A Kosher diet has the potential to be a heart healthy diet, with good levels of the right kind of fats, or an unhealthy one, full of saturated and trans fats. Kosher diet rules, or “Kashrut” are generally more concerned with the preparation of food, and only forbid a few foods altogether, including pig products, most insects, water creatures without fins and scales, and blood. Most of the rest of the laws concern themselves with methods of slaughter and preparation, including the law that meat and milk (or any products containing them) may not be served together. Since that leaves a wide range of foods (that have been prepared correctly) available to someone following a Kosher diet, it includes foods that can both help and hinder cholesterol levels.
Eating Traditional Kosher Foods
Many of the meals from European traditions, including Kosher recipes, are heavy and contain a lot of saturated fat. These recipes were developed by people who performed manual labour all day in a cold climate and needed the extra calories to stay healthy. However, for the sedentary office workers of today, these recipes can spell disaster for cholesterol levels. Foods that have been prepared with or fried in animal fat, such as schmaltz, can add to blood cholesterol, and there is plenty of it in many traditional recipes.
However, there is also a wide range of traditional recipes to choose from when keeping Kosher, so it is possible to pick and choose which ones are healthier than others when it comes to maintaining cholesterol levels. Dishes that revolve around vegetables or fish are the best, using vegetable oils like olive or canola oil. Modifying traditional recipes to use these oils rather than animal fat can also reduce cholesterol intake.
Trans-Fats and Kosher Products
Trans-fats are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to developing high cholesterol levels, and unfortunately, Kosher diets tend to see a lot of them. A trans-fat was a liquid fat, such as vegetable oil, which has been partially hydrogenated to make it solid. The law forbidding the mixing of meat and milk leads many bakeries and other commercial chefs to use butter replacements such as margarine (a trans-fat) in order to certify their products as ‘parve’ (containing neither meat, nor milk). Trans-fats and saturated fats give the product a longer storage life, and a particular flavor. While unsaturated fats, such as liquid vegetable oil can replace them, they are often more expensive and don’t last as long.
Unfortunately, the only solution to this is to limit the amount of commercial bakery goods and other products containing trans and saturated fats. Baking at home is a good option as it is simpler to substitute vegetable oils for the bad fats and make a healthier product.
A Kosher diet can be just as varied and healthy or unhealthy as any other type of diet. Using plenty of vegetables and reducing the amounts of trans and saturated fats will help to ensure a long and healthy life, free of high cholesterol levels and heart disease.