January 5, 2009

Is Kosher Really Healthy?

There has been a considerable shift in kosher that points to a much greater emphasis on health. It was clearly in evidence at the recent Kosherfest, where there were more health products than ever. There were spelt-free, organic, natural, sugar-free and the like in many of the exhibiting booths. But in speaking to several nutritionists over the past few months, there is a feeling that kosher promotes non-healthy foods as much or more than it does health products. They point to the high concentration of protein and fat in the diets of Jews who observe the Shabbos. One nutritionist said that the popularity of such fatty foods as kugel and cholent is worrisome, particularly as many young people eat the fare even on weekdays and not just on Shabbos. Foods like herring, with its high concentration of sodium, is another example of foods that are extremely popular with younger kosher consumers.

Another related subject that was also dragged into the debate over kosher and health was the hot topic of child obesity. The nutritionists argued that many of the kids products produced by the kosher food manufacturers promote child obesity and contribute to the already high rate of diabetes and hypertension amongst Orthodox Jews. “Take a walk through the snack aisle of a kosher food supermarket and you will see why obesity is so prevalent amongst young Orthodox Jews.” But kosher purveyors actually feel that kosher offers a lot less of the “junk foods” than does the general market. They say that they have been more concerned with health than even the general market and refuse to accept the criticism. They point to the large number of health products that they have produced in recent years.

But many consumers feel that the criticism is well placed. They say that while some progress has been made in the production of healthy products, it is still far from acceptable. The truth, as usual, may be somewhere in the middle, but the good news is that at least there is some debate over a subject that in many kosher circles was taboo, at least until now.