Eating for Lenten Season and Spring Cleaning

Dear Friends: We want to share some springtime resources as many are engaging in personal spring-cleaning, Lenten and other religious fasts, and dietary tweaks. Many use the 1st month of the year as a time for clean eating or “dry” January but historically end of March has been the onset of the New Year.

In fact, Dionysius Exiguus, an Eastern monk, the inventor of the A.D. designation, marked March 25 (the Annunciation of Christ) as the beginning of the New Year, which remained so in England until 1752. For Lord of the Rings fans like myself, it is also Tolkien Reading Day. On March 25 in the Ring trilogy, Sauron is destroyed along with Barad-Dûr, and Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are saved. Of course, I’d be remiss as a Greek to not mention that March 25 is also the day Greek Independence Day is celebrated.

Here are some resources to ponder as we look to reboot and begin the new season or next quarter.


From a previous post, my detailed dive into fasting – from health benefits, various approaches, and historical and cultural roots: Fasting for Mind, Body, and Spirit.

How to approach Orthodox Lenten fasting

There are always great discussions among my friends in the different Christian denominations about how, if at all, to engage in behavior during the Lenten season. With regard to dietary restrictions, it is usually much more highlighted amongst the Catholics and Orthodoxes. This is much more emphasized in the latter group, where strict dietary restrictions and fasting for religious holidays year-round were part of the fabric of the traditional Eastern Orthodox communities of the Eastern Mediterranean world.

We sons and daughters of the new world immigrants have always had a more difficult time following the myriad and often-dizzying rules, including the often challenging recommendation to not eat meat. I’m regularly left in counseling my family and friends with the words of both St. Basil and Bruce Lee- “take what is useful and disregard the rest.”

Fortunately, even attempting to engage in some of the Orthodox fasting rules can provide significant health benefits for all as their emphasis on plant-forward and simple and healthy foods that are low caloric and nutrient-dense are helpful for a good spring cleaning and reboot. As my Lebanese wife likes to say, just eating fish on Wednesdays and Fridays won’t cut it.

Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D. provides some of the best information I’ve found on how to approach an Orthodox fast. As a deep and independent thinker in the world of science and nutrition who is also a devout Orthodox believer, his resources have always been worthwhile reading.

Here are two of my favorites:

Nourishing Our Bodies

Initially written for college students – “I was asked to write this article in 2011. It is a simpler view of how to get good nutrition during Lent when you are at the mercy of a campus dining hall.”

If we keep the fast strictly and eliminate meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, we cut out important sources of nutrients such as zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, choline, calcium, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K. We therefore cannot just continue eating the same foods we always do without making up for these nutrients somehow – eating the hamburger bun and pickle sans beef just isn’t going to cut it. Here, then, are a few tips for how to eat a well-rounded, nutritious diet during the Lenten season:

  • Shellfish. Shellfish are among the few animal foods allowed during Lent, and are jam-packed with valuable nutrients. It would take just over a quarter pound of beef per day to meet the RDA for zinc, yet only a single serving of oysters per week. Similarly, one would have to eat two servings of salmon per week to obtain the RDA for vitamin B12, but only one serving of clams per month. Choosing from a wide variety of shellfish several times per week would help ensure a sufficient intake of nutrients that are otherwise difficult to obtain in abundance without eating meat and fish on a daily basis.
  • Bananas. Bananas are best known for their rich content of potassium, but bananas are also a great source of vitamin B6. Eating a wide variety of unrefined plant foods will indeed provide a decent amount of B6, but plant foods generally contain less than animal foods and what they do contain is less absorbable. Bananas, however, contain lots of B6 in a highly absorbable form.
  • Spinach. Spinach is an abundant source of betaine, a nutrient that can substitute for choline. Choline is especially important for brain and liver function, and our best sources are liver and egg yolks. Since these are not allowed during the fast, spinach is an excellent replacement.
  • Cruciferous Vegetables. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnip, and bok choy. Crucifers are rich in calcium, and unlike other leafy greens such as spinach, the calcium is highly absorbable. Crucifers therefore represent an excellent substitute for milk. They are also a great source of vitamin K. Vitamin K comes in two forms: vitamin K1, found in dark greens, and vitamin K2, found in animal products and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and traditional Asian forms of fermented soy. Ideally we would consume a mix of both forms, but crucifers and other dark greens are by far the Lenten sources of vitamin K most easily obtained in the dining hall.
  • Colorful Fruits and Vegetables. Animal products are the only true source of vitamin A, but many plant foods contain beta-carotene and other similar compounds that our bodies can convert into vitamin A. The carotenes in most plant foods are poorly absorbable and the best plant-based source of vitamin A would actually be red palm oil. However, your best bet in a college dining hall would be that beautiful spectrum of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens. Fruits and veggies bearing these colors will provide plenty of carotenes that our bodies can use to make vitamin A. They also contain vitamin C and many other nutrients too long to list.
  • Avoid Refined Foods. Refined foods like white sugar and white flour are low in nutrients and displace the nutrient-dense foods we should be eating instead. Opt for whole grains instead of white flour. Even still, whole grains are very nutritious but also contain some anti-nutrients that could increase our need for calcium and zinc. We should therefore eat a broad-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and non-grain starches without relying excessively on any one food group.
  • Cut Out the Fake Foods. Soy may provide some valuable nutrients, but it is also rich in plantbased hormones called phytoestrogens. Eat traditional soy foods – miso, soy sauce, tempeh, and tofu – in moderation, and beware of loading up on the fake meats, which isn’t really consistent with the spirit of the fast anyway.
  • Get Plenty of Sunshine. Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin.” Getting plenty of vitamin D will reduce our need for calcium, and may have many other benefits as well. Spending time outside and getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine will help boost our vitamin D status.

