Kosher Travel

Jet Lag – To Eat or Not to Eat

Some of us will be traveling long distances this summer. I’m always envious of my European friends, whose families are a mere four hours or so flying time from here. Those of us who travel to North America or Asia know what it’s like. It’s hard enough being squished into in a sardine-can sized seat for a 12 hour or more flight. Then, when you finally arrive, you’re exhausted during the day and wide awake at night.

The usual (and sound) travel advice is helpful: Set your watch for the destination time at the start of your trip. Try to get a head start by eating and sleeping in that time zone during the flight. Drink a lot of fluids during the flight, but avoid alcohol and coffee. Try to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, by eating and sleeping when everyone there does.

Upon arrival, I find that a brisk walk outdoors in the morning and a cup of coffee helps. I force myself not to take a nap.

There may be another way to cope with jet lag: fasting.

Circadian rhythm (our internal pattern of sleep and wakefulness) is influenced by exposure to light. But it’s also influenced by food. At least in mice. Studies of mice (whose brain circuitry is similar to ours) show that when food is available to them, they are alert, awake and ready to eat, even if it’s the middle of the night. When they’re deprived of food for many hours and then fed, their brains re-acclimate to the correct time.

This information may be helpful to long-distance travelers. Here’s what you can do:

Don’t eat for 12-16 hours before you want to be awake. In many cases, that means starting to fast before you leave home and for the duration of the flight. (That shouldn’t be too hard given the quality of airline food!) Break your fast with a healthy meal, preferably at your new “morning” time.

Here’s another way of planning it: Figure out when breakfast time will be wherever you’re landing and fast for 12-16 hours before this.

We’re not certain that this is a sure fix for jet lag, but it’s certainly worth a try. And, except for a few calories, there’s nothing to lose.

N’siyah tovah – Have a safe and healthy trip!

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Tuscanny Part II

“And wine …gladdens the heart of man.” (Tehillim 104:15)

Tuscany is a land of vineyards and small wineries. It seems like every village is famous for a particular wine.

We were served locally produced kosher wines – two dry reds and a white. Don’t ask me for a review. I can’t tell you if they had “hints of berry”, or a “flinty mineral note”. One of the reds was called “Aleph”, with a large Hebrew aleph on the label. Not very sophisticated, but delicious none the less.

At home we enjoy a glass of good Israeli wine on Shabbat and holidays. Even though there’s always a bottle in the refrigerator, we don’t even think about drinking wine with weekday meals. Our tradition encourages a moderate intake of alcohol.

But maybe we should consider drinking wine more often. After all, it was very relaxing and truly added to the pleasure of our meals.

And what about health benefits?

Is there a connection between alcohol and heart health? Does wine explain the French paradox – the observation that the French (and perhaps Italians) eat a relatively high-fat diet, enjoy wine with their meals and have a low death rate from heart disease?

People who drink one to two alcoholic beverages a day have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke than non-drinkers. Their overall mortality rate is lower as well.

Wine and weight reduction?

Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes and red wine, is showing promise. In mice fed a high-caloric diet, resveratrol prevented diabetes and clogged arteries caused by obesity. Preliminary lab studies indicate that resveratrol slows the growth of fat cells. The mechanism is complex, and much more research is needed, but it’s a start in understanding the French paradox.

There’s more to consider before you increase your alcohol consumption.

Can you afford the extra calories (or are you willing to cut calories elsewhere)?
Are you taking medications that don’t mix well with alcohol?
Do you have a medical condition that precludes drinking?
Are you pregnant or breast feeding?
Will you be driving or operating machinery?

As there’s no simple “One Size Fits All” answer, its best discussed with your physician.

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Tuscany Part I

Pitigliano, Italy – “Little Jerusalem”

Cheerful, tasty, varied, inexpensive, and unworrying… all one has to do is enjoy the food…“ This is how food writer Alan Davidson describes the food of Italy in The Oxford Companion to Food.

After spending a week in Tuscany, I can add delicious, easy, informal and nutritious to his description.

