Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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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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How to Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables


Recently, fresh produce has been involved in some outbreaks of foodborne illness since they are often eaten raw. Protect against this by thorough washing before eating and store them properly.



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Think Purple for the New Year?

fruitBy definition, anthocyanins are a group of compounds of the flavonoid family of polyphenols which produce purple and red pigments in fruits and vegetables. They are potent antioxidants and may protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other diseases and conditions in which oxidative damage is important. Foods high in anthocyanins include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, black currants, red currants, cherries, and purple grapes. Here are a few new ones to watch for in 2017.


For more general information from a previous post on polyphenols, CLICK HERE 

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The Power of Phytochemicals

Colorful vegetables and fruits

By Sally J. Feltner, PhD, RDN

When we hear the familiar advice “eat more fruits and vegetables” one may think initially that the reason is that these foods are loaded with vitamins and minerals. This is true, but there may be more to the story. They also are filled with compounds called phytochemicals derived from the Greek word, “phyton” meaning plants. Phytochemicals are compounds that include at least hundreds of biologically active non-nutriitious chemicals that confer potential health benefits not only to the plant but also to humans. Phytochemicals can often act as natural pesticides that help plants protect themselves from insects pests.

Some of healthy benefits offered by eating an array of colorful fruits and vegetables can include:

  • Carotenoids – some provide vitamin A and others function as antioxidant protection against free radical damage. They are found in orange and red -colored fruits and vegetables and leafy greens.
  • Flavonoids make capillary blood vessels stronger, block carcinogens and slow the growth of cancer cells. They are found in berries, citrus fruits, purple grapes, green tea and chocolate.
  • Indoles and isothiocynates increase the activity of enzymes that deactivate carcinogens, alter estrogen metabolism and affect gene expression. They are found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
  • Sulfides and allium compounds deactivate carcinogens, kill bacteria, protect against heart disease and are found in onions, garlic, leeks and chives.
  • Phytoestrogens decrease cholesterol absorption, reduce the risk of colon cancer by slowing the growth of cancer cells. They are found in soy, tofu, soybeans, soy milk, flax seed and rye bread.
  • Sulforaphane detoxifies carcinogens, protect animals from breast cancer, and is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.

Keep these compounds in mind whenever you are enjoying nutritious colorful fruits and vegetables. Bon appétit!!