Tag Archives: cancer prevention

Homemade Sauerkraut: Improve Digestion, Prevent Cancer

There is a farm at my children’s school, and every Thursday afternoon they host a farm stand where parents and students can buy fresh veggies, goat milk products, and homemade goodies. A few weeks ago, I stopped by the stand and encountered some truly amazing produce–a head of cabbage so giant I thought I was back in Alaska. I passed on buying it, not knowing what I’d actually do with the beast, but I went home and thought about it all night, came up with a plan, and the next day headed back to the farm to see if there were more. The farmer generously took me out to the field and found me this beauty. I brought this leafy 15-pounder home and started shredding.IMG_1105

Making Sauerkraut:
It turns out making sauerkraut is a relatively simple process: it requires cabbage, salt, and a good vessel for storage. I bought a large crock for making vinegar a few years ago so I decided to use this. I would recommend using something nonreactive and not plastic, so crockery or glass are good options. According to Alton Brown, my go-to resource for all cooking projects that seem a bit more like chemistry, for every 5lbs of cabbage, use 3Tbsp pickling salt (I used kosher salt and doubled the amount). He also uses 1 Tbsp of juniper berries and 2 tsp caraway, but that is optional. After shredding and mixing the cabbage with salt, pack it firmly into your sanitized fermentation vessel of choice. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then lay a quart-sized glass jar full of water over the plate (sanitize these too).
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After a couple days, a liquid brine should form to cover the top of the cabbage, if not, add enough water to cover the cabbage. Check it every couple of days and skim the scum off the top if necessary. The sauerkraut should be ready in 10 days to 4 weeks-just take a bit out and taste it! When it is finished, pack it into sanitized quart jars and cover with brine (the spigot at the bottom of my vinegar crock was handy for this). It should keep in the refrigerator for a few months.IMG_1177

Why Sauerkraut?

In addition to being a good source of Vitamin C, B6, and iron, there are two primary health benefits to eating sauerkraut: improved digestion and cancer prevention. The digestive benefits are twofold: there are many strains of probiotic bacteria (including lactobacillus) that work together to eat the sugars in the cabbage and produce this fermented food. Eating raw sauerkraut will help to repopulate the large intestine with beneficial bacteria, which can improve digestion, relieve inflammation, and increase the strength of the immune system overall. Green cabbage is also a good source of glutamine, which is an amino acid that is the preferred food for the lining of the digestive tract. This can also help to repair damaged cells and improve the integrity of the large intestine. One word of caution; the process of fermentation can create a trisaccharide that, when consumed by the bacteria that live in the digestive tract, can cause gas for some people. The addition of caraway and juniper (as advised by Alton Brown’s recipe) can help to dispel that gas and maximize the digestive benefit of the sauerkraut.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is the primary chemical present in sauerkraut that has been associated with cancer prevention. I3C can be found in all members of the cabbage (brassica) family, but particularly high levels have been found in cabbage that has been fermented for 7-9 days. After this length of time, I3C levels continue to remain elevated but will taper off over time. I3C has been shown to reduce proliferation (growth) of several types of cancer, including colon, prostate, breast, and leukemia. I3C has been discussed particularly in reference to prevention of breast and cervical cancers because it helps to metabolize and remove estrogens from the system. These types of cancer are frequently (though not always) dependent upon estrogen as a growth promoter. However, I3C also can help to initiate natural cell death (called apoptosis) and protect the liver against cancer-causing chemicals which is why benefit has been found for non-estrogen dependent cancers as well.

Making sauerkraut is a little adventure that yields a delicious, health promoting, and cost-saving product with flavor unrivaled by the canned store-bought types. You can purchase raw sauerkraut at many health food stores, but the cost can be upwards of $20/quart. Making it at home requires only the cost of the cabbage–mine cost about $1.30/quart, plus the glory of figuring out what to do with a cabbage the size of my torso.

Enjoy and be well!

Homemade Tomato Sauce and the Benefits of Lycopene

Homemade Tomato sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

It’s tomato harvest time here in my backyard, and as my mom says, we are up to our earballs.  Each year at the beginning of September, I go through the same process of frantically calling upon friends and neighbors to please come with large bowls and take some home to enjoy. I also repeat the same ritual of attempting to make a large pot of sauce so I can preserve some of the garden goodness for the months ahead, but always with mixed results.  This year, however, I decided to stop cutting corners and do it right: I grew more romas than slicers or cherry tomatoes, and went through and blanched, skinned, and seeded the tomatoes before putting them in the pot. I always cringe at the thought of getting rid of so much of each precious tomato, but it yielded a thick sauce free of skins and seeds that is worth sticking in the freezer for a colder month.

Because I love to get the most nutrition possible out of my food, I am always wary of any process that involves taking out a significant portion of the food (like skins and seeds) and then cooking it for many hours, so making sauce seems a bit antithetical to this principle.  However, in this case, this food processing can actually boost the benefit of the food because of a little molecule called lycopene.  Lycopene is a carotenoid, or substance that gives the tomato its red color.  It is also found in other pink fruits such as watermelon, papaya, and guava, but the highest amount in the western diet is found in tomatoes.   

