Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trans-fat troubles

Keeping kosher while maintaining a healthy lifestyle can present many challenges.  If you don’t eat milk and meat together and wait a set amount of time between eating meat and milk and still want to have a balanced diet you need to think carefully about menu planning and food choices throughout the day.  Also, there are fewer lean cuts of meat and fewer lean animal protein sources that are kosher.  It can even sometimes be difficult to find low-fat or healthy foods that have a hechser (a kashrut symbol).  However, I think that the most interesting challenge comes with dessert.  It is a natural and wonderful thing to crave a bit of rich and sweet dessert after a savory meat meal.  However, most desserts are made with butter, sugar, cream, cream cheese, or milk, which most people who keep kosher will not eat after a meat meal.  In order to deal with this predicament, most people turn to margarine.  It closely matches the consistency and behavior of butter (although most certainly not the taste) and is easy to work with.  Most packaged kosher baked goods are made with margarine or some other trans-fat and many home bakers make all desserts with margarine in the hopes that they will be eaten at both meat and dairy meals.

So what’s the problem with this?  If we are already eating dessert, which is not necessarily nutritious, does it even matter that we are eating huge amounts of trans-fat?  The answer is simply, “YES!”  Trans-fat raises your “bad cholesterol,” (LDL) lowers your “good cholesterol” (HDL) and drastically increases the risk of developing heart disease, type II diabetes, and stroke.  The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 2 grams of trans-fat a day.  I can assure you that parve (non-dairy) desserts made with margarine have well over that amount.  For a variety of scientific reasons, saturated fat (such as butter) isn’t nearly as bad for your health as trans-fat.  In addition, margarine does not create the same satisfying and rich mouth-feel as butter and therefore often drives us to eat more in the hopes of satiety.

As you know, I never say never to any food.  However, I do say rarely.  I do not suggest keeping margarine in your refrigerator or using it on a regular basis.  If you want to make a birthday cake for a friend after a meat meal or are simply craving the perfect (or almost perfect, since it will be made with margarine and not butter) apple pie after a 4th of July barbeque, go ahead and make it, eat it, and enjoy it.  However, for parve desserts on a regular basis, invest in some vegan and non-dairy dessert cookbooks and get creative.  There are a lot of truly interesting and delicious desserts and vegan and non-dairy is a growing trend.  Also, explore with using soy products, fish, and other lean non-meat proteins so that you can have a satisfying scoop of ice cream or a thin piece of chocolate cake after a meal.

According to Maimonides, "Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d - for one cannot understand or have knowledge of the Creator if one is ill - one must therefore avoid that which harms the body and accustom oneself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger" (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deot 4:1).  Maimonides clearly says here to avoid things that are bad for us (like margarine) so that we can have a closer relationship with God.  I would extend this to say that we must avoid things that are bad for us so that we can have a closer relationship with ourselves, our families, and our communities.  Lets find new ways to enjoy parve desserts together while nourishing our bodies instead of harming them!

Below is a recipe perfect for a springtime Shabbat meal  - mocha mousse.  Enjoy!

Mocha Mousse

1 (12.3 ounce) package silken tofu
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa
¼ cup strong coffee
1 tablespoon soy milk
½ cup sugar

Serves 4

Puree the tofu in a food processor until it is very smooth.

Fill a small saucepot with 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer.  Put the chocolate chips, cocoa, coffee, and soy milk in a bowl that fits in the pot of water but does not touch the water.  Stir continuously until the chocolate chips are melted.  Remove the mixture from the heat and slowly add the sugar, mixing well.  Add the chocolate mixture to the pureed tofu and puree until smooth and well blended.  Spoon the mousse into serving dishes and refrigerate at least 2 hours to allow the mousse to set.

Tofu is high in calcium and low in fat.  Dark chocolate has important minerals like iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese.  Manganese and magnesium keep your bones healthy and helps you use other nutrients and copper is needed for blood health. 

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