Ringing in the new year for the trees—Tu b’Shevat—comes right on the heels of ringing in our secular new year, a time when we’re barraged with messages about eating better (with a variety of prepackaged products of dubious nutritional value) and purchasing gym memberships.
Regardless of your personal goals for living healthfully, which can range from weight loss to weight maintenance to managing dietary restrictions or preferences, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommend that Americans of all ages:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Focus on whole fruits; vary your vegetables.
- Make half your grains whole grains.
- Move to low-fat and fat-free milk and/or yogurt.
- Vary your protein routine.
- Drink and eat less sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.
With the DGA providing that context, the great irony in celebrating Tu b’Shevat by partaking of the seven species—dates, figs, wheat, olives, barley, grapes and pomegranates—is that many of them are higher in carbohydrates and sugar, so they are foods we should enjoy, just in limited quantities.
As Jews, however, we “answer to a higher authority,” as the marketing slogan goes. The value of shmirat ha-guf, taking care of one’s body, is central to living Jewishly. As it says in chapter 3, verse 21 of Pirkei Avot: “Where there is no food there is no Torah, and where there is no Torah there is no food.” Or in modern parlance: “Eat mindfully.”
Back to the idea that the solution to eating right can be purchased in a prepackaged bar. Make those little lifesavers a treat for every few days or only on days when you head to the museums with the family instead of popping one into your bag or lunchbox on a daily basis.
For a better granola bar option, try making one at home. My Better-For-You Tu b’Shevat Granola is “better” thanks to additional protein and a crunchy texture from the sunflower seeds and nuts as well as whole grains and fiber from oats. Olive oil lends mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which are a more nutritious choice and better for your heart.
Remember that whether it’s in an item that’s pre-made or homemade, sugar is sugar, be it honey or cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Buy whole fruits, nuts and other items unsalted and with no added sugar as often as possible.
For an even-better-than-granola recipe that’s portable and includes six of the seven species (you could add pomegranate arils, too), try Tu b’Shevat Barley Muffins. Barley is a whole grain and an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. Look for hulled barley to get more of the nutrient-rich outer bran layer, but pearl barley is also a great choice, and it cooks in about a third of the time as hulled barley.
When you do enjoy higher-calorie foods, try to eat them earlier in the day when your metabolism is more likely to work harder burning calories. The key to making every food fit—even if it’s only a bite!—is maintaining balance and variety while limiting portions.