Saturday, October 01, 2022

And a Healthy One, too.

With Pesach upon us we are often swept away in preparations for the holiday. The intense cooking, the rigorous cleaning and serious learning that is required for a meaningful Chag leaves us little time to think about what happens after the sun sets on the 15th of Nissan.

It may be helpful to set aside a few minutes to anticipate the kinds of foods that we’ll be eating and the manner in which we eat them. A healthy approach may not just be “good” for the body but may lead to a more pleasant Yom Tov.

Nutrition is certainly not my area of specialty, but, one need not be a physician, a nutritionist or even a Jewish mother to offer some sound advice about healthy eating for Pesach and any time of the year. The following are just a few guiding principles and insights that one may want to consider before or during the Chag.


The Gemarah (Pesachim 108a) states, “The eating of Matzah requires reclining (Haseibah).” This statement is followed by a discussion regarding the requirement of Haseibah during the four cups of wine.

I’ve often marveled at this ancient anatomic knowledge and especially regarding the risk of aspiration which is of course when food manages to get into the windpipe. The question is even more important when considering that by the time the fourth cup of wine comes around after having eaten a large meal, the risk of aspiration is really no laughing matter.

Dr. Roger Marks, presenting at the American Society of Anesthesiology’s 2011 annual meeting, noted that anatomic studies have “shown that at the level of vocal cords, the esophageal inlet is in fact displaced slightly to the left of the trachea. Therefore, without any other extenuating circumstances, most anesthesiologists lean to the left.”

So this year as you find yourself leaning you can ponder the infinite wisdom of Chazal, who certainly did not have radiologists or anesthesiologists to consult. (And lean to the left.)

Chicken Soup

What would Pesach be without chicken soup? My research has not determined when and where it first came into the Jewish food tradition or when it became a staple on Friday night or at the Seder but it does seem that this not-so-secret formula has been recognized for quite some time.

The Rambam wrote extensively on the value of chicken and chicken soup. Healthy people benefit from its nutritional value. The infirm certainly benefit from chicken soup’s medicinal values. Dr. Fred Rosner, in referencing the writings of the Rambam, notes, “It is effective in treatment of Leprosy. It is helpful for feebleness, hemiplegia, facial paresis and the pain of edema. Chicken and chicken soup are helpful to those suffering from asthma, excessive nasal mucus and pneumonia.”

There have even been several scientific studies published in peer review medical journals that have shown that chicken soup may have medicinal value.Dr.Stephen Rennard conducted laboratory tests to determine why chicken soup might help reduce cold symptoms. In a well-known article published in Journal Chest, he found that, “chicken soup significantly inhibited neutrophil migration.” Dr. Rennard concluded that “a mild anti-inflammatory effect could be one mechanism by which the soup could result in the mitigation of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infection.”

Everything in Moderation

Probably the most important recommendation I have has nothing to do with the teachings of modern medicine. You simply can turn to the timeless and wise advice of the Rambam, who stated that the goal is for a man to follow the “Middle Path.” Regardless of where you find yourself over Yom Tov and regardless of how many courses are served, how large the portions are, and how many meals there may be, remember to approach the food with a sense of moderation. Only you (with a little help from your friends) can be the judge of that.

Have a joyous and tasty Chag.

Ben Z. Cooper, MD

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