What does it mean to eat Halal or Kosher food?
Many people are interested in these dietary traditions for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look.
Halal and Kosher foods are those that are allowed by Islamic and Jewish religious laws respectively. Halal means lawful or permitted and, although Halal can refer to anything that's permitted by Islam, it's most often used to refer to permissible dietary habits and is typically associated with eating meat. Kosher describes food that is permitted for consumption according to Jewish dietary law (called Kashrut).
Interestingly, there are many similarities between Halal and Kosher, especially in choices of meat. Pork is forbidden by both faiths, as are amphibians, birds of prey and most insects. Also, both faiths prohibit consuming blood.
Another similarity is that the animal must be killed quickly and in a way to minimize pain. All blood must be drained, and the animal must be examined to ensure that it is fit for consumption. Also, only healthy animals can be used, meaning that a sick animal or so called "downer cattle" would be rejected by the butcher before being killed.
As for processing, halal foods are made ready for market according to the same standards as any other food. Kosher foods go through a process that includes an inspection of the organs and soaking in salt water before packaging. The meats are also salted inside and out to remove the last remaining traces of blood. There is some evidence that this salt water cleansing can reduce salmonella risks, and perhaps rid the meat of other harmful microbes. Yet, other studies have found because this water is cold, bacteria could remain in the meat until it is cooked.
It should be noted that Halal and Kosher certification does not mean that the food is free from harmful microbes or contaminating chemicals. However, because there is an inspection to ensure the meat is fit to eat, there are precautions. Also, Kosher and Halal slaughterhouses in the U.S. are frequently inspected to ensure the product meets government standards.
Other studies have shown that the 'bleeding out' of the slaughtered animal may provide additional protection against potentially infectious organisms which could reside in the blood.
So, is eating according to Halal or Kosher any healthier? It’s agreed that the focus is on keeping to religious laws rather than science-based precautions against disease. However, many people believe that the extra steps that are taken to prepare the meat make it a preferable choice. Also, know that there are movements toward organic Halal and Kosher meats. And there are those who believe that simply taking the time to be more discerning about what you eat prompts overall healthier nutrition choices.
Of course, if you are truly concerned about how animals are treated, the best option is to go vegetarian. Many observant Muslims and Jews prefer this choice but note that they must still observe other dietary laws of their faith. For example, vegetarian dishes prepared with alcohol would not be Halal, and both observant Jews and Muslims only eat meals –vegetarian or otherwise – that are prepared in kitchens where their dietary laws are practiced.
Kosher or Halal? It’s your choice and, in this case, if it brings spiritual health along with physical health, it may be the right choice for you.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.