In the body, lycopene acts as a powerful antioxidant, meaning it gives electrons to oxygen or other molecules that are missing an electron.  Without an antioxidant these molecules then “steal” electrons from places like our DNA or cell membranes, causing damage to the tissues.  Lycopene has been shown to be a more effective antioxidant than Vitamin E or beta carotene, and can help to prevent cancer of the liver, lung, prostate, breast, and colon.  In cancer cells, it can arrest cells growth and promote cell death while having no effect on normal cells.  It also has been shown to prevent inflammatory disease of the liver, heart and neurological systems.

Interestingly, there are two ways in which cooking helps boost the benefits of lycopene.  First, by cooking out the water, the lycopene content becomes more concentrated, so you get more of it in each bite.  For instance, in a raw tomato, you may get as little as 8.8 mcg/g of lycopene, whereas in tomato sauce, you may get as much as 131 mcg/g. Powdering and freeze drying tend to decrease the amount of lycopene and makes it very unstable, whereas freezing and heat processing stabilizes the lycopene. Also, there are two molecular forms of lycopene, called trans and cis.  In a raw tomato, lycopene is in the trans form, while heat processing converts the lycopene to a cis form.  The longer the cooking, the more of this conversion takes place.  This cis form is more “bioavailable” to the body, meaning it is easier for it to utilize.

One other important thing to note is that how the tomatoes are grown also makes a difference.  Conventionally grown tomatoes have been found to be lower in many nutrients, including Vitamin C, polyphenols, quercetin, and flavonoids like lycopene.  So looking for tomatoes that have been organically grown or growing your own will yield a sauce richest in this health-promoting substance.  Plus, it will be the best sauce you’ve ever tasted.  

Enjoy!

Tomato sauce from scratch:

This is not a quick recipe, but it is a great way to use the bounty of your garden and you will never get a sauce from a jar that tastes as good as this!

Yield: 3-4 quarts

8 pounds fresh roma tomatoes

½ cup red wine

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp black pepper

1 Tbsp kosher salt

1 heel of parmesan (optional)

1 small can tomato paste (optional)

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Put the tomatoes in (as many at a time as you can fit) and let them sit 2-3 minutes, until you can see the skin starting to crack on a few of them).  Strain the tomatoes out and put in a large bowl, repeat until all the tomatoes are done.  Empty the pot.  With each tomato. make a small slit in the skin and “pop” the insides out.  Cut this in half and gently squeeze out the seeds.  Place the skinned and seeded tomato in the pot.  Repeat until all the tomatoes are done. Add the rest of the ingredients except the tomato paste to the soup pot. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat and continue to simmer, about an hour.  At this point, you can take a potato masher and break up the tomatoes a bit more.  Continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 2 hours more. If you want to add some extra lycopene and give the sauce a bit more heft, you can add the tomato paste for the last hour of cooking.  Serve with pasta and homemade meatballs.

Sources:

Hallmann E., Orv Hetil. The influence of organic and conventional cultivation systems on the nutritional value and content of bioactive compounds in selected tomato types.J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Nov;92(14):2840-8. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5617. Epub 2012 Feb 20.

Györéné KG, Varga A, Lugasi A. A comparison of chemical composition and nutritional value of organically and conventionally grown plant derived foods. 2006 Oct 29;147(43):2081-90.

Shi J, Le Maguer M.   Lycopene in tomatoes: chemical and physical properties affected by food processing. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2000;20(4):293-334.

Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Francis DM, Nagaraja HN, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Lycopene from heat-induced cis-isomer-rich tomato sauce is more bioavailable than from all-trans-rich tomato sauce in human subjects. Br J Nutr.  2007 Jul;98(1):140-6. Epub 2007 Mar 29.

Trejo-Solís C, Pedraza-Chaverrí J, Torres-Ramos M, Jiménez-Farfán D, Cruz Salgado A, Serrano-García N, Osorio-Rico L, Sotelo  Multiple molecular and cellular mechanisms of action of lycopene in cancer inhibition. J.Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:705121. doi: 10.1155/2013/705121. Epub 2013 Jul 21.

Lycopene. Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cauliflower and Cancer Prevention

I am generally not a great advocate of the “superfood” craze:  the thought that there is one magical food out there just waiting to be discovered that will cure all our ills is just plain silly.  We are multidimensional beings and the more we achieve balance on all planes: mental, emotional, and physical, including a balanced diet full of a variety of healthy (but not necessarily fancy) foods the better our health will be.

That said, there has been some interesting research done in the past few years about cauliflower and the other vegetables in the crucifer family and their potential role in cancer prevention.  These vegetables all contain a family of compounds called glucosinolates.  These are sulfur-containing compounds that when broken down in the body seem to induce cancer-preventing enzymes

for the rest of this article, click here to see it on Dr Rosen’s website