Books on health and nutrition tend to make me feel guilty. About every six months I resolve anew to change my lifestyle. I buy a new book, along with plain nonfat yogurt and whole-spelt crackers from the grocery store, and promise myself that this time I’m going to see it through. I’ll end my relationship with pizza and sushi in favor of bright leafy greens, unsweetened fruit shakes, and grilled chicken on half a whole-wheat wrap. My most successful attempt lasted for four months, about two years ago.
At this point I have almost an entire library of diet and nutrition books in my house. Yet L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By (Brand Name Publishing, October 2012), stands out among them. Shmuel Shields, Ph.D., a certified nutritionist with a private practice in New York, himself made the transition from what he calls a “standard American diet” (SAD): “about 150 pounds of sugar annually . . . and the amount of fat found in one stick of butter every day.” With the help of a local health-food-store proprietor, Dr. Shields discovered firsthand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. He experimented with a range of eating habits, including a foray into veganism, before settling on a “high-fiber, primarily plant-based diet” that includes chicken or meat on Shabbos. Now he uses his knowledge and experience to help other people. In addition to keeping his practice, Dr. Shields is also a popular lecturer and health columnist.
The book is organized into 18 chapters, each one focused on a distinct aspect of living a healthier lifestyle. Dr. Shields explains it fully using a blend of current scientific findings, Torah perspectives, and tips for practically incorporating it into our lives. The nutritional information is cleverly interspersed with personal anecdotes from Dr. Shields’s life and practice–showing how people have successfully integrated these changes into their own lifestyle.
The topics include ways to boost your immunity and avoid colds and flu; how to distinguish between “good” carbs and “bad” carbs; the role of fat in our diet (it’s not as bad for you as you might think); how to wean ourselves off sodas and other artificially sweetened drinks with the only beverage your body really needs: water; debunking the most common excuses for why we don’t exercise and feasible ways to increase daily activity; stress reduction, especially in an age of increasing reliance on technology; and sleep–why it’s so essential for both physical and mental health.
Each chapter ends with a practical application for the concepts it covers, including meal plans, original recipes, strategies for staying on track on Shabbos and yom tov, tips on longevity from a woman who passed her 100th birthday, and, most importantly, healthy alternatives to some of the most unhealthy foods we love to eat, like pizza and hot dogs.
Many readers will find chapter 17, “Transitions: Step by Step,” to be particularly helpful and hopeful. This chapter acknowledges the difficulty of changing our habits and routines and recommends a slow but steady process to make it stick. There are even useful tips for getting used to new tastes and foods, like mixing small amounts of unfamiliar foods with familiar ones.
L’Chaim: 18 Chapters to Live By may be the solution that so many of us, who would like to be healthier but are not quite sure how to go about it, are looking for. It’s easy to read and strikingly concrete and of-the-moment. With the integration of Jewish life into the core of its premise, this book fills the unique niche of the observant, kosher consumer. It’s a book that has given me a lot to think about, and one I certainly plan to refer back to it as I attempt, once again, to commit to a healthier lifestyle for myself and my family. v