Israeli Parliament Leads the Way to Good Nutrition

Healthy eating means different things to different people. Some add more fruits and vegetables to their diets but keep eating lots of sweets. Others cut out trans fats but forget about adding whole grains.

While many Israelis have been adding salads and whole grains to their diets, they continue to munch on salty snacks and rugelach. They’re actually eating more healthy foods. But at the same time, they’re still eating their favorite un-healthy ones.

A recent survey found that 81.7% of Israelis agree that “eating healthy food is very important.” But when asked if they actually eat healthy foods, only 62.4% of the respondents said that they were serious about doing it. While sales of olive oil, whole grains and other more healthy foods have increased, there hasn’t been a decrease in sales of highly processed foods that are often high in fat, simple carbohydrates, sugar and salt.

But now our Knesset (parliament) leaders are now trying to set a good example for us. They’re adding healthy foods and eliminating bad ones from their official meeting menus. We may not agree with their politics, but at least they seem to be on the right track with nutrition.

Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser pulled high-fat bourekas and rugelach from the menu during government meetings. In their place, ministers are now served granola, hard-cooked eggs, low-fat yogurt and cheese, whole grain bread and fruits and vegetables. Sweetened soda has been replaced with water.

Of course, like all of us, Knesset members have their own preferences “after hours”. Kadima head Tzipi Livni snacks on candy bars and salty snacks, though she says she’s trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. Prime Minister Netanyahu enjoys fruit, vegetables, raisins and nuts. Foreign Minister Lieberman serves tap water, fruit and pretzels at his meetings. Then there’s Defense Minister Barak, who eats raw lemons, unshelled pumpkin seeds and salty cheese. He’s also known for his habit of eating food off of other people’s plates. (See if he’ll ever be invited to my house!)

Good nutrition means more than just adding healthy foods. You’ve got to stop eating the un-healthy ones as well. If the cabinet secretary can get our often unruly Knesset members to eat right, we certainly can do just as well, if not better with our own families.

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Coming to Your Table Soon – Weeds from the Negev Desert

Bedouin living in the Negev once survived on the wealth of wild plants growing in the desert. Purslane, Mediterranean saltbush, desert stork’s bill and sea aster (photo at right) are among those plants that are now being domesticated for today’s market. Agricultural researchers in Israel are creating high quality strains of these wild plants that will be easy to grow, have a long shelf life and appeal to modern consumers.

Why not just stick with the cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes that we’re all used to?

Good nutrition is one reason. Purslane, a wild green that’s already popular in Arab countries, is high in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. Sea aster is also high in iron and calcium, as well as vitamin C, protein and fiber. Desert stork’s bill was once used as a sweetener. Maybe it will join stevia and agave syrup on supermarket shelves.

Besides nutrition, it’s always exciting to expand your palate. Why not do it with native plants grown in your own (at least my own!) back yard?

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Stamps of Israel – Nutrition Smart!

I couldn’t resist posting an image of these Israeli stamps.

And not just because they’re so pretty to look at. When you’re done peeling off the stamps (local postage rate only), there’s nutrition information printed on the back that’s yours to keep. Vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and their health benefits are listed for grapes, oranges, lemons, avocados and pomegranates. Grown in Israel, of course.
So run down to your local post office and ask for the fruit stamps. Tell them you just want to brush up on your nutrition!
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Winter Squash in Summer

Making aliyah has its challenges – language, culture, manners (or lack of) all require getting used to – or not. Even the food takes getting used to. Although Israel has modern grocery stores and an abundance of locally grown produce, food elicits nostalgia, and most olim (new immigrants) want at least a little “taste of home” once in awhile.

For me, that nostalgia hits once a year, at Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, wild rice, cranberries and pumpkin pie, which I can easily do without all year round, start to make my mouth water. So I roast a turkey breast, bake cornbread and make stuffing. I cook wild rice with dried cranberries. But American-style pie pumpkins aren’t grown here.

There’s another problem with winter squash (that’s what pumpkins are) in Israel – they come to market in the middle of summer! Right now, in July, we’re eating the most delicious squash of the season – and I don’t mean zucchini, which haven’t been offered for months by our organic subscription farm. The fresh picked butternut squash is wonderful. Acorn squash – new in the Israeli market, is small, sweet and nutty tasting.

Here’s a very easy way to cook winter squash: Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the stem and cut the squash in half lengthwise, from the stem end to the bottom. Take out the seeds. (A grapefruit spoon makes it easy.) With your fingers or a brush, rub the cut edges and the inside of the squash with olive oil. Sprinkle the surfaces with salt and pepper and bake, cut side down on the baking sheet until the edges begin to brown and the squash is soft.

With the abundance of delicious winter squash throughout the summer, I really don’t miss it during the winter. What do I make for dessert on Thanksgiving? I use what’s readily available at that time of year and make sweet potato pie!

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Chana Rubin, RD

Food for the Soul

Traditional Jewish Wisdom for Healthy Eating
By Chana Rubin, RD

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