What can we do to prevent disease and stay healthy? On Monday evening, May 29, Dr. Shmuel Shields, NYS Licensed Nutritionist, NYU faculty member, author, and speaker, shared a health-promoting lecture at Congregation Charm Circle, hosted by Chazaq.

Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, rav of Congregation Charm Circle and CEO of Chazaq, welcomed everyone and introduced Dr. Shields.

Dr. Shields pointed out an interesting analogy. Inexpensive jewelry is kept on top of the counter in a store, while more expensive jewelry is locked in a glass case. The most valuable jewelry is kept in a vault. So, what is valuable to us?

What could be more valuable than our health? We learn from department stores to protect what is valuable. The Torah teaches us to protect our health because Hashem is always before us. So, in order to serve Him, we need our health. Also, when we can serve Hashem, this brings us happiness.

The Torah says that you should guard your souls carefully. The Torah T’mimah says that this teaches the importance of guarding your health. Many poskim speak about this. The Rambam teaches to keep the body healthy and vigorous so that one can walk with Hashem. We are forbidden to do anything that hurts the body.

Halachah teaches us to make a fence to prevent transgression. It is always better to prevent disease before it happens. He then shared the three pillars of health, which are sleep, exercise, and nutrition. He encourages all his patients to exercise. Walking is the second-best exercise. The first one, he quipped, is pushing yourself away from the table.

The Rambam lived 800 years ago, and he had daas Torah. Everything he said back then is applicable today. Dr. Shields pointed out that you need to consult a health professional before making changes.

The Rambam taught his fellow physicians to make sure that their patient is in a cheerful state of mind. We know how stress and anxiety can affect body cells. He also taught to avoid foods that can harm the body. Research today supports this.

The top of the list of harmful foods are hydrogenated fats. These are man-made fats, and there is unanimous agreement among scientists that these types of fats damage blood vessels and cause high cholesterol. These types of fats are outlawed for restaurants, but they are still legally permitted to be used by manufacturers. They are often added to processed baked goods and commercial bread. Another name for them is shortening.

Dr. Shields taught that stick margarine is worse than butter because it is made from hydrogenated fat. Any time oil is in a solid form, it is considered a saturated fat. The process used by manufacturers is to heat corn oil until it becomes solid.

“Eliminate hydrogenated fats and oils. Look at ingredients on packages.” Also, too much animal fat and saturated fat is problematic.

He pointed out that even if you don’t add sugar to anything, if you drink a cup of orange juice or eat a fruit-flavored yogurt, then you are consuming a huge amount of sugar. Every gram of sugar listed on the label equals a teaspoon. There can be 28 grams of sugar in a flavored yogurt, for example.

He taught that when the pilgrims came during Colonial times, the average person consumed 25 pounds of sugar a year. Today, we consume 125 pounds of sugar annually. Many times, people consume sugar unknowingly, and sugar is very harmful to the body. Artificial sweeteners are not a healthy alternative. Studies show people gain more weight from using them.

The Rambam taught to accustom yourself to eating healthful foods. Dr. Shields suggested that you try to find healthy foods that you enjoy.

Another idea that the Rambam taught was not to sift the flour from the bran. Dr. Shields said that we should eat whole grains. The Rambam is teaching us not to remove the good part of the food as it was designed by Hashem. Whole grains contain a storehouse of important vitamins and minerals and essential oils and fiber. In the refining process, iron and B vitamins, as well as dietary fiber, copper, magnesium, and zinc are lost.

Manufacturers add four nutrients and call the food enriched. He said, “I would call it partially restored.” The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch says that fine flour takes too long to digest. Dr. Shields added that flour turns to sugar in the body.

Too much sugar stresses the pancreas. He said that if you want to pick one thing to not do, the Rambam teaches that bad food and overeating are the cause of most diseases.

Dr. Shields explained that when you tamper with food, there is no longer a mechanism for it to satiate you. You can’t eat six apples or a whole head of cabbage because Hashem built in the mechanism to satiate you. Processing removes nutrients; and if you are deficient in one nutrient, this can lead to disease or an ailment.

He recommended that we stick to a whole-food plan to prevent disease. Limiting caloric intake improves health. Go longer periods of time without eating. Cut back on quantity and your body will become accustomed to it. Drink first when you feel hungry. Also, daily exercise is important.

He shared that he recommends the Mediterranean diet to his patients. This includes whole foods and colorful foods. There are 10,000 different plant chemicals in foods. Things like beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, and chlorophyll are just some of the nutrients in plants. When we consume plants, we benefit from those Phyto-nutrients. Vitamin C and selenium are antioxidants. You receive antioxidants from colorful foods. Plant-based proteins are emphasized over animal proteins. Eat more fish and less meat.

Dr. Shields noted that foods affect us physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Dr. Shield’s ground-breaking book, L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By, is a wonderful guide. Health and nutrition topics by Dr. Shmuel Shields can be viewed on TorahAnytime and include: More Energy, Healthy Kids, Boosting Immunity, Mediterranean Eating, Beyond Vitamins, Dodging Dementia, Meal Planning, and more. The community is grateful for this wonderful, health-promoting lecture.

 By Susie Garber