Dairy or Not? (Continued)

A nutritious diet and plenty of exercise while you’re young is the foundation for strong, dense bones. Osteoporosis – porous bones, is the weakening of bones that occurs as we age. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones, and dairy products are an excellent source of calcium.

But if dairy isn’t for you, there are plenty of other things you can do for your bones.

Like exercise. I’m not into jogging, cycling or exercise machines. But I do Tai Chi and stretching/aerobics classes several times a week. I also walk a lot. Despite severe lactose intolerance and very petite bones, my bone density has actually improved with age. I’m convinced that due to exercise.

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. It’s hard to get enough from diet alone, and since we’re all wearing sunscreen, (or should be!) most of us don’t get enough from being in the sun. That leaves supplements. Ask your physician if he or she thinks you should be taking one.

Don’t forget about non-dairy sources of calcium, like canned salmon, tofu made with calcium, almonds, legumes, dark leafy green vegetables and techinah made with whole sesame seeds.

Some foods and beverages are fortified with calcium, like orange juice (in the US) and soy, rice and almond drinks. Shake the container before you pour, since the added calcium tends to settle on the bottom.

If you eat at least one serving of leafy green vegetables a day, you’re doing your bones a big favor. That’s because they contain vitamin K, another important nutrient involved in regulating calcium and building strong bones. So keep eating your broccoli, spinach, Brussel sprouts, kale, chard and dark green lettuce (Iceberg lettuce doesn’t count!).

Vitamin A is important for good bones, but too much of it in the form called retinol, can promote bone fractures. If you take a multivitamin, check that the type of vitamin A (at least most of it) is beta carotene and not retinol.

What’s Bad for Your Bones?

Although findings haven’t been consistent, large amounts of protein could be bad for your bones. Eating a high-protein diet for a few weeks, or even a month, probably won’t hurt you, but over long periods of time, it may not be great for your bones.

There’s some evidence that drinking lots of coffee (four or more cups a day) can increase the risk of bone fractures. Cola beverages have been found to affect bones as well. Women who drank just one serving of cola a day were found to have lower bone density than women who drank less than a serving of cola a month.

The Bottom Line

If you enjoy dairy, choose non-fat and low-fat products. Save premium ice cream and high-fat cheese for occasional treats. Go easy on coffee and cola and eat plenty of vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. And be sure to make exercise a regular part of your routine.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

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Dairy or Not?

We enjoy a dairy meal on Shavuot. I like to keep it simple with a vegetable pashtedah (casserole) or tortellini salad, plenty of vegetables, and ricotta cheesecake for dessert.

Dairy on Shavuot is a popular minhag (tradition). Dairy during the rest of the year has its fans – as well as its critics.

Dairy is a wonderful source of calcium. And calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth.

But what if you’re lactose intolerant and can’t easily digest dairy? Or maybe you’re a vegan who doesn’t eat food derived from animals.

Many dairy products are high in unhealthy saturated fats, which are bad for heart health. Although more research is needed, scientists have some evidence that a diet high in dairy foods may increase the risk for ovarian and prostate cancer.

There are plenty of unanswered questions about dairy foods and bone health.

We know that it’s possible to have strong bones without eating lots of dairy, but we don’t know why. People may be eating more non-dairy foods that are rich in calcium. Perhaps they’re eating more green vegetables and less protein than many of us. They could be getting more vitamin D and more exercise.

Unfortunately we can’t even say for sure how much calcium is needed for strong bones. Many scientists think that current recommendations are too high. Long-term studies haven’t shown that those amounts actually lower the risk for osteoporosis.

More questions than answers? I’d still go ahead with a (low-fat) dairy Shavuot menu, if that’s your custom. But if dairy just isn’t for you, there are other things you should (and shouldn’t) eat for healthy bones.

Stay tuned…

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Zucchini Leek Casserole

The tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot has a number of explanations. Here’s one of our favorites:

Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropol notes that the numerical value (Gematria) of the Hebrew word for milk is 40, corresponding to the 40 days that Moshe spent on Mt. Sinai.

This is a delicious dairy casserole to enjoy during Shavuot. You can make it in the morning, refrigerate it and then bake it just before dinner. Or prepare it ahead of time and reheat it on the plata.

Zucchini Leek Casserole (Dairy)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 pounds (1 kilo leeks), trimmed, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 pound (½ kilo) zucchini squash, coarsely grated

1 cup crumbled low-fat feta or Bulgarian cheese

1 cup shredded kashkeval, Jack or other mild yellow cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill

½ to 1 teaspoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the cheese)

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1-2 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C)

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they just start to soften. Add the zucchini and stir. Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not mushy. If necessary, add a bit of water to prevent sticking.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the cheeses, dill and salt (start with the smaller amount). Taste for salt. Add the eggs and mix everything together.

Spray a shallow baking dish with non-stick spray or coat it with olive oil. Pour in the vegetable mixture. Drizzle with a teaspoon or two of olive oil and bake for 30-45 minutes, or until golden brown and firm.


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I feel as if I’ve been cooking non-stop since Pesach, much like the holiday cycle from Rosh Hashanah to Sukkot

But Shavuot seems different. It’s the last holiday before the long, hot, holiday-free summer. And since we eat mainly vegetarian and dairy meals most of the year anyway, it’s easy to come up with a menu.

The only issue is cheesecake.

Mention cheesecake and everyone has an opinion. Some like it rich and dense while others want it light and airy. Some insist on full-fat cream cheese, while others like ricotta, white cheese or yogurt. So many variations!

I do enjoy cheesecake, though I don’t make it often. My preference is for a not-too-sweet lemony ricotta cake, with a slightly crunchy crust.

My after-Pesach refrigerator inventory included a number of un-eaten cheeses close to expiration date. A pre-Shavuot cheesecake experiment came to mind.  I don’t usually experiment with baking, but I looked at a few recipes and gave it a try. My formula was 1 egg for each cup of soft white cheese. 

The crust is dependent on whatever cereal we have. Cheerios, puffed rice and bran flakes all work well. Throw a cup or so into the food processor bowl along with a handful of walnuts and a dash of cinnamon. Process into crumbs and add just enough canola oil to keep it together. Press it into an 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan.

Rinse out the processor bowl and put in the cheese. I used:

1 container 5% cottage cheese

1 container 5% “Ski” cheese (soft white cheese)

½ small log of soft goat cheese

1 container 0% plain yogurt

Zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup sugar

Process the mixture until smooth and taste it for sweetness and flavor. Then add:

3 eggs

Process again to blend everything together well.

Pour the cheese mixture into the crust and bake at 325 F (165 C) for about an hour, or until it’s firm. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in for another half an hour. Remove it to a wire rack to cool completely and then refrigerate.



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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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