Of course, Passover isn’t about health any more than Yom Kippur is about dieting. But whereas, if you’re healthy enough, going hungry for 24 hours won’t hurt you, eating matzah for eight days might!
The week-long nature of the holiday adds to the problem. We eat two massive and sometimes very late dinners in a row, followed often by a number of other festive gatherings. If yours is a family that loves breakfasts of matzah brei (pancake made with egg and crushed matzah), and chocolate-covered “tea” matzahs with their coffee, etc., with macaroons and jelly rings then “belly aching” could be more likely than usual.
But the “bread of affliction,” the unleavened bread carried by the Israelites fleeing Pharoah’s Egypt, needn’t be that way.
According to the gurus of good nutrition, matzah although thin because of its lack of moisture and air bubbles, shouldn’t be eaten in greater quantities than your usual consumption of bread. In fact, you should eat less. According to Professor Jesse Lachter, a top gastroenterologist at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, a sheet of plain matzah is twice as fattening as a slice of white bread.
Because plain matzah contains virtually nothing other than flour, it’s preferable in some respects to breads that are laden with high fructose corn syrup and preservatives, or even those with oil and honey. In its simplicity, if eaten sparingly, matzah is probably one of the purest packaged foods available.
Whole grain matzah, like whole grain bread, is of course preferable. But even that contains only minimal amounts of iron, protein, and dietary fiber.
Diet-wise, that simplicity can also be its greatest danger. Where the unaccustomed might ask us, “Why do you like this? It tastes like cardboard!” We who’ve grown up with it know how good it is with butter, spread over those crunchy bumps and dips. And who doesn’t have their favorite combinations, jams and preserves or honey if you like sweet, and if you want savory, cheese spreads, or even mashed gefilte fish, or simply a sprinkle of herbs and salt.
Dr. Lachter says that so long as you keep up your intake of water, and keep up, or even step up amounts of fresh vegetables and fruit to counteract the effects of the matzah with fiber, all should be fine. He also suggests following the advice given by the great philosopher Maimonides, who suggested, “eating until one is two-thirds full and stopping right there”. Wise advice more easily given than taken!
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