Welcome to the official report from Israel, where my wife Jessa and I are touring with Vibe Israel, who have brought international on- and offline opinion leaders in health and nutrition on a weeklong personalized experience of the burgeoning wellness scene Israel, including us, Lee from FitFoodieFinds.com, Emily from ThisRawesomVeganLife.com and Kate from CookieAndKate.com.
If you haven't yet discovered Israel as a country to add to your “must-visit” bucket list, you need to do it. Just check out Part 1: The Israman Triathlon and Ben Greenfield’s Fifteen Fun Facts About Israel, Part 2: Ben Greenfield Engages In Potent Anti-Aging Mediterranean Cuisine Face-Stuffing, and Part 3: Top 10 Tips For Racing Israman Triathlon for my reports from last year, during which I toured the fitness and exercise scene in Israel.
As you read, you'll definitely want to click here tune in to the audio podcast episode that accompanies this episode, which has includes an audio version of the article you're about to read, along with a bonus interview from the folks at Scio, the pocket molecular sensor I write about later in this article.
The audio is brought to you by Onnit, which is where I buy crazy equipment for my home gym like Zombie kettlebells, battle ropes and sandbags, along with tasty functional foods like Pink Himalayan Sea Salt and Organic Raw Walnut Butter. Click here to check out Onnit and save 10%.
OK, let's jump into the top 5 things you can learn from the burgeoning health, wellness and nutrition scene in Israel (and by the way, the photo above is me covered in mud at the Dead Sea).
1. Vegan Food Can Be Damn Tasty
On our very first evening in Tel Aviv, we stumbled upon “Mezze“, a unique vegan restaurant located in the heart of Tel Aviv. From roasted mushroom pate to organic rye and spelt bread to a “sabha” of hot black-eyed peas sautéed with tomatoes, garlic and cilantro on organic tahini (a rich and thick eggplant paste), we dined in style after a long day on the airplane.
But the highlight of the meal – by far – was the Mezze spin on “moussaka”- a traditional Greek dish made with layers of eggplant and potatoes with lentil and vegetable stuffing. This stuff literally melts in your mouth.
So I twisted the arm of chef Gal Barzilai, a vegetarian and wild plan expert since the age of 13, to hook us up with his custom recipe for moussaka. Here it is. Bon appetit, baby (or as they say here, “be'te-avon”).
-700g chopped onion
-2 garlic cloves, crushed
-600g orange lentils (soaked/sprouted) – weight after straining and soaking
-1 kg mushrooms torn hand into small pieces
-100g walnuts + 50g cashew nuts soaked for 30 min in boiled water
-1/2 kg sweet potato peeled and thinly sliced
-30g sweet paprika
-1/4t hot paprika
Vegetables (for layering):
-1kg large potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise
-1 eggplant peeled “zebra” style, sliced thickly (1.5 cm)
-handful small tomatoes sliced pretty thick (1 cm)
Tahini (put all ingredients in a blender/hand blender; can also mix by hand):
-125g raw tahini
-150ml cold water
-1 garlic clove, crushed
-1T wine vinegar
-40ml lemon juice
1. Saute 600g onions in white oil (canola, grape seed) when starts to brown, add mushrooms and continue to sauté until nicely browned. Grind in a grinder (thickly, leaving small clump – if needed, add vegetable stock or water), then put aside to chill.
2. Put lentils, cashew and walnuts with the soaking water, final 100g raw onions, beets, 150ml water and both types of paprika in a food processor.
3. Brush potato and eggplant slices with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and put in the oven on very high heat
Putting it all together:
1. Brush a pan with a lot of olive oil
2. Layer very densely: eggplant slices, the mushroom/lentil mixture, potatoes, mushroom/lentil mixture, very little tahini, eggplant, thin layer of tahini and top it off with a very dense layer of tomatoes. Brush with olive oil
Bake in oven on 190 degrees Celsius for an hour. It is suggested to let the mussaka “rest” for an hour before serving.
