With Passover looming right around the corner, I've already started to get the questions I usually hear this time of year, like: How can I avoid holiday weight gain? How do you count matzo? And how do you avoid that corked-up constipated feeling?
When I was a kid, there were slim-pickings on Passover. The supermarket shelves weren't filled with the copy-cat granola bars and cereals we see today. Now we find full shelves carrying products that wear the 'Kosher for Passover' label, making Passover a little more interesting, and even better ... a little healthier. Let's walk down the aisle together and do some comparison shopping:
Momma's got a brand new matzo: Whole-wheat, high-fiber, spelt, organic, thin and Schmura are just a few of the names you'll see on matzo boxes this holiday. Be careful not to be fooled by deceptive labels. For example, "thin matzo" doesn't automatically result in a thin bod when you take a closer look at the label, which shows 100 calories per piece, 2 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fiber. In comparison, another box called "light whole-wheat bran matzo" weighed in at 85 calories, with 3.6 grams of protein and 5.4 grams of fiber. Be on the lookout for the best of the bunch, called "light high-fiber," which contained only 78 calories, 3.2 grams of protein and a whopping 6.9 grams of fiber per board. That's sure to create a moving experience this holiday.
What's the take-away message here? The word "thin" will not necessarily make you thin, and "light" is not necessarily the lowest in calories. All of the above choices, however, are better than matzo made with just white flour, because fiber is hard to come by on this holiday. And when it comes to calories, generally speaking one piece of bread is around 80 calories, so a board of matzo, depending on the brand, should be considered to be one to one and a half breads per board. If you eat round schmura matzo, which may or may not come with a label, just try to picture the size of a commercial board of matzo as a frame of reference for measuring.
And for some reason, many of us seem to ignore this fact: Even broken pieces of matzo at the bottom of the box have calories that count.
Make the most of your "meal." When you're able to swap whole-grain matzo meal for the regular type, try to do so. One quarter cup provides 4 grams of fiber, compared to 1 gram in the regular version. For a tastier and healthier breading on chicken or fish, use almond meal instead of matzo meal.
Teach a man to gefilte fish. This fish basks in popularity around Passover, but for some reason, not many people take advantage of it throughout the year, even though it's low in calories and fat, and high in protein. On average, gefilte fish is only around 45 to 50 calories per piece, and each packs the same amount of protein as one ounce of chicken. It also comes in jars marked "low sodium" that contain about 60 milligrams less sodium than regular types (270 vs. 330 milligrams). The horseradish that usually accompanies gefilte fish barely has any calories and really packs a punch. I eat horseradish all year long with chicken or a turkey sandwich. It has less calories than mayo and is a lot more memorable. Gefilte fish makes a great lunch or light dinner option. However, when it's served as an appetizer to a multi-course seder, including mountains of sliced brisket and turkey, swap a salad starter instead of adding even more protein via this fish dish.
How low can you go? Interestingly, this year I noticed "unsalted" matzo meal. Well, guess what—of the four brands I looked at, there were zero grams of sodium in each, whether regular, whole grain or unsalted … so don't pay more for the "unsalted" type.
An eggs-act swap. Two egg whites are equal in volume to one whole egg. If you're watching your cholesterol, egg whites can often be swapped for a few of the whole eggs, without compromising taste, egg whites can be swapped for a few of the whole eggs. This works well in kugels, but matzo balls will be pale in comparison if you're using whites. (Spoiler alert—stay tuned next week for a story on the many benefits of eggs!)
Avoid trans fats like the plague. Use oil rather than margarine for cooking and baking. Extra-virgin olive oil is healthiest. Almond, walnut and peanut oil, if available, are also good choices. Avoid margarine altogether in baking and be sure to check labels carefully: If the front of the package says "0 grams trans fat" that may not actually mean zero. Check the ingredients list to be sure that "partially hydrogenated fat" and "hydrogenated fat" are not in that product.
Candies, jelly rings and chocolates, oh my. I'm not going to go into great detail about this category, because I could write a book on Passover desserts. My best advice is to proceed with caution and go for quality vs. quantity. Unless homemade, many commercial Passover desserts taste more like cardboard than the real deal. If there is a sweet treat you enjoy, have it at a time when you can appreciate every bite and be sure the calories are worth it. Marshmallow twists, for example, will leave you with 200 calories for three pieces, and 108 of those calories are sugar (which is equivalent to almost seven packets). Whatever you do, don't buy multiple boxes of these high-calorie, low-flavor desserts so that they last you until next Passover.
I wish you and yours a happy, healthy celebration.
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.