“Write about fats” an email screams in bold. Plus, I took an emergency phone call last week about canola oil. But the ¹vast majority of people who’ve asked healthyjewishcooking.com to address a topic want that topic to be sugar. Fats will have to wait. Here is the first of a few posts on the sweet stuff.
Even though lots of people don’t talk about it much, mindless gorging on food is actually antithetical to Jewish spirituality. It’s even against Jewish law. Yep. Restrained eating is required of the nation that invented the pastrami and chopped liver sandwich on rye. With a pickle. And ruggalach. Ah, but the appetite…
Contrary to popular opinion, intensely sweet foods do not destroy appetite (one of the ostensible reasons behind eating dessert, last). In young to middle-aged adults, they actually increase appetite in the long run. Sure, at first sweets satisfy. But after several minutes blood sugar yo-yos, and appetite and cravings return, often with a vengeance.
Regular consumption of sweets sets up a cycle of cravings and triggers the potential for gluttony.
Not only is gluttony² condemned in King Solomon’s Mishlei (Proverbs), but it is also discussed by Rambam (Maimonides), Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, AriZal (the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria), and the codifier of Jewish law himself, Rabbi Yosef Karo, as well as many other sage minds, past and present. Rebbe Nachman actually cites ³improper eating, as the cause of spiritual blockage.
Yet, eating is an acknowledged pleasure and sweet foods are enjoyed by most people, especially children. In the Jewish tradition, on the first day of school the Alef-Beis (Hebrew Alphabet) is covered with honey and candies and cookies are handed out so children associate learning with sweet pleasure.
One thing sweet foods have in common is that they contain sugar.
The Sefira of Sugar
Sugar, a carbohydrate, is quite elemental; in fact, our first food contains sugar (the lactose in mother’s milk). Sugar causes growth and expansiveness. Milk, sugar and sweet things are the embodiment of Chesed (kindness, generosity). Chesed is also elemental and essential; it’s one of the 10 Heavenly emanations that was used to create the Universe, as described in the Kabbalah. (These emanations/qualities also apply to us; currently Jews are in the process of examining, emulating, and incorporating these emotional qualities in this time-period known as the Sefira or the Counting of the Omer).
From an energetic perspective, the growth sugar causes is indiscriminate and two-fold. First, it creates the energetically warm, moist environment that is an ideal place for growth to occur,a luscious sugar-hot house, if you will. Sugar nourishes the breeding grounds for yeasts and most bacteria. Second, sugar causes expansion, such as cell and spore growth. Fat cells, cancer cells, most bacterial cells, and yeast spores all feed—and get fat—on sugar.
From a chemical/micro-nutritional standpoint, sugar is an entire class of edible crystalline carbohydrates. Sucrose, glucose, lactose, and fructose are the ones we’re most familiar with. There are chemical insights we could explore, but suffice it to say that though we need sugar to live, we don’t need large amounts of many types of sugar in our diets.
It is also important to note another chemical truth: sugar is sugar is sugar. There are so many recipes claiming to be better-for-you that substitute brown sugar (white sugar mixed with molasses) for white; or honey for sugar, and so on. But when it comes to nutrition, sugar is (largely) sugar.
Got a sweet tooth and want to compare and contrast? I’ve divided the sweet things we eat into 5 groups, and discuss them in my next post.
¹Healthyjewishcooking.com is in the developing stages, so the “vast” majority is only a handful of people, certainly not a braggable quantity. Help me earn “bragging writes”. Please subscribe to this blog and share with your friends.
²Do not be among the guzzlers of wine, among the gorgers of meat for themselves. Proverbs, 23:20; For the guzzler and the gorger will be poor, and slumber will clothe you in tatters. Proverbs, 23:21.
³The Rebbe of Breslov was specifically referring to the act of eating in order to satisfy the lust for food and to derive great enjoyment from food. The Rebbe states eating for/with pleasure should be confined to Shabbos. Even then, one shouldn’t overeat.