Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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The Coffee Cancer Connection?

Recently, California has declared coffee to be a cancer causer.  If you are concerned, you need to read  this appraisal. It presents some facts about the “scare” and offers some common sense advice.



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Of “Cabbages and Kings”

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

A  poem called “The Walrus and the Carpenter” recited by Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the book “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll in 1871. Some interpretations suggest the walrus is supposed to be a caricature of the Buddha while the carpenter symbolized Jesus Christ.  Others think they were political. From Wikipedia.   Interesting!

Now I know why this poem came to mind when I decided to find out more about the lowly cabbage and if it added any healthy benefits  to our diets. Frankly, I have never thought much about cabbages; however, it seems that cabbage is beginning to be used more in recipes as research continues to unravel its benefits.

So the time has come.

Cabbage evolved along the Mediterranean coast from the wild mustard plant. The Greeks and Romans used them for medicinal purposes. Cabbage is part of the royal family of vegetables – Brassica, that also includes broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussels sprouts and chard. This group is also referred to as cruciferous vegetables. The most common is green, but other kinds include red or purple in color. Savoy is type of green but with a pale green ruffled leaf. But it is much more than just a pretty plant.

Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins C and K. It also is good sources of vitamin B6, folate, fiber, magnesium, and potassium-all this in a package of very low calories. One cup of cooked cabbage is only 34 calories with about 4 grams of fiber. It can be boiled in some chicken broth or lightly sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.

In terms of price per edible cup, a report by the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has shown cabbage to be the second most economical cooked vegetable.  Only potatoes came out slightly less expensive.

Perhaps more important than its list of vitamins and minerals, its claim as a superstar involves its potential as a potent cancer fighter. This ability is reflected in its array of compounds known as phytochemicals.

One specific  “phyto” (for short) in cabbage is named indole-3-carbinol. It raises the levels of what is considered to be a protective or benign metabolite of estrogen compared to two others that are more apt to be carcinogenic increasing the risk of breast cancer in women or even men (they have estrogen, too)  and can get breast cancer.

The second “phyto” is sulphorophane that is a member of the orthothiocynate group. It increases compounds known as phase-3  enzymes that fight  free radical  damage of cell membranes and DNA. To date and according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), sulphorophane is considered one of the most powerful disruptors of  the carcinogenesis process.

If you consume red cabbage, you may reap the benefits of another group of “phyots” called anthocyanins, a pigment also found in blue and purple fruits and vegetables like berries and red grapes. They are found within another group called flavonoids that act as antioxidants to fight free radicals. They are also considered to be anti-inflammatory compounds.

It is still under debate as to whether phytochemical supplements are safe or effective.  There have been some reports that some antioxidant supplements alone or in combination may increase the risk of some cancers. To be on the safe side, get your “phytos” from whole foods and always inform your doctor of all prescription and over-the-counter supplements you consume. Some diet recommendations suggest we consume 3/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis. This amount is equivalent to approximately 5 cups per week. Bon apetit!!









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The Glycemic Index/Load: What is the Difference?

The glycemic response is defined as the rate, magnitude and duration of the rise in blood glucose that occurs after a particular food or meal is consumed. It is affected by the amount of carbohydrate amount and type and the fat and protein in the food. Refined sugars and starches generally cause a greater glycemic response than unrefined carbohydrates that contain fiber. The presence of fat and protein also slows stomach emptying. For example, ice cream is high in sugar, but also contains fat and protein, so it causes a smaller rise in blood glucose than sorbet high in sugar but with less fat or protein.

This response can be quantified by its glycemic index (GI) defined as a ranking of the effect on blood glucose of a food of a certain carbohydrate content relative to an equal amount of carbohydrate from a reference food such as white bread or glucose.

The glycemic load (GL)  is a method of assessing the glycemic response that takes into account both the glycemic index of the food and the amount of carbohydrate in a typical portion. To calculate the GL, the grams of carbohydrate in a serving of food are multiplied by that food’s GI expressed as a percentage. For example, watermelon has a high GI of 70, but a much lower GL of 4.  The use of the glycemic load gives us a more true measure of its impact on the glycemic response. This tool is not very practical to use daily; however,  the concept is useful to understand  the impact of carbohydrate foods on blood glucose levels.

A glycemic load of:

  • 20 or more is high,
  • 11 to 19 is medium
  • 10 or under is low


Source: Smolin and Grosvenor, Nutrtiion, Science and Applications, Third Edition.

For a list of the GI and GL of 100 foods, CLICK HERE.




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Green Tea and Weight Loss?

All forms of tea are probably the most consumed beverage in the world, next to water. Tea contains an abundance of a class of phytochemiclas called polyphenols considered to be powerful antioxidants.  Polyphenols protect cells from what is referred to as “oxidative stress” caused primarily by an overproduction of  free radicals that have the potential of cell and DNA damage, implicated in the most common “killer” diseases of civilization namely heart disease and cancer.

There is some research on the benefits of green tea in weight loss; however, the results are mixed. Whether green tea plays some role in weight reduction or not, nearly everyone would benefit from tea consumption whether it is black, white, red, or green varieties.

Check out a previous post on the topic of polyphenols HERE.


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Maple or Agave? Which is Best?

A good article on which sweetener is the best for health, thanks to Fooducate. Click on the link for agave in the article. Keep in mind that all sweeteners (natural or artificial) are primarily “empty calories.” In this case, I would bet on maple syrup as a bit “healthier” due to some research that suggests that fructose found in agave may causes some health problems as discussed in a previous post HERE.