2. Dates Aren't Just For Eating
The morning after our dinner at Mezze, we headed to the Dead Sea – an area well known for it's extremely mineral-rich water – so mineral-rich, in fact, that it is nearly impossible to get your head under the water. You just…float. Here's a video to show you what I mean:
Anyways, while at the Dead Sea, we visited The Synergy Spa at the Ein-Gedi Hotel. The spa is built on a hillside overlooking a the Dead Sea, and the spa facilities not only contain air saturated with oxygen, but also a bromine treated pool (which I'm floating in on the video above) filled with Dead Sea water.
My chosen treatment at Synergy was a “Date Wrap”, done with Ein Gedi date mud cream. Apparently, the same polyphenols and flavonoids that make dates such a dark and flavorful fruit also have anti-aging and nourishing properties for the skin. As I lay wrapped up and smelling like a giant human date, I was treated to a head and neck massage.
Time will tell if I actually look younger, but apparently this is one of the only places in the world where one can get rubbed down with dates. Eat your heart out, Robert Lustig.
Anyways, even though I couldn't seem to find date mud cream for you anywhere, this spa did get me thinking about how you can saturate the air in your own house with oxygen, even if you can't smear fruit on your own body. Here's what I found:
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has looked into specific houseplants that can improve indoor air quality by absorbing environmental toxins and increasing oxygen levels.
Ferns, particularly the Japanese royal fern, not only release oxygen into the air but also absorb formaldehyde. The Boston fern adds both oxygen and humidity to indoor air. Gerbera daisy purifies and boosts the oxygen level of the air of your home while you sleep at night, making this a good choice for bedrooms. Other indoor plants considered highly efficient in oxygen production and air purification include heartleaf philodendron, snake plant, spider plant, Chinese evergreen and golden pothos.
So there you have it. NASA studies indicate that 15 to 18 plants in 6- to 8-inch-diameter pots will adequately increase the oxygen in the air in an 1,800-square-foot residential home. This translates to approximately one large potted plant or two smaller potted plants about every 100 square feet.
Now your home can be just like this fancy Dead Sea spa (and here's a photo of me inside this gorgeous spa).
3. You Can Put Coconut Milk In Your Cocktails
Yes, you simply must drink some alcohol while in Israel.
I of course, have been, every night.
Here's an idea of the crazy cocktail concoctions I was served just last night at the famous Taizu Asian Fusion restaurant (this is an advantage of being a blogger – they just brought me a sample platter of cocktails).
-Hendrix Masala: Gin Hendrix, Campari, Sake, Red Vermouth, Masala Tea
-Lady Gin: Gin, Chartreuse, Cucumber, Fresh Lime, Ginger
-Red Old Sage: Sage, Stolichnoya, Pomegranate, Ginger
-Green Tai: Stoli, Sake, Litchi, Cream, Green Tea
-Sharp Satori: Pineapple, Stolichnoya ginger, Remy Martin, Wasabi, Lemongrass
And my favorite…
-Punducherry: Strawberry Vodka, Vermouth, Coconut Milk, Lemongrass, Herbal Berries
With a mix of herbs, fresh muddled fruits and a few goodies thrown in like coconut milk and green tea, I actually wasn't too guilty after indulging in this alcohol-infused sampling. Go ahead and try one of these recipes for yourself this holiday season (just be sure to detox afterwards).
This may come as no surprise to you if you listened to Podcast #267, in which we had the following conversation about the olive oil club I'm a member of and the olive oil martinis I make (read full transcript here):
Ben: …now, I actually I’m part of this club called the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club. They send 3 bottles of olive oil to my house every quarter from like a different area in the world like Australia or Chile or this last one is from Italy.
Brock: You really know how to party, don’t you?
Ben: Well, that’s what I’m getting at. You can do olive oil tasting, it’s actually kinda interesting. It’s somewhere a wine and that you start to recognize the flavors and the aromas and whether an olive oil is herbaceous or sweet or smoky, etc. but you can also make drinks out of olive oil and what I’ll do is take a shot of olive oil and put that like in a martini shaker and then I’ll take a really nice vodka and put 1-2 shots of that in there, squeeze a lemon, do a little bit of olive juice, so it’s kind of like a dirty martini with a splash of olive oil and then I’ll just strain that into a martini glass, sprinkle a little bit of sea salt on there, garnish with an olive and it’s olive oil vodka martini and it taste fantastic like the olive oil adds this splash of flavor that you don’t get in a regular martini and the mouth feel, like you’d think it be like oily but it’s actually got this really cool kinda mouth feel, it’s a very enjoyable drink. Anyone who hasn’t tried an olive oil martini before should try one.
