I

n our efforts to be fit and healthy in this new year, we peruse health columns and wellness advice. This is not always a good idea.

Two headlines in the New York Times health section recently caught my eye: One said, “Vigorous Exercise Can Help Parkinson’s Patients”; the other said, “Vigorous Exercise Can Bring on Macular Degeneration.”

Which raises a question: If a person suffering from Parkinson’s begins vigorous exercise, will he cause macular degeneration in his eyes? Suppose the unfortunate patient already has both the macular and the Parkinson’s. Should he choose not to exercise at all to avoid exacerbating the macular, or shall he exercise to help his Parkinson’s, even though this might intensify his macular?

Perhaps he should stop reading the New York Times, thereby preserving his eyes from strain and his mind from disarray.

In general, reading the health pages of newspapers and magazines can be very unsettling.  Remember when, not long ago, we were warned about the high fat content of avocados? Now we are told that the oils within them are actually beneficial.

Eggs suffered a similar fate. Time was, eggs were shunned for increasing cholesterol. Fast-forward to today: eggs have been redeemed and are considered wholesome. Good morning to you, dear eggs!

Wine was once to be avoided, its alcohol being harmful. But today, wine — especially red wine — is good for us. Even whiskey is acceptable in moderation, the alcohol serving an important function for heart and stomach. My wine cellar could theoretically overflow: wine as an entrée, as an accompaniment to beef, after fish, before dessert, after dessert, before retiring. After all, if a little wine is good for us, a lot is even better.

Chocolate suffered the same fate. It used to elevate our sugar count. But today the same chocolate, dark and in moderation, has been resurrected and is considered beneficial. Ditto with fish, once considered a top health food. No longer. Today we are warned that many varieties of fresh fish contain toxic mercury. And just this week a Harvard scientist called coconut oil, until recently a favorite additive, a “poison.”

Who knows what medical science will reveal tomorrow? Maybe we’ll hear that chocolate ice cream topped with rich, syrupy toppings is very good for us. And surely the day is not far off when we discover that exercise is actually harmful, cigarettes are beneficial, and sitting in a chair all day is good for the heart.

I can’t wait to recline on my lounge chair enjoying a chocolate ice cream sundae after my lunch of poached eggs and fish, followed by a glass of delicious red wine — sipped in moderation — to wash down my well-buttered Danish, while smoking my third cigarette as I scrupulously avoid the New York Times health section.

Unless, of course, researchers change their minds yet again, and force me back onto my exercise bicycle and make me toss out my dozens of succulent chocolate bars.

These constant volte-faces are very confusing. What’s bad on Monday is transformed to good on Tuesday, and what’s good on Tuesday becomes bad on Friday. There are only two solutions: a) stop reading health columns, or b) go on a prolonged fast. Fasting, says the latest research, is actually good for you; it gives the digestive system a rest. But this is only Monday. Who knows, by Thursday, fasting could be a no-no. (Can one fast in moderation?)

There is only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah. Although it is far more than a health manual, at an elementary level it is a very dependable guide. Kosher food is good for you, and has been for millennia. Circumcision is health-enhancing, and has been since Abrahamic times. Shabbos is good for you. Faith in G-d is good for you. Envy is bad for you. The mikveh laws are known to be beneficial. The list goes on and on. And of course, the Torah repeatedly promises long life for adhering to it, as in Psalm 34:13: “If you desire life… turn away from evil and do good…” That is, Torah is life-enhancing.

For a healthful 5779: 1) ignore all health columns; 2) study and live by Torah. 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 728)