Oh, the attention we give to assembling the items for our Passover seder plate. It can take copious amounts of time and energy — a treasure hunt of sorts: Where to shop for a lamb’s shank bone? How to make the haroset? Prepared horseradish or freshly grated?
While many of us recognize the symbolism behind each food, we often don’t recognize that these culinary gems represent something else as well: health.
Here’s a rundown:
• Karpas: Vibrant green in color, parsley has earned its spot on the seder plate as the quintessential vegetable representing the arrival of spring and renewal of life. But don’t dismiss this humble bit of greenery as a simple decoration. There’s a reason why parsley is the world’s most popular herb. Not only is it an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K, but is also a good source of folate and iron. In addition, it boasts immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, making parsley a small but nutrient-dense powerhouse.
• Haroset: Each ingredient in this sweet paste of fruits and nuts has merit. And combined, the apples, walnuts, red wine and touch of cinnamon easily earn the superfood title. In the story of Passover, haroset represents the mortar or clay that binds the bricks together and symbolizes the hard work of the Jewish people. But contrary to its symbolic meaning, the amount of fiber in haroset helps keep the digestive system moving — there is nothing binding about it.
The star of haroset is the chopped apple, rich in important antioxidants, flavonoids and high in dietary fiber. Next up: walnuts, an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. The antioxidants abundant in red wine are known to help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol. Lastly, cinnamon is known to help control blood sugar, making it the perfect counterbalance to the sugars of the apples and sweet wine.
• Maror: Grated and plated directly from the white root vegetable, horseradish has a wonderfully pungent, sharp and bitter taste. Symbolically, horseradish is meant to remind us of the bitter times we endured as slaves. But it’s that bitter taste that makes this root so special. Natural healers hail the bitterness as an important taste not found in many foods. A perfect companion to the heavy seder meal, horseradish helps stimulates digestion.
• Salt water: While salt water represents the tears that were shed while Jews were slaves in Egypt, the health benefits from the minerals found in natural, unrefined salts are something to cheer about. Grey Atlantic sea salt (also called Celtic grey) and Himalayan pink salt are minimally processed, leaving them rich in essential minerals. Proper mineral balance is the most basic foundation for health maintenance. Adding one of these salts to your seder plate will give your diet a nutritional boost.
• Beitzah: The constant controversy surrounding eggs has left many of us questioning whether or not they are on the “good-for-you” list. Over the past 25 years, research has shown the dietary cholesterol in eggs is actually not the culprit in heart disease. Rather the highly saturated fatty foods that are often served with eggs, such as bacon and sausage, are now suspect. High in protein, vitamins, minerals and iron, the whole egg — including the yolk — can be enjoyed free of guilt or concern.
• Zeroah: Although the shank bone is all that is needed to symbolize the Israelites’ Pesach sacrifice, the meat from the lamb shank is nothing to avoid. A three-ounce serving contains just 156 calories and more than 24 grams of protein (the daily requirement for adult men is 56 grams, women 46 grams). It is also rich in vitamin B-12 and minerals. Roast the lamb shank a few days before Passover to enjoy the meat — and save the bone for your seder plate.
Taking center stage at the seder, these items satisfy our desire for nutritious, healthy foods, while symbolizing the survival, rebirth and renewal of the Jewish people.
B’tay avon (with good appetite)!
Jeannie Solomon is a nutrition and wellness coach at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City.