By Miriam Leibowitz, MHSc, RD
As Passover approaches, I’m sure you are all busy cleaning your homes and stocking your kitchen with Passover foods and snacks. Unfortunately, it is more than likely that the foods making their way to your cupboards include potato chips, matzah, chocolate, cream cheese, bazooka gum & candy. These foods may be high in fat, high in refined carbohydrates, or high in sugar. Most likely, it will be all of the above. Although it may be difficult not to overeat on Passover, it is possible to make healthy food choices and stay active. The mistake many people make is that in their minds, they “write off” the week of Passover as a time when they are going to loosen up and veer off their diets or current healthy ways of eating. It’s the mindset that people face when in a moment of weakness they indulge in that piece of chocolate and decide that they just blew their whole diet. But Passover doesn’t have to be like that. It is possible to stay active and make healthy food choices — you just need to set your mind to it, be organized and plan right from the beginning.
Below are my “10 Commandments” to help you stay on track over the holidays.
1. Take it easy on the matzah. Sure, it’s a mitzvah to eat matzah – but there’s no mitzvah to overeat. Nowadays we are lucky that there are so many varieties of matzah available. Whole wheat and spelt are some of the healthier options you can choose. Keep in mind that matzah is still carbohydrates and calories. Generally, one slice of box matzah is 140 calories, 30 grams of carbohydrates and equivalent to 2 slices of bread. It’s important to keep in mind that you need to drink lots of water or whole-wheat matzah may cause digestion problems. Some people get into the habit of consuming matzah like it’s a bag of popcorn — they keep eating and eating. Getting yourself out of this habit can save you hundreds of calories.
2. Consider dry wines at the Seder table and Yom Tov meals. Some dieters as well as diabetics might consider using dry wine for the four cups of wine at the Sedarim. The sweeter and heavier the wine, the more calories it contains. FYI: Four standard wine glasses of grape juice have about 680 calories which is roughly 1/3 of our total calorie requirements per day.
3. Small meals are recommended during the Seder days. For the two Sedarim meals, try not to eat from 4 p.m. until the evening meal. Because the Seder meals are particularly rich and heavy, this can help balance your daily calorie intake. Keep in mind that the Seder meals don’t need to be “unhealthy” as many of the foods typically eaten are nutritious items (eggs, romaine lettuce and boiled chicken.) It’s usually the quantity of food and extra large portion sizes that get us in trouble.)
4. Use the Plate Method to set up your plate at meal times.
Fill up ½ your plate with fruit and vegetables — but mostly vegetables such as salad, cooked vegetables or soup
¼ of your plate should be your protein such as chicken, fish, and lean meat.
¼ of your plate should be grains and starches like potato, matza and rice (if that is your custom)
If you are going to wash on matzah, avoid other grains at the same meal.
5. Stay away from a lot of processed or packaged Passover foods as they are generally high in calories and fat. Their ingredients contain crushed nuts, coconut and sugar. Eat foods that are as close to their natural form as possible such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
6. Substitute recipe ingredients with healthier choices. Many Passover recipes call for lots of eggs. In many cases, egg whites can be successfully used instead of yolks. Avoid fried foods whenever possible and stick to reduced-fat recipes that involve baking, steaming and boiling. Purchase a good non-stick fry pan for sautéing or even a George Forman style grill.
7. Avoid eating Passover kugels that are made mostly from eggs and oil. There are many basic and interesting recipes that are made from vegetables that you can find in most year round cookbooks. Adapting them for Passover usually calls for an easy substitution (See the ingredient substitutions in the recipes section of this Guide). Even better is to make fresh side dishes whenever possible using ingredients like a little oil, salt and pepper.
8. Limit Passover nosh to a minimum.. Are you feeling stressed with all the cooking or cleaning? Stay out of the Passover kitchen! If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are more likely to nosh on things if they are right there in front of you. Change your environment by going for a refreshing walk to clear your mind. If you do need a quick fix, choose some healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, yogurt, low-fat cheese and nuts.
9. Water, water, water. It’s easy to forget to drink, but drinking water is important and good for you. But remember: the salt water on Seder night doesn’t count!
10. Finally, Rule #10- ENJOY yourself! Indulging a little bit won’t hurt.
Miriam Leibowitz is a Registered Dietitian who runs a private nutrition counseling practice as well as works with Peel Region-Public Health in the area of chronic disease and injury prevention. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org