For thousands of years, the Jewish people have faced annihilation — promulgated by evil societies, notorious world leaders and the general passivity of
global citizenry. But as deadly as our enemies have been, our diet has often imperiled us as well. Schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and grebenes (fried chicken skin) and our generally high-fat, low-exercise lifestyles endanger Jews, and therefore the Jewish people.
It is time we understand and confront these enemies as well: obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases .
I remember coming home from school with classmates one afternoon many years ago, and we were starved. My mother, with great love and compassion, spread thick layers of yellowish-brown schmaltz on slices of pumpernickel bread. We gulped down these tasty morsels, which kept us barely satiated until dinnertime, when we attacked bowls of chopped liver saturated with more schmaltz, turkey stuffing mixed with schmaltz and chicken soup loaded with dozens of floating unfertilized egg yolks. If we ate everything, Mother rewarded us with grebenes.
All of the pharaohs failed, and so did Hitler, but could these seemingly harmless foods ultimately annihilate the Jewish people? We now know that these fatty foods — bursting with saturated and trans fats — could easily lead to obesity and, ultimately, diabetes, with its attendant consequences of heart disease, kidney dysfunction and liver failure.
These are most likely not “Jewish diseases.” There is, however, a subset of Jews who have a predisposition to obesity and diabetes.
Schmaltz and grebenes have almost disappeared from the Jewish kitchen. Therefore, obesity and diabetes also should have disappeared. But people throughout the world are caught in a quagmire of obesity and, consequently, diabetes. Culture is transformative; we have replaced schmaltz with high-calorie fast foods and grebenes with french fries. We no longer walk, run or ride bikes. We sit at computers, stare at television sets, and exercise our fingers texting and tweeting.
Diabetes is omnipresent — it is endemic, it is epidemic, and it can be deadly. The most common type of diabetes, Type 2, can be prevented, and it can be reversed. Modern treatments keep patients healthy with the goal of obliterating all complications.
In my practice, in future columns and in my daily blog, Jewish Diseases, at jewishjournal.com, I will address the prevention and treatment of obesity and diabetes in greater detail. Also to be discussed are the other diseases that affect the Jews. These include Bloom syndrome, Canavan disease, Tay-Sachs, Gaucher, Niemann-Pick and many more. I invite your questions, suggestions, personal experiences and expert opinions as well as references to specific medical centers, physicians or societies.
In the meantime, think about spreading a thick layer of schmaltz on your bread. Think about it — but don’t do it. It is time for us as individuals, and as a people, to take control of our diet, our health and our lives.
Dr. Norman Lavin is a clinical professor of endocrinology and director of endocrinology education at UCLA Medical School. This week, his blog Jewish Diseases launches at jewishjournal.com/jewish_diseases.