So there you have it. Now you can add coconut milk into your cocktails too. L'chaim! (photo below is me with the other bloggers and my wife, washing down our cocktails with a tasty glass of Jordanian merlot)
4. You Can Exercise Anywhere
When I'm traveling, I have standby workouts, and this trip to Israel is no exception.
For example, if I find a gym, I'll often do my twist on a 5×5 workout – which is basically 5 sets of 5 repetitions of 5 different heavy lifting exercises. But I throw mobility and movement exercises in the 90 second to 2 minute recovery periods between each 5 rep lift, like this:
-5×5 Bench – Walking lunges while reaching for the sky (10 per leg) for recovery
-5×5 Barbell Back Squat – Bird Dog Opposite Arm-Opposite Leg Extensions (10/side) for recovery
-5×5 Power Clean – Ab Hollowing With Back On Ground With Deep Breathing (10 breaths) for recovery
-5×5 Deadlift – “Quiet” Box Jumps With Silent Landing (10 reps) for recovery
-5×5 Push Press – Bicycle Crunches (10/side) for recovery
If I'm limited to a hotel room workout, I'll often strap on a Training Mask (use 20% discount code GREEN1) and do a body weight workout for 4-6 rounds like this:
-10x lunge jumps for each leg
-20x MostFit suspension strap rows
-20x mountain climbers per leg
-60 second handstand hold against wall during recovery
And of course, just like Venice Beach and Miami, they have gyms along the beach here in Tel Aviv, so you can throw down a weight workout with the locals while you're cycling or jogging on the boardwalk along the Mediterranean Sea. Incidentally, whether I'm traveling or I'm at home, I log every workout I do, 365 days a year, for all members of my Inner Circle (if you're already an Inner Circle member, just visit the forum and click “Life Of Ben”).
5. You Can Measure Anything. Really.
SCiO is the world's first portable molecular sensor that literally fits in the palm of your hand. It contains a tiny spectrometer and allows you to get instant information about the chemical make-up of just about anything around you, sent directly to your phone.
SCiO is based on near-IR spectroscopy analysis method. The physical basis for this method is that each type of molecule vibrates in its own unique way, and these vibrations interact with light to create its own unique optical signature.
The device includes a light source that illuminates the sample and an optical sensor (the spectrometer) that collects the light reflected from the sample. The spectrometer breaks down the light to its spectrum, which includes all the information required to detect the result of this interaction between the illuminated light and the molecules in the sample.
Normal spectrometers are big (about the size of a laptop) and expensive (tens of thousands of dollars). SCiO is unique as it is based on a tiny spectrometer, designed from the ground up to be mass-produced with low cost optics – with minimal compromise on the analysis capabilities.
So based on this technology, SCiO can actually read the chemical make-up of any materials around you, including food, plants, medication, oil and fuels, plastics and wood. For example, you can:
-Get nutritional facts about different kinds of food: salad dressings, sauces, fruits, cheeses, and much more.
-See how ripe an avocado is, through the peel.
-Find out the quality of your cooking oil.
-Know the well being of your plants.
-Analyze soil or hydroponic solutions.
-Authenticate medications or supplements.
-Upload and tag the spectrum of any material on earth to our database (including your own body).
Every time you use SCiO you actually help to build a database of knowledge about the stuff around us. The bigger the SCiO community gets, the more data SCiO will have about different materials and this goes right back to the community of users.
Alright, that's it for now…but more to come later, including information about a brand new startup that can analyze and give you instant nutritional facts on any recipe you find on any food blog or website, anywhere, and another startup that allows you to instantly check how polluted the air is where you're at, and the “cleanest air” routes for running, hiking, or cycling. Stay tuned.
Shalom – and be sure to check out Onnit if you need killer fitness gear or functional foods that optimize performance, stay tuned for more on what you can learn from the wellness and nutrition scene in Israel, extra entertaining videos from this trip, and tips on taking your own to health and fitness vacation to Israel. In the meantime, leave your question, comments and feedback below!
photos by Or Kaplan