By Kathy Cunningham

menorahWith the approaching holiday, oil takes center stage in the story of Hanukkah, and on the Hanukkah table.

Tradition says that when the Maccabee brothers were defending the temple in Jerusalem against the Greeks, their one-day supply of oil miraculously lasted for eight days. It for this reason that Jews light candles on each of the eight days of Hanukkah.

Traditional foods celebrating this holiday are often fried in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes).  With all these traditional foods, this is a time when healthy eating can be difficult — but not impossible.

With a few adjustments, and searches on the internet, you can locate healthy dishes to prepare traditional Hanukkah meals that will not derail your attempts to control the intake for fat and calories.

First, the good news: The traditional oil of Hanukkah is heart-healthy olive oil. In fact, according to some historians, long before the Maccabees and Syrians ever battled it out in Jerusalem, the ancient Jews rejoiced this time of year with a Festival of Lights to mark the end of the olive harvest. During the Syrian’s ransacking, it was a single jar of olive oil survived, and burned brightly for eight days.

The main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).  MUFAs are actually considered a healthy dietary fat. If your holiday meal emphasizes unsaturated fats, such as MUFAs, instead of saturated fats and trans fats, you may gain certain health benefits.

However, even healthier fats like olive oil are high in calories, so use them in moderation. Traditional foods, such as latkes, can be made in a healthier way by pan searing in a little oil and baking off in the oven, instead of frying. Or, substitute sweet potatoes for regular. Check out this great recipe

Other traditional menu items include homemade applesauce and vegetable dishes – all low in fat – so build your holiday menus to include as much fresh vegetables and fruits as possible. Your guests will appreciate your holding to tradition while monitoring the fats and calories of holiday foods.

For more tips on healthy Hanukkah meals, click on these websites for great recipes:

Happy, healthy holidays to all!

Kathy Cunningham, M.Ed, is a registered dietician at the Boston Public Health Commission.