Toasting the New Year is good for the heart

Last year I made a New Year’s resolution to never make a New Year’s resolution again.

Once again, I can’t keep any promises.

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This year I’ve started another new tradition. In my annual holiday letter that I mail to family and friends, many of whom already know everything about my year’s worth of reminiscence, I declare a catchy new slogan to live by for the year ahead.

In 2008, for example, my motto was “Celebrate in 2008,” and that certainly came true with Jack’s bar mitzvah, the biggest celebration for my family last year. In 2009, I couldn’t make up my mind: “Wine and Dine in 2009” or “Feelin’ Fine in 2009.” Both are worthwhile objectives, don’t you think?

Actually, I have a head start on both goals. I try to enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner at least a few times of week-that is when I sit down long enough to swallow what I’m eating.

Even though wine makes me fall asleep at the kitchen table at least I know I’m doing my body good. Studies show that moderate red wine consumption may protect against certain cancers and heart disease and improve cholesterol levels and blood pressure. It was Plato who said, “Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man.”

The Jewish people couldn’t agree more. In fact, wine is so important that we have a special blessing over the fruit of the vine: Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ha-o-lam, bo-rei p’ri ha-ga-fen.

By the way, the juice squeezed from grapes and olives is different from all other juices. These two juices (in the form of wine and olive oil) were biblically required for holy uses, such as Temple operations. They are treated as their plants’ essential produce.

When wine doesn’t complement my dinner, such as a bowl of bran cereal, I make another healthy choice, pomegranate juice.

This popular beverage has a refreshing, tart flavor and appears like nonalcoholic red wine in a goblet. Even better, evidence indicates that drinking concentrated pomegranate juice also may reduce cholesterol.

In fact, Israeli researchers published a small clinical study in June 2004 in Clinical Nutrition, which suggests that drinking a glass of pomegranate juice a day for one year reduced blood pressure (particularly systolic pressure) and slowed down LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) oxidation.

Interestingly, pomegranate juice contains higher levels of antioxidants than red wine or green tea.

When we make a toast for the New Year, we are celebrating the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago.

In the years around 2000 BCE, Babylonians rang in the beginning of a new year on what is now March 23, although they themselves had no written calendar. Late March actually is a logical choice for the beginning of a new year.

It’s a time of year that spring begins, and new crops are planted. January 1, on the other hand, is a purely arbitrary date with no astronomical or agricultural significance.

Even though the Jewish New Year is the festival of Rosh Hashana, which is on Tishrei 1, or Sept. 19 in 2009, many of us welcome another excuse to celebrate in the winter season. After all, the next Jewish holiday is not until February 9, which is Tu Bishvat, or the new year for the trees. At that time we eat grapes, figs, pomegranates, and other Israeli fruits.

So with a glass of wine or juice in hand, L’Shannah Tovah Tikatevu! May the New Year bring you many blessings, good health, and happiness.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her head is still spinning like a dreidel. Feel free to send any comments to: [email protected] or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.