” says Rose.

The plan is to eventually to publish a book — provisionally titled Lokshen Horror — from which all profits will go to charity. In the meantime, the pair are sharing their secrets at Jewish community centres, synagogues and symposiums, and hoping the healthier eating message gets through.


Dr Jackie Lewis and Judi Rose will be appearing at Manchester Limmud on January 29 (; and at Whitefield Synagogue on February 8

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