With the start of Chanukah just days away, I turned to Jewish culture expert Nechama Cohen for some insights into the unique needs of the Jewish community and ideas for people living with diabetes to enjoy traditional foods during the holiday season.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1985 at the age of 35, Nechama knew only one other Jewish woman with the condition. So together they decided to form their own group to meet others living with diabetes and share resources. A local Jewish newspaper in Brooklyn gave her free ad space and published an article on her endeavor.
“The phones didn’t stop ringing,” she said. “We had 16 people join us for the first meeting.” Soon parents of children living with diabetes also wanted to join her meetings and her single group quickly grew into 16 groups.
“We realized that Jewish people with diabetes have very specific needs,” she said. “Customs and holidays are a very important part of who we are. We have Sabbath every week and a holiday almost every two months. Then we always have weddings, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, and all the other occasions that are so much a part of Jewish life. We party at least three months out of the year and food is a very big part of our lives. Keeping a kosher kitchen makes it even more challenging.”
From the beginning, Nechama wanted to offer valuable educational resources. “The most important thing is to seek out education. We just cannot make it without education. Our goal is to prove to people that you can be Jewish and still be healthy,” she said. As such, she made sure every group meeting included information from a healthcare professional and a rabbi. Many of those experts now contribute to her Advisory Board.
From the monthly meetings, Nechama’s group expanded into offering a magazine and a website. In 2000 the group became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, forming the Jewish Diabetes Association. Now they provide resources to Jewish people, as well as other religions and various populations, globally.
In 2006, Nechama published a cookbook specifically for Jewish people living with diabetes, the first with this specific focus. Enlitened Kosher Cooking provides 250 recipes, including nutritional information.
“It’s almost like an encyclopedia,” says Nechama. “We have an introduction to nutrition at the beginning of the book and the back of the book is just loaded with lists to help people make the right choices. We give suggestions of what foods to make for each holiday and how to make healthy versions of traditional favorites.”
This year she’s working on a healthy version of the old-fashioned jelly doughnut. “I really enjoy the challenge of taking a recipe and proving that it can be made healthy. We’re working on making smaller doughnuts, and baking them instead of frying them,” she said.
For Chanukah, Nechama recommends one of her tried and true recipes, Cheese Balls:
1½ cups farmer cheese
½ cup 5% soft white cheese or low-fat ricotta (well-drained)
1 cup low-fat finely grated yellow cheese (Muenster, cheddar, etc.)
¼ cup scallions, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Non-stick cooking spray
1 tablespoon sweet or sharp paprika
⅓ cup minced dill
⅓ cup minced parsley
⅓ cup roasted nuts, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup roasted sesame seeds
1. Line a pan with waxed paper and spray lightly with non-stick spray.
2. Wet hands and form the mixture into 17 small balls. Place in lined pan. Refrigerate until firm, at least half an hour.
3. Place the garnish of choice in a small round dish. Place one ball at a time in the dish and roll around till covered. Refrigerate at least half an hour before serving.
- Serve with whole wheat crackers and/or sliced fruits and vegetables.
- Can be stored refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two days.
- Not recommended for freezing since they will become watery and the texture will change.
Nutrition Information (1 ball per serving, serves 17):
Total Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1.2g
Please note, this recipe may not necessarily be appropriate for all people living with diabetes. You might consider speaking with a certified diabetes educator and/or nutrition educator to confirm if this recipe is right for you.
A big thank you to Nechama for chatting with us and for sharing this tasty recipe!
Disclosure: Nechama Cohen received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.