A Shabbos to fit your genes
While we all look forward to a delicious Shabbat meal, we tend to eat the same traditional dishes. Are we eating the foods which will contribute to our well-being – the right foods for us?
Today, there is great interest in DNA testing and the interconnection between food, genes, health and longevity. Each of us has a unique physiology and chemistry which is determined by our genes. Even though 99.9% of our DNA sequences are identical, it is the 0.1% of DNA variations that are responsible for our differences.
While there are many factors that can influence how our genes behave, food is one of the most influential.
Today, there is clear shift towards more personalised and preventative nutrition. Your genes have a unique impact on your digestion of certain nutrients, susceptibility to certain diseases, and weight management.
Understanding your genes is like having an important piece of the puzzle to your personalised health blueprint. The practice of understanding how your DNA interacts with the food you eat is nutritional genomics!
Don’t plutz (freak out)! Even though you may not have taken a DNA test, you can still ensure your Shabbos meal contains the right ingredients needed to optimise the conversation between food and genes. The secret “recipe” lies in which foods you choose to have on your table, and how you prepare them, enabling the food information carried in nutrients and bioactives to be delivered to your genes in a format they understand.
Bioactives are components found in food which have the power to influence the way in which our genes behave. They act like biological switch masters, “switching on” genetic pathways that optimise health like detoxification and blood-sugar control, while “switching off” others that don’t serve us, like those that cause inflammation. Different ingredients have different bioactives and nutrients, resulting in varying food-gene interactions.
Luckily, many of these nutrients and bioactives are already on your Shabbos table!
Our bobbas weren’t joking when they said, “eat your greens”, as the bioactive sulforaphane, found in cruciferous and green leafy vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and spinach, activates our detoxification system.
Lycopene, the anti-oxidant stimulator, is found in foods like cooked tomatoes, grapefruit, and watermelon. Turmeric-spiced food and drinks aren’t just the latest craze. They contain the bioactive curcumin, involved in “switching off” the disease-causing inflammatory pathways in the body.
The power of foods like capers, apples, radishes, herbs, onion, garlic, and leeks, is that they all contain the bioactive quercetin which “switches on” the master anti-oxidant regulator.
Beetroots contain nitric oxide and the bioactive betaine, which improve cardiovascular health and anti-oxidant defence mechanisms.
Having berries for dessert? You too are tapping into your anti-oxidant pathways with the bioactive resveratrol.
No single ingredient can prevent disease and enhance health, and there are many more bioactives than those already mentioned. The important thing is to include a variety of bioactives and nutrients in a well-balanced daily routine – and in your Shabbos meal.
Just as there is a secret to making the best chicken soup, here are some tips to ensure that you maximise the nutritional potential of your Shabbos meals. Preparation methods are key, as not all food items contain bioactives in their active form.
• To start your meal, instead of saying the brocha on the usual white challah, have an anti-oxidant stimulating, cardiac protecting beetroot wholegrain challah;
• To activate the lycopene in tomatoes they must be cooked; roast tomato soup anyone?
• Curcumin, in turmeric, needs a fat to enhance its absorption. Turmeric tahina is a winning combination;
• Cruciferous vegetables are the star of the show. Always try and include at least one in your meal. A simple example is swapping the ineffectual lettuce in your salad with greens like baby spinach or rocket, increasing your sulforaphane intake. Note, sulforaphane is heat sensitive, so replace your over-cooked greens with crunchy, lightly sautéed broccoli and brussels sprouts;
• Always put the dressing on your salad after the kiddush The acid found in vinaigrettes deactivates bioactives, and can affect vitamin integrity too. Kale pesto and herb-based dressings are delicious options;
• The secret is to always have a mixture of cooked and raw foods on your plate by sprinkling fresh herbs onto your roast or dishing up a side of fresh slaw;
• Lastly, ditch the parev ice-cream for an anti-oxidant-rich berry sorbet with cocoa drizzle.
Just like that, we have transformed your indulgent Shabbos meal into a genetically activating spread. And remember, try to dish up one portion instead of two! Then you will really fit into your jeans!
- Hilit Milner is a registered clinical dietitian who runs a private practice, works in a top private hospital, and has founded a wellness blog called ‘Sunrise by HM’. She views health holistically, starting from a cellular level and working her way out. She has an appetite for all things connected to nutrition, health, fitness, and their close relationship to mental well-being.
The ultimate Shabbos salad with a turmeric tahina dressing
(Serves 8-10 as part of a meal)
Ingredients (main bioactives):
1 packet baby spinach, 200g (sulforaphane)
1 cauliflower head or packet cauliflower florets, 300g (sulforaphane)
4 beetroots (betaine)
1 packet brussels sprouts, 300g (sulforaphane)
1 packet tender-stem broccoli, 230g (sulforaphane)
4 radishes (quercetin)
3 tablespoons pomegranate kernels (punicalagins)
1 large handful fresh mint (rosmarinic acid, apigenin)
2½ teaspoons turmeric (curcumin)
3½ teaspoons za’atar spice (quercetin, gallic acid)
½ teaspoon honey (caffeic acid)
3 tablespoons olive oil (luteolin, polyphenols)
1 teaspoon water
Salt and pepper
Turmeric tahina dressing:
3 tablespoons tahina paste (lignans, tocopherol)
½ tablespoon olive oil (luteolin, polyphenols)
2½ tablespoons lemon juice (rutin, myreIcetin)
2 teaspoons ground turmeric (curcumin)
½ teaspoon honey (caffeic acid)
5 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon salt
- Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
- Mix the turmeric, a dash of salt, and 1½ teaspoons of olive oil to form a paste. Break the cauliflower into florets, placing them on a roasting tray. Rub the turmeric paste, using your hands, over the cauliflower, coating all the florets. Pop them into the oven for 35-40 minutes to crisp.
- Peel the beetroots. Cut them into quarters, then place them on a roasting tray. Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil over them with a sprinkle of salt. Pop them in the oven to roast for 50 minutes.
- Wash the brussels sprouts and broccoli in a strainer, and allow the excess water to drip off.
- Cut the brussels sprouts lengthways in half, and cut the broccoli stems into smaller bite-sized pieces. Place them in a large mixing bowl.
- In a small dish, mix the za’atar spice with the water, honey, and two tablespoons of olive oil. Once all the ingredients are mixed together, pour the za’atar mixture over the brussels sprouts and broccoli, evenly coating them.
- In a pan on medium heat, place the brussels sprouts and broccoli stems, and pour over the za’atar dressing. Sauté the vegetables for about four minutes, then remove from the heat. They must still be crunchy and green.
- Place the baby spinach onto a large salad dish, forming the base for the salad. Once the broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and beetroot have cooled down slightly, scatter them onto the baby spinach.
- Wash and thinly slice the radishes, then disperse them around the salad.
- Wash and roughly chop the mint leaves. Scatter them, together with the pomegranate kernels, across the top of the salad.
Turmeric tahina dressing
- In a tall glass bowl, add the tahina paste, water, olive oil, lemon juice, turmeric, salt, and honey.
- Using a fork or a whisk, mix all the ingredients together until a smooth dressing is formed.
- Drizzle the turmeric tahina evenly over the salad, just before serving.