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Hungry for Health is a practical lesson in healthful eating. For those who aspire to eat well but are confused or overwhelmed in the kitchen, the author outlines four fundamental dietary principles helpful in preventing disease and recurrence.
The Kosher Table

Breast Cancer: The Jewish Connection

-- Susan Silberstein  

Our guest columnist this month, Susan Silberstein, is Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Cancer Education. Here she discusses some research that sheds light on Jewish connections to breast cancer and choices that may impact risk and improve the odds for those living with breast cancer. This article is not from a peer-reviewed medical journal or meant to give medical advice, however the author presents a compelling case for the ways eating impacts our health. In the spirit of Susan's article, I share some lighter versions of a few traditionally fried Chanukah foods that contribute to our enjoyment of the Festival of Lights. I dedicate this month's column to three good friends who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer. May they, and all the women and men battling this disease, have a r’fua shleima — a total and complete healing. — Lisa Kelvin Tuttle, Food Editor

The link between breast cancer risk and mutations of the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes was discovered in 1994 (GeneticHealth.com). According to genomic research reported by the Centers for Disease Control, about five to 10 percent of women with breast cancer have this hereditary form of the disease (inherited from either the maternal or paternal gene pool).

Unfortunately for Jewish women, these genetic mutations are more likely to occur among females of Ashkenazi heritage than for the general population and originate from common Eastern European ancestry about 600 years ago. Whereas one in 800 of the general population carries these mutated genes, an astonishing one in 40 of Ashkenazi Jews carries them — and among those that do, the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer ranges anywhere from 36 percent to 85 percent, depending on the number of blood relatives affected (Journal of the American Medical Association, 1998). women, chemoprevention through drug therapy, or prophylactic surgery removing the breasts as a preventive. For many women, these options are not particularly attractive, nor do they totally remove the risk. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that scientific research has demonstrated dramatic ways in which dietary choices can affect your risk for breast cancer – by influencing not only genetic expression, but also estrogen levels and immune function. Whether you are at high risk with known genetic damage or whether you are only at moderate risk (nearly one in seven of all US women will be diagnosed with breast cancer), wise food choices can help improve the odds in your favor.

The traditional “Jewish diet” is really a synthesis of various cooking styles (Middle Eastern, Spanish, German, Mediterranean, Eastern European) influenced by the laws of kashrut and derived from the many places Jews have lived throughout the centuries. Regardless of its source, traditional Jewish cooking typically features high fat foods, which can increase risk for myriad diseases, among them breast cancer.

Brisket of beef, chicken, chicken soup with added schmaltz, corned beef, fried potato latkes, and bagels slathered with cream cheese are staples of Judeo-American cuisine. Unfortunately, consuming large amounts of saturated fat from animal sources is a major risk factor for breast cancer, primarily because high fat is a haven for the hormones and chemicals that promote the disease. On a high fat diet, the dangerous estrogen known as estradiol increases (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1990). Good health actually requires no more than 15 percent of total calories from fat — and primarily unsaturated fats from plant sources.

Furthermore, while traditional separation of milk and meat may help minimize daily intake of saturated butter fat, the practice encourages frequent consumption of dairy substitutes in the form of immuno-suppressive and denatured fats found in margarine and non-dairy cream. The hyFurthermore, while traditional separation of milk and meat may help minimize daily intake of saturated butter fat, the practice encourages frequent consumption of dairy substitutes in the form of immuno-suppressive and denatured fats found in margarine and non-dairy cream. The hydrogenation process transforms concentrated oils into dangerous trans-fats which can increase breast cancer risk by up to 40 percent (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 1997).

But there is good news as well — much of it from Israel. Several studies point to the breast cancer-protective role of the cruciferous family of vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, among others). In research conducted at the Technion Institute in Haifa, a crucifer derivative significantly reduced cancer development in animals treated with a carcinogen known to initiate breast cancer. A study done at one of Israel’s kibbutzim showed that, in as few as seven days after introduction of a daily crucifer into women’s diets, the indole and sulfur compounds in these plants produced a marked decrease in dangerous estrogen levels (OH16) and a marked rise in protective estrogen (OH2). So adding plenty of stuffed cabbage to the diet can really help!ersity of the Negev. So slip a tomato slice between your lox and bagel and slurp down that beet borsht!

These are a few of the many foods that scientific research tells us can protect against breast cancer or slow down its growth.

Hungry for Health author, Susan Silberstein, Ph.D

Susan Silberstein, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education, which she founded in 1977 after the death of her young husband to cancer. An international speaker on nutrition, cancer prevention, and complementary and alternative medicine, she lectures frequently for nursing, medical, educational, corporate, and other organizations. Silberstein is the author of the recipe book Hungry for Health, creator of the DVD Bre, creator of the DVD Breast Cancer: The Diet Connection and the Beat Breast Cancer Kit, editor of Immune Perspectives magazine, health editor of Global Woman magazine, and originator of Philadelphia’s annual “Food & Health Expo.” Since 1977, she has coordinated scores of health conferences, has appeared on hundreds of radio and television talk shows, and has coached thousands of patients. A Phi Beta Kappa and Fulbright Scholar, she has won numerous awards for her continuing work in cancer education. To learn more, call the Center for Advancement in Cancer Education at 888-551-2223 or visit www.BeatCancer.org, www.cancer.org and www.BeatCancerKit.com.

