The biggest mistake many of us make over Pesach (and one I see with my clients embarking on dietary changes) is focusing on what you can’t eat, rather than what you can. Embrace the Pesach staples: nuts, coconut, herbs, cinnamon, vegetables, eggs and it’s actually a festival full of nutrient-dense, health-supporting foods.
Mix up the matzah:
Let’s start with the main event — matzah. It’s true, eight days of white, refined matzah with every meal can lead to stomach discomfort. The issue is the lack of fibre and, for many of us, constipation is immediate. However, there are other matzahs on the market. Larger kosher supermarkets stock rye, spelt, wholewheat and even oat matzahs. These all contain more fibre than the traditional version. In addition, including a selection in your week can help increase your grain variety, thus supporting your microbiome — the healthy bugs in your gut which support digestion.
If you suffer from any blood sugar issues, diabetes, or are trying to manage your weight, these different matzahs can cause less of an insulin spike than the regular product. Plus, they add different textures and taste to your week — win win!
Most of us could do with including more of these in our diets. Essential fats are vital for hormone and neurotransmitter production, heart, skin and joint health. They support weight loss and mood regulation. These fats are found in abundance in many nuts – which are a Pesach staple — including almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts and coconut. Ground almonds are a base for much of our Pesach baking but, to minimise sugar content, use your nuts in alternative snacks. Grinding raw nuts into nut butters makes protein and fat-rich spreads for rye matzah or apple slices. Try unsweetened, dried coconut as a snack.
For a Pesach take on guacamole and chips, mash another essential fat-filled fruit — the on-trend avocado with spring onion, coriander and lime and serve with broken shards of matzah to dip. Further increase your essential fat content with omega 3-rich eggs and small oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines.
Herbs are a nutrient powerhouse, and are an often-overlooked component of a healthy diet. Don’t just confine parsley and horseradish to the Seder plate. Parsley — the fashionable Instagram-nutritionist’s ingredient du jour — is high in vitamins C, A and K, making it a powerful antioxidant. You should have plenty over after Seder, so add it to soups, stews and salads. Or, do as they do on Instagram and juice it for a morning shot.
Feel the heat:
Who doesn’t have a horseradish root languishing in their fridge post-Seder? It’s another nutritional powerhouse with a long history in traditional medicine. Studies show its positive effects on congestion and sinus issues, as well as alleviating joint and muscle pain. If you can’t stand the heat from eating it raw, try cooking with it — grate it into scrambled eggs, or in dips made from oily fish such as salmon or mackerel.
Spice it up:
The flavour that most conjures up Pesach for me, is ground cinnamon. It adds sweetness to food while reducing blood sugar, so is a helpful addition to the diet for diabetics. Add it to baked apples with raisins for an easy, sugar-free dessert, or use it to add warmth, depth and sweetness to savoury dishes such as chilies and tagines.
Embrace those veg! Including a wider variety and a greater amount of vegetables is the biggest thing we do to support both our health and our planet. Although certain vegetables are off limits over Pesach for Ashkenazim, some of the most nutrient dense ones should become staples. Dark green leaves (spinach, rocket, watercress. lettuce), brassicas (kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage) and alliums (onions, leeks, garlic) all supply an enormous array of vitamins and minerals, and will help support digestion, immunity, energy and satiety.
Experiment with new produce: add pak choi to a stir-fry; roast cavolo nero for a snack; use chicory as a salad leaf. Look for freshly grown, local produce — it’s much higher in nutrients, kinder on the environment and supports local farmers.
Take care with carbs:
The foods, that cause the biggest struggles over Pesach are carbohydrates as so many of them are chametz. Carbohydrates are needed for energy and supporting mood, digestion and satiety. However, the forms we tend to eat them in (sugar, refined rice and flour) are not always the most supportive. All vegetables and fruits contain carbohydrates, so rather than just reaching for matzah or potatoes with every meal, try other assortments. Many rabbis permit quinoa at Pesach, and this pseudo-grain can be used to make filling salads (try mixing with roasted veg and fresh herbs), and even as porridge for a sugar-free breakfast.
Utilise root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, or parsnips by cutting them into wedges and baking for a healthy chip alternative. Celeriac can be boiled and mashed with swede or sweet potato for a delicious shepherd’s pie topping. Small, new potatoes are in season in April, and lower in sugar than large potatoes, so choose these and if you’re concerned about your blood sugar or weight — and eat them with the skin on.
Balance the treats:
All Jewish festivals come with their own special delicacies and family traditions, and it’s exciting to bake and eat macaroons and cinnamon balls. However, don’t neglect your health by just stocking up on sugar-laden kosher for Pesach alternatives.
Use the coming eight days as a time to improve your diet, try new ingredients, and make some new, healthy traditions.
Laura Southern is a registered nutritional therapist with a busy London Practice.
For more information www.londonfoodtherapy.com 07598 335257