Comprehensive and updated review on how to maintain health and flexibility during Lent

Here are some important points:

  • Diversify your protein among fish, shellfish or other invertebrates, eggs, and dairy if eating them, and legumes (aim for .5 gm of protein per pound of weight or if overweight -your ideal body weight)
  • Diversify your carbohydrates among legumes, whole grains, starchy tubers, and fruits
  • Eat a large volume (several cups per day) of vegetables, diversifying them across colors with an emphasis on red, orange, yellow, and green. Always include dark green vegetables and crucifers in the daily mix
  • Include foods or supplements that aid in digestion at every meal. – examples include ginger, fermented veggies, raw apple cider vinegar, bitters, and digestive enzyme supplements
  • Use red palm oil for a source of Vitamin A and other difficult to get antioxidants
  • Focus on various healthy oils with an emphasis on olive and avocado oils.
  • How to get more zinc while balancing the foods that often block its absorption.
  • Nondairy sources of calcium
  • Good sources of B12, vitamin K2, Iodine, and choline
  • “Regular” pickles are not fermented and “regular” sauerkraut has usually been canned or pasteurized, so make sure the labels say that they are lacto-fermented, raw, or contain live active cultures. 

Some of the ways I’m able to make Lenten eating work well and still maintain my nutrients needs include:

  1. Plant Protein Powders – both of the below can be purchased on Fullscript, linked here. There are many to choose from but my favorites include:

MycoPure™, a plant-based (pea and rice) protein fermented from shiitake mushrooms. It also features Immune-Assist™, a blend of medicinal mushrooms that offers robust immune support.


InflammaCORE®, a fructose-free formula featuring 19g of easy-to-digest brown rice protein per serving and soothing, flax-based fiber. In addition, InflammaCORE® provides high amounts of L-glutamine and glycine, amino acids crucial for intestinal reinforcement and mucosal cell regeneration.


  1. Greens powders- the equivalent of 10 vegetable servings -a good way to fill in the gaps. As with the plant-based protein powders, both of these can be purchased on Fullscript, linked here. Our favorites are:

Spectra Greens™, a combination of nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, herbs, herbal extracts, Chlorella, Soy Lecithin, Royal Jelly, Bee Pollen, enzymes, and probiotic cultures designed to support your body’s ability to cleanse, detoxify and rejuvenate.

(Spectra Greens™)

PaleoGreens®, a powder made with over 90% organic ingredients. The vegetable, fruit, and berry ingredients are brightly colored and non-oxidized, and the powders are protected from heat, UV light, and moisture from start to finish. These greens have a Paleo profile; they contain no grains, legumes, alfalfa, gluten, fructose, or artificial sweeteners.


A good resource on legumes

Some bonus resources:

From my brother Tom’s blog The Leader’s Workout via The Art of Manliness:

Why every man (and woman) should study the ancient classics

Ancient Athens Painting Sitting on Steps Debating.

Do you understand the reference to “crossing the Rubicon?” Or why Hamilton was called the “American Cicero?”

  1. Enhances your cultural literacy.

Western culture is infused with references to the history and literature of classical Greece and Rome

  1. Allows you to take part in the “Great Conversation.”

Topics of the Great Conversation concern the Big Ideas that philosophers, theologians, and artists have been mulling over for thousands of years.

What is justice? What is true friendship? What is love?

  1. Allows you to see the interconnectedness of ideas.

Our educational system has become increasingly specialized… [but] Plato doesn’t just muse about Truth, Justice, and Beauty, but also math and physics.

  1. Instills virtue and morality.

Us moderns typically approach history and art from a very utilitarian view.

But for the ancient Greeks and Romans… History and art were not just interesting and informative, but were also thought to instill virtue and morality.

  1. Increased understanding of your government and founding principles.

All of the American Founding Fathers were steeped in the literature and culture of antiquity. As children, they learned Greek and Latin and read the great epic poems and political treatises.

  1. Disciplines the mind.

Reading the classics can be hard. But with that mental exertion comes a strengthening and disciplining of the mind that carries over to other aspects of your life.

  1. It’s fun!

One thing I love about reading the classics is that it never gets old. The tales and characters evince an evergreen engagingness.

  1. Fills you with thumos.

Thumos represented man’s “fire in the belly” — his energy, fight, drive towards excellence, and eagerness to do great deeds.

Lastly, In honor of the Protestant saint C.S.Lewis, this interview is with the great Professor Louis Markos, a friend and great scholar and expert on C.S. Lewis – with links to his Great Courses series on Lewis and his Amazon page on his many books.

Podcast #765: CS Lewis on Building Men With Chests

Life and Writings of CS Lewis Prof. Markos-Religion

Amazon Shopping: Titles By Louis Markos

Yours in health-

Dr. Pappas and the Pappas Health team