Enjoy a Happy and Healthy Hanukkah

A snow covered menorah. Photo by: Dominic Alves, Flickr

The foods eaten during Hanukkah celebrations are steeped in symbolism. Hanukkah foods commemorate both the miracle of the temple oil and for many people, Judith’s victory over the Babylonians using only her beauty, guile and a basket of fine cheeses and wine.

This year, the holiday begins on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 27 and continues through Thursday, Dec. 5 (resulting in the rare co-celebration of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah in America that many have dubbed “Thanksgivukkah“).

Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration lasting for eight days and nights, remembering the re-capturing and re-dedication of the holy temple in Jerusalem. The length of the holiday honors the time oil, used to purify the temple for its re-dedication, burned. The oil left in the temple, enough to last but one day, continued to burn for eight.

Not for the faint of heart health, the foods eaten at Hanukkah are often fried in oil to symbolize that special oil of long ago. The addition of dairy foods to the holiday celebration came about in the Middle Ages as a tribute to Judith’s cunning. A variety of cheeses and dairy foods, such as blintzes and cheesecake, are also consumed. Needless to say, none of these are the low-fat variety.

Below are two of the most traditional of Hanukkah foods along with their nutritional breakdowns. Since the holiday lasts eight days it is important to eat these foods gingerly. If you are going to stick with the traditional Hanukkah menu which includes fried potato pancakes and jelly-filled donuts then select small tastes to include each day but temper their abundance on your plate by combining them with plenty of low fat protein and vitamin-rich non-starchy vegetables.

Latkes: 2 pancakes 250 calories, 11 g fat 32g carb

Soofganiyot Hanukkah Doughnuts: 3 oz. donut 290 calories 15 g fat and 31 g carb (Many Soofganiyot are smaller at 1 oz.)

If you are willing to tamper with tradition a bit, you may be able to bake rather than oil-fry your holiday foods. Eating Well has a downloadable Hanukkah menu that includes favorite foods such as pan-fried/oven baked latkes, a lower-fat brisket paired with a crisp health-healthy kale salad and a honey-almond cake all for 72 grams of carbohydrate and 33 grams of fat. For a holiday meal, that’s the definition of value.

This year we have a bonus of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving falling on the same day. Make it a great day to (carefully and with a plan!) taste the traditions of two cultures.

Enjoy the holidays!

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