Eating “kosher” isn’t just a religious practice for Orthodox Jews, it also is practiced by many non-Jews looking to eat healthier and maybe even lose a few pounds along the way, as it involves a carefully prescribed means of choosing healthy foods and properly preparing them for consumption.
Interest in buying and consuming kosher food has risen in recent decades as consumers continue to seek out routes to a healthier lifestyle without resorting to drastic (and usually short-lived) diets that make big claims and produce lackluster long-term results. Per a survey referenced at drweil.com, more than 50 percent of those people buying kosher products insist that it is generally healthier than other food, and about a third of the respondents also believe kosher food is “safer.”
Furthermore, only about 15 percent of these customers said a religious consideration was behind their purchase of kosher foods.
What does “Eating Kosher” Mean?
The term “kosher” is a reference to food that is prepared in accordance with Jewish law-prescribed dietary guidelines, per wellness.com. Kosher food isn’t actually “blessed” by rabbis or Jewish religious officials; it just refers to a type of diet that is explained in the Torah, which is the spiritual text of Judaism.
Certain animals can not be eaten at all, under Jewish kosher law, and while some food types are OK to be eaten, some combinations of food types are disallowed—for instance, eating dairy products together with beef, such as putting a slice of cheese on a burger for what is commonly known as a cheeseburger.
Meat from animals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud is acceptable for eating (cattle, sheep, goats, and deer), while animals that don’t go two-for-two on those criteria – such as camels, rabbits, and pigs – are not to be eaten by kosher standards.
Some seafood is OK – like that from fish that have fins and scales, per wellness.com. Shellfish, however, are on the kosher do-not-eat list. These include lobsters, oysters, clams, crabs, and shrimp. The only bird meat permitted by kosher law are chicken, geese, duck, and turkey.
There are other restrictions as well when it comes to eating the meat from animals. Animals to be eaten must have no flaws or diseases in their organs at the time of slaughter, and animals that die from natural causes or which have been killed by other animals also can not be used for human consumption. Eating reptiles? Out of the question.
All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out before it can be eaten. Any utensils that have touched any kind of meat can not also be used to handle dairy consumables; a similar restriction holds true for utensils that have been in contact with non-kosher food – they can not be used to handle kosher food, and vice versa.
So-called “violations” of kosher law regarding what you can or can not eat, and in which combinations – such as eating meat while drinking milk, or, sadly to some, altogether skipping pizzas and lasagna – won’t by itself make a person sick. If nothing else, though, as everydayhealth.com puts it, adhering to kosher guidelines fosters a practice of dietary self-control that can benefit us in the long run as we attempt to make healthier eating a lifelong habit.
Consider it dietary discipline. Sticking to a kosher diet has been shown to lower cholesterol, and by keeping meat separate from dairy, for instance, our digestive system can thus work more efficiently, breaking down consumed food more quickly. This moves food more quickly through our bodies and thus reducing the chances of food staying in our bodies too long, which can lead to other health problems.
With pigs on the do-no-eat list, kosher adherents are advised to avoid pork, which contains more allergens than many other kinds of meats commonly consumed, per everydayhealth.com.
A number of the larger grocery stores are now promoting the sale of kosher products, to include putting such kosher products in sections of the store that make finding them and picking them out for purchase that much simpler.
In addition to what’s been described above, here are some other considerations to keep in mind when shopping for kosher foods and making an honest effort to stick to the rules:
- Kosher products will usually have an encircled U or K on the packaging. The circle around the letter is key.
- Stay away from insect-based foods. We’re not sure if this applies to bee-produced honey, which brings us to our next point...
- Discuss with a Jewish authority any questions you might have about any part of a kosher lifestyle.
- Keep in mind, kosher guidelines were not devised thousands of years ago for the sake of health as much as they were for the sake of one’s spirituality/faith. For example, kosher law says grape products can only be consumed if made by Jewish people.