Coarsely grate the potatoes and onion for great oven baked latkes

Oven Baked Potato Latkes or Yukon Gold potatoes

  • 2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup self-rising flour
  • Canola oil for baking sheet
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Scrub and peel the potatoes and remove the outer skin from the onion. Grate potatoes and onion using the large holes on a hand grater or the coarse grating attachment in a food processor.
  3. Place in a colander and let drain over a bowl. Press mixture down firmly with paper towels to remove some of the excess moisture. Transfer potato-onion mixture to a large bowl and beat in the eggs, salt and flour until well combined.
  4. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Drop latke 2-3 tablespoons of batter to form 2- to 3-inch pancakes about 1/4 inch thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes, then turn the pancakes over, and bake an additional 10 minutes, until latkes are a rich golden brown on both sides.
  5. Serve immediately or keep warm on tray, loosely covered with foil.

Yield: About 16 latkes, enough for 4 as a side.

Edie's Potato Latkes


Back, by popular demand, is the traditional potato latke recipe that accompanied my first Chanukah column in 2005. These are for the purists who wouldn’t dream of baking a latke. Use a polyunsaturated vegetable oil, such as canola. Jewish festivals are for pleasure and celebration, so forget the guilt and enjoy!

  • 6 large Idaho potatoes
  • 3 medium yellow onions
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup self-rising flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Canola oil for frying
  1. Grate the potatoes and onions either by hand, using the largest holes on a box grater, or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Then, using your food processor's blade attachment, pulse the grated mixture two or three times to break down only slightly. Remove mixture to a large bowl and fold in the beaten eggs, flour and salt.
  2. Heat ¼ inch of oil in a large heavy skillet, and gently spoon batter into the pan (I find that a soupspoon works well), tapping the spoon in the center slightly to form uniform latkes. The flatter you make the latkes, the more crisp they will be. Cook about 2 minutes till golden brown on the first side, then flip and fry about another 30 seconds.
  3. Remove to paper towels or cut-up brown paper bags to drain. You can keep them warm in a 200-degree oven while you fry the rest. If the batter becomes watery, just stir in a bit more of the self-rising flour.

Makes about 40 three inch latkes.

Cauliflower Latkes


These low-carb, low-fat latkes from Nechama Cohen's Enlitened Kosher Cooking are delicious and satisfying.

  • 2 eggs plus 2 egg whites
  • 1 small onion, peeled
  • 1 2-pound package of frozen cauliflower or 1 fresh head, steamed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil,2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying
  1. Let frozen cauliflower thaw. Put in colander and squeeze out the liquid.and onion in food processor and add cauliflower, flour and seasonings until finely chopped; do not over process.
  2. Wipe a non-stick frying pan with a paper towel dipped in olive oil and spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Put on low heat, wait until hot, and drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto pan. Brown on both sides.

Tips for frying Enlitened latkes: With each new batch, spray the pan with non-stick cooking stray and/or wipe the pan with oil occasionally, as well. You need to be patient with these pancakes and fry them for a long time until they are cooked through, or they will fall apart when flipped.

Variation: Substitute broccoli or spinach for cauliflower.

Fresh Applesauce


This quick and nutritious applesauce is from Susan Silberstein’s cookbook . No cooking required! The original recipe yields one cup, so multiply it for a crowd.

  • 2 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut in pieces
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ¼ cup apple juice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice

Process all ingredients together using S blade of food processor until sauce is smooth or until desired consistency is reached. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon.

Baked Soufganiyot - Low Fat Israeli Hanukkah Jelly Doughnuts

Dairy or Pareve

  • 1 package dry yeast (1 scant tablespoon)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approximately)
  • 1 cup lukewarm skim milk (rice or soy milk for pareve version)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • pinch of salt
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated pareve baking sticks (such as Earth Balance), at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam (approximately)
  • confectioner's or granulated sugar for rolling
  1. Dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in the water.
  2. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor equipped with a steel blade. Add the dissolved yeast, milk, egg, egg yolk, salt, lemon zest and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Process until blended. Add the butter and process until the dough becomes sticky yet elastic.
  3. Remove the dough to a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for at least an hour. If you want to prepare the dough in advance, place it in the refrigerator overnight, then let it warm to room temperature before rolling and cutting.
  4. Grease 2 cookie sheets. Dust a pastry board with flour. Roll the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness. Using the top of a glass as a cutter, cut into rounds about 2-inches in diameter and roll these into balls. Place the balls about 1 to 1 1/2-inches apart on the greased cookie sheets. Cover and let rise 30 minutes more.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes or until they're golden. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  6. Soften the jam in a food processor. Using an injector (available at cooking stores), insert a teaspoon of jam into each doughnut. Roll the soufganiyot in confectioner's or granulated sugar and serve immediately.
Yield: About 24 doughnuts.
To view previous editions of The Kosher Table, please click here.

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