By Racheli Sofer for Whisk Magazine
No, we’re not talking about burgers and French fries. What are the most nutritious and fulfilling ways to start your fast day?
My father has adopted a pre-fast “minhag” by having a meal that consists exclusively of whole wheat spaghetti with grated tomatoes (yup, my mother grates fresh tomatoes) to help get him through the day.
But is an all-carb meal the right way to go? What should I serve that will quell our hunger and keep us satisfied for the longest amount of time possible—that won’t make us feel thirsty?
Meira Feldman, a nutritionist and diet coach, tells me that my father’s meal is based on the idea that complex carbohydrates are important before a fast. This is because carbs make you retain water, which you don’t want usually, but during a fast, that extra water comes in handy. When people who go on high protein diets lose a dramatic amount of weight right in the beginning, it’s because proteins can’t hang onto that water.
Meira, however, thinks that my father should consider including a protein too. “You need to eat a well-balanced meal before a fast,” she tells me. “This definitely includes complex carbohydrates and proteins,” she emphasizes. “But, you should also aim to include some quality sources of fat for satiety.”
Drink Like a Camel
One friend swears that you need to drink seven (!) glasses of water shortly before the start of a fast. Whisk’s Managing Editor, Victoria Dwek, among many others, has told me that her husband eats grapes before a fast.
“Yes, definitely eat grapes and watermelon before a fast,” Meira confirms. “Eat a lot of fruit for its high water content.”
Shani Taub, CDC, a Lakewood-based nutritionist also believes it is a good idea to load up on “foods that are full of water” before a fast. In particular, she seems to be a big fan of cantaloupe, and also adds that vegetables “help people get through a fast. Eat more vegetables than you normally would.” Shani recommends preparing a vegetable soup for your pre-fast meal.
The Salt Myth
What Meira tells me next surprises me: “contrary to popular belief, you should have a little bit of salt in your diet before a fast.”
“Salt pulls water into the cells making hydration more efficient. This is why energy drinks, such as Powerade and Gatorade contain small amounts of salt…In my family, we definitely load up on lots of fluids before the fast. For the meal, I serve salmon with a whole grain that is high in fiber, such as noodles, brown rice, bulgur, or quinoa,” Meira replies.
“Really?! Salmon? Doesn’t fish make you thirsty?”
Meira debunks this myth: “Salmon isn’t particularly high in sodium. I’m not saying that you should eat anchovies before a fast…but I recommend salmon in particular because it’s a source of omega 3s.”
Shani agrees with Meira, “I would only avoid tuna—it’s the only type of fish that is really salty.”
Meira gives me the rundown on the rest of her pre-fast menu. She makes sure to put “a veggie side dish, such as asparagus,” on her table. This is “to round out the well-balanced meal. I serve it with a little bit of high quality fat—olive oil. We need the fat to absorb the fat soluble vitamins which are vitamins A, D & K.”
At Shani’s house, a pre-fast meal would consist of “fish, sweet potatoes or brown rice, salad and cantaloupe.” Other proteins that she recommends are eggs and veggie burgers.
But, Shani doesn’t think that there is any “magical food” that one should eat before a fast. “Being healthy is the key, and if you are eating healthfully in general and eat a healthy meal before the fast, you will be fine.”