Avoiding the Passover Sickness (Or, Let My People Go!)
Ah drat, the dreaded Passover Sickness! Constipation, why must thou taint the significance of this holiday?
What is Matzah, Anyway?
Have you ever had the dubious pleasure of ingesting a magnificently dry piece of cardboard? No? Well, take my word for it… that’s kind of what eating matzah is like. If you don’t believe me, why not have a go at it? But first, read this article so you can avoid the anti-fruits of your labor.
If you’ve never heard of matzah, here’s a quick and dirty synopsis. Many years ago (after the dinosaurs but before Taco Bell) 600,000 Jewish men and their families, pets, camels, and concubines escaped slavery and got the hell out of Dodge (known at the time as Egypt) after watching their neighbors endure ten appalling and/or exceptionally messy plagues. On their way out, there was very little time to bake… definitely no time for croissants, jelly rolls, or empanadas. And who knew how long they would be wandering? *ahem* 40 years *ahem*
So they mixed up the easiest dough ever (flour, water, and salt), squished it flat, baked it into crackers, and fast (18 minutes from the time the water touched the flour to the time it was removed from their no doubt dusty ovens). While it was baking, I assume they packed an extra pair of sandals and their most stylish sunglasses.
Matzah is Dangerous!
As an aside, matzah is also quite sharp, as it can easily break into very brittle, pointy pieces that hijack your entire home as soon as the first box is opened.
Consider your most recent paper cut. You don’t really known pain until you’ve experienced a spiky matzah crumb piercing your delicate inner cheek or wedged in your gums. It’s like it has a life of its own!
Why Does Matzah Constipate so Quickly?
Matzah is extremely dry and binding and not unlike newspapers in waterlogged boots, it soaks up all the liquid with which it comes into contact. Sure, matzah with cream cheese and jelly is actually pretty tasty… but think again before enjoying that extra board, as it will likely leave you with a very sad tummy, and sooner than you might expect.
So try not to overdo the matzah, matzah balls, matzah kugel, matzah brei, matzah cakes, matzah granola, matzah meal pancakes, matzah toffee, and matzah Benedict. But for those times that you do (however inadvertently), here’s how to combat the Passover Sickness.
More Extremely Plain Water, Please!
Grab a gallon jug and start sipping, because taking in more water is tops on the list of things to do to make you feel better. Also, you may think that upping your coffee intake could help, but that’s not always true, especially if you’re already drinking a lot of caffeinated drinks. The last thing you need is to be constipated AND twitchy.
Alternatively, try seltzer! It has been known to assist with various tummy troubles. That said, I do enjoy my seltzer, but I am always a little wary of forcing more gas into an already overtaxed midsection.
Beware of Guests Bringing "Cake"
Once, a Seder guest presented us with a surprisingly dense three-pound chocolate cake, which was delicious and had a sweet taste that none of us could identify. We marveled at the flavor, willing her to tell us the ingredients. Imagine our surprise when she told us it was made of two pounds of dried prunes and very few other things… and then it hit us.
Eat Dried Fruits and Fiber
Roughage (or “smoothage”, as my hilarious sense of humor requires me to say) will be your best friend during this week. Before the start of Passover and in those all-important first days of the holiday, eat your greens and other softening veggies in addition to your extra water intake. The combination truly works and you will get more of a benefit than by just sipping that H20 or eating a salad.
Personally, I swear by celery, since it’s really just crunchy water. It’s truly the least offensive vegetable in many ways. If you forgot to “pre-game for Passover” with fiber, just cut up a head of celery during the week and chow down!
If your teeth can’t handle that much chewing, drink prune juice or enjoy some soft compote (throw a bag of dried fruit in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil – no sugar needed – then turn off the heat and cover until desired texture).
Do you suffer from the Passover Sickness?
Or, Try Yogurt
That so-called “beneficial lactillobacillus bacteria” isn’t just messing with your head.
Regular, ordinary yogurt (no need to get specialty or costly brands unless you prefer to put someone else's kids through college) will actually help keep you... well, regular also. (I get my local store brand and drain the liquid since I like it as creamy and dessert-like as possible.)
If you wish to move your bowels, try moving your body.
Give the Passover Sickness the old one-two punch with a walk around the block or two. In addition to wiggling things around in there, you will get some fresh air and maybe even escape the family for a while! (Er, did I write that out loud? Oops…)
In addition, a well-chosen heating pad can help soothe this savage intestinal beast. I like the Bed Buddy because it easily conforms to whatever shape you need.
If you don’t have a heating pad, try snuggling with a warm pet on or near your tummy.
Avoiding Constipation Altogether
I'll give it to you straight ... avoiding constipation completely during Passover is probably not going to happen.
But the best way to avoid the Passover Sickness is to head it off at the pass. If you can't manage that, drink lots of liquids and eat tons of fiber, then take a walk and get some warmth into that belly by cuddling up with a loving pet.