Tuscany is the beautifully lush region north of Rome – rolling hills planted with olives and grapes, romantic hilltop villas and the cities of Florence, Sienna, Pisa and our base, Lucca.

Our tour centered around food and Italian Jewish history. A special treat to celebrate a special anniversary. We cooked with an accomplished Italian chef, enjoyed espresso, gelato and regional kosher wines. We walked a lot and bicycled along the wall around Lucca.

Breakfast at our hotel/villa was simple and healthy – cereal, fruit and low-fat yogurt (plus cappuccino, of course).

Lunch was a picnic “on the road” – vegetable and pasta or grain salad, bread and local kosher cheese. Water to drink and fruit for dessert.

And dinner was the highlight – a relaxing, unhurried three-course affair lasting a good two hours. We enjoyed chicken, beef, veal and fish entries preceded by a pasta, rice or polenta dish, and always accompanied by vegetables. Dessert was simple and usually included fruit. And of course there was wine.

We learned tomato sauce two ways – canned tomatoes and fresh. We mixed and kneaded bread, pasta and focaccia dough. With plain grilled and boiled vegetables we created gorgeous antipasto platters. We chopped lots of onions, carrots and celery. These, together with garlic, fresh rosemary and sage, dried oregano, salt and pepper were the only seasonings we used.

Olive oil flowed liberally as we cooked. No sign of margarine in this kitchen.

Such delicious food. We didn’t feel stuffed and neither of us gained weight. We returned home feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and inspired.

Fresh produce and grains, minimal preparation and the relaxed Italian attitude towards eating – yes we could easily bring these culinary concepts into our own home.

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Eating “En route” Part II

Between flights

Our plane from Tel Aviv arrived late at night in Toronto, our overnight stop-over en route to Milwaukee. With an early connecting flight, we needed to be up by 5 a.m. the next morning.

After picking at the far-from-nourishing airline meals during the flight, we were hungry for dinner. And I was already thinking about tomorrow’s breakfast.

We had researched kosher restaurants in Toronto, but after the flight from Tel Aviv, we were too tired to travel from the airport hotel into town. For less than round-trip taxi fare, my husband had the brilliant idea of ordering out. Le Bistro Grande, a lovely kosher dairy restaurant, was most cooperative and within half an hour they delivered a tasty meal of pasta with vegetables, salad and bottled water.

As for breakfast – I had my single-pack cereal boxes, paper plates, bowls and plastic utensils. We added a banana, milk and orange juice purchased from a Starbucks at the airport.

But what if you find yourself far from the convenience of a kosher restaurant? And you forgot those cereal boxes?

In most airports you can find something healthy and kosher to eat. Check the coffee houses for whole fresh fruit and pure fruit or vegetable juice. I found small baby carrots and cherry tomatoes in an airport store.

Look carefully among the candy bars and you’re likely to find at least one fairly nutritious “snack” or “health” bar. In Canada I like the “Break-a-Way Snacks” Organic Nature Bar. It’s a mix of seeds, nuts, dried fruit and sweetener. Although high in fat (11 grams per bar) and rather sweet (12 grams of sugar), it is a good source of fiber (3 grams) and quick energy. I also like “Kashi” bars and “Larabar”, a dried fruit and nut bar with 5 grams of fiber.

Kosher packaged nuts are usually available at airports. Look for plain nuts or mixtures of dried fruits and nuts.

Our recent dinner menu at O’Hare airport while waiting between flights was tuna salad on crackers (carried with us), fresh carrots, cherry tomatoes, sparkling water and fresh fruit.

Once you’ve reached your destination, don’t forget to keep drinking. It’s especially important to re-hydrate, and water is the beverage of choice.

While I don’t recommend drinking coffee (or alcohol) while flying (both will increase dehydration), here is a suggestion that helped us once we were on the ground: A cup of coffee followed by a short nap (15-20 minutes) helped us deal with jet lag, especially in the afternoons when we felt especially sluggish. By the time you are finished resting, the effect of the caffeine will give you an extra “push” until bedtime.

Safe, healthy traveling to all of you – N’siyah Tovah!

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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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