Above image: Chicken soup and kreplach, a traditional pre-Yom Kippur fast delicacy
Since Yom Kippur is a warm-weather 25-hour fast, it’s a challenge. A person could be especially susceptible to headaches, extreme weakness, dehydration and hypoglycemia. During a long fast, blood-sugar levels can fall dangerously low. But, with a few precautions and proper preparation, the dangers can be avoided and the fast can actually be safe and healthy. Here’s the practical advice you need for a meaningful and healthy Yom Kippur. You’ll be free to focus on your soul without any bodily suffering that gets in the way.
Before the fast:
- 24 hours before the beginning of the fast, try drinking a glass of water during every hour that you’re awake.
- On the day before the fast, eat salty natural foods like olives and goat cheese. These are all the foods that people with edema avoid, for they help retain fluid and therefore prevent dehydration. To avoid thirst, stop eating these foods 12 hours before the fast begins, namely all day until sundown.
- Avoid sugary and starchy foods in the meal before the fast, for they have a high glycemic index (GI) and therefore cause a deeper plunge in blood sugar levels shortly after eating (see adjacent graphic).
- Eat plenty of good quality protein – eggs, fish and high quality pasture-fed (organic, if available) beef and poultry. Protein is satiating and will provide slow-release energy during the fast. These are complex food stuffs that require longer time to digest.
- Stay away from coffee and caffeine for 24 hours before the beginning of the fast. Drink herb tea instead and plenty of water.
- My favorite rule of thumb is to focus on eating foods that are as unprocessed as possible. Natural foodstuffs make the coming fast easier and healthier. They also promote better blood sugar balance and better digestion, both of which lead to better weight control.
- 5 hours before the fast, eat a bowl of chicken soup – not the instant variety, but natural broth cooked from chicken bones.
- 2 hours before the beginning of the fast, eat a leisurely meal. Eat slow and chew well. Begin with a leafy salad and either whole-grain or spelt bread or challas. The main course should consist of outstanding protein, such as boiled, baked or broiled chicken or turkey breast, with a cooked vegetable and a side dish of quinoa, buckwheat or whole-grain rice. Do not overeat, for that will ruin digestion and make fasting all the more difficult. For desert, eat a portion of watermelon. Finish eating an hour before the fast. 15 minutes before the fast, brush your teeth and drink a final glass of water.
After the fast:
Be careful, for after the fast, your blood sugar levels are at their lowest. The worst thing you can do (a cardinal nutrition sin that many congregations commit) is to dive into the soft drinks, fruit juices and pastries that many congregations serve the moment the fast is over. This drives blood sugar through the roof and creates a shock to the body that could actually trigger diabetes, Heaven forbid. What’s more, drastic rises and falls in blood sugar cause headaches, nausea and fatigue. In order to avoid this, takes the following precautions:
- Break your fast with a glass of ice-water and high-fiber foods such as celery sticks, homemade low-sugar oatmeal cookies or whole grain/bran crackers.
- Add to the above a portion of protein, such as cottage cheese or goat cheese, which will also slow the rise of your blood sugar level.
- Avoid all sugary substances, soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes and pastries – these are downright dangerous at the end of a fast.
- Drink at least 2 glasses of water an hour for the first 4 hours after the fast. This will replenish the body’s fluids and slow the increase of blood sugar levels.
- Don’t eat a heavier meal until at least an hour after breaking your fast in the above manner; preferably, do some light exercise like taking a 30-minute walk or beginning to build your Succah before having a heavier meal.
Feel free to pass the above advice along to friends and family. Even better, send them this link so that they can subscribe to our weekly newsletter. We have no doubt that the above tips will not only make your fast more bearable, but safe and healthy as well! Every blessing, LB
Rabbi Lazer Brody is also a certified holistic nutritionist, health coach and fitness trainer.