A Paleo Pesach

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Is it possible that all those years of Passover eating has actually been good for us?

Picture a dinner plate loaded with a fresh green salad and hearty roasted vegetables, with a tender piece of roast beef and a side of crisp sweet potato wedges. For dessert, a delicious and light chocolate almond cookie. There are no rice or beans in sight, and there certainly isn’t any bread. Am I describing a Pesach holiday dinner, or a dinner belonging to a follower of the Paleo diet? And what if I told you that the two are almost the same thing?

paleo food

The Paleo diet is one of the trendiest and most exciting new diets to come along in many years—it has been the most-Googled eating plan for the past two years. But many people don’t really understand what the Paleo lifestyle is all about. 

Bayla Bryski, Registered Dietician and Nutritionist, believes that a little understanding of the principles behind Paleo eating can rescue Pesach from its reputation as one of the most diet-busting holidays on the Jewish calendar. (And on a calendar that dedicates one holiday to the consumption of candy and another to cheesecake, that’s saying a lot!) “If you are interested in the Paleo lifestyle,” Bryski says, “Pesach is a great jumpstart into it. If you think about a lot of classic Pesach foods—chicken soup, baked salmon, roast meat, salads—they are all Paleo approved!” As a dietician, Bryski works with many kosher-observant clients who are interested in the Paleo diet. She emphasizes that while it is not the only healthy way to eat, it is helpful to many who are trying to lose weight or increase overall fitness. The Paleo diet comes from the theory that the ideal diet is one of whole, unprocessed foods similar to what our pre-agricultural ancestors would have eaten. This includes fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and eggs, but excludes grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, and alcohol. “You can get all the nutrients you need without these foods, as we all know from Pesach, when we skip most of them anyway!” 

MORE: A Paleo Shabbat Menu

So this Pesach, aside from the halachically obligated portions of matzah and wine, Bryski suggests incorporating the Paleo philosophy into your menu. “Stay away from all those processed Pesach cookies and cakes, and make your own Pesach desserts with almond fl our, dark chocolate, nuts, honey, and fruit.” 

Portion control is another challenge—especially with those multi-course holiday meals. “Take just one bite of each new dish,” she suggests. “Your plate should be half filled with non-starchy vegetables, and the other half should be mostly meat or fish, with a small side of a starchy food, like sweet potatoes, potatoes, or matzah.” But if you do find yourself overindulging, the main thing is not to feel discouraged. “Don’t let one bad day set you back!” 

The classic menu of a Paleo day will look familiar to anyone who avoids processed foods on Pesach. “Breakfast is an omelet, fruit and nuts, or even a piece of fish or meat and some vegetables,” Bryski says. Although not technically Paleo-approved, Bryski often recommends plain Greek yogurt as a convenient breakfast, filled with all the right nutrients to keep you satisfied for hours. “Protein and fat are crucial at breakfast—they keep you full longer and help you stick to healthy choices throughout the day.”

Feel free to snack on moderate portions of protein and fat—try avocado, eggs, and nuts. “People were so afraid of eating whole eggs for a long time, because of the saturated fat, but it turns out there is no strong evidence that egg yolks raise cholesterol—and they are full of nutrients, protein, and that healthy fat that keeps you full.” In moderation, naturally saturated fats such as those in eggs, red meat, and coconut oil, can all be part of a healthy, balanced diet. “It turns out,” Bryski laughs, “that all those foods our bubbies were cooking were all really good for us. Bone broth, borscht, eggs, vegetables cooked in schmaltz and duck fat—they might be trendy now, but our grandmothers knew what was up years before anyone else.”

MORE: 12 Packable Paleo Recipes

Article published in JOY of KOSHER with Jamie Geller Magazine Spring 2015 SUBSCRIBE NOW

Pesach 2015 Magazine cover

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