by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Vegetables

Jul 27 2020

Amazing food study of the week: saurkraut prevents Covid-19 !

What is one to make of a headline like this?

CABBAGE DIET HOPE: Eating sauerkraut, coleslaw and raw cabbage ‘could protect against coronavirus.'”

I raced right to the study, fast-tracked in a not-yet-peer-reviewed paper:

Title: Association between consumption of fermented vegetables and COVID-19 mortality at a country level in Europe, by Susana Fonseca, et al.  

The study: The investigators compared consumption of fermented vegetables (and also pickled/marinated vegetables, fermented milk, yoghurt and fermented sour milk) in the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database to COVID-19 mortality.

Result: For each g/day increase in the average national consumption of fermented vegetables (but not the others), the mortality risk for COVID-19 decreased by 35.4%.

Comment: One food—saurkraut—reduces the Covid-19 mortality rate by 35%?  This would be an astounding result for any single food.  The authors’ hypothesis is that consumption of fermented foods promotes a microbiome that helps resist infection, even, apparently, respiratory infections.

At the moment, I’m judging this study as a delicious example of why correlation does not equal causation.

Eating saurkraut is just fine if you like it.

But for preventing Covid-19?  I’m sticking to masks and social distancing while waiting for further research.

Nov 5 2019

Broccoli: the vegetable v. its antioxidant sulforaphane

Thomas Björkman, Professor of Vegetable Crop Physiology at Cornell University wrote to ask me what I thought about this new review article about the benefits of sulforaphane, an antioxidant in broccoli.  He explains:

It is a review by Jed Fahey et al on the value of sulphoraphane in broccoli. Go right to section 4, where they discuss the ins and outs of making dietary or clinical recommendations, and getting relevant research to inform those recommendations. They are pretty thoughtful and detailed about the issues so it seems like a good vehicle for discussion on your blog and elsewhere.

They particularly note, “the clinical studies that we have performed with broccoli and broccoli sprouts have already strained the academic system to the breaking point. The food industry needs to step up.”  That idea pushes against a couple of the arguments I see you making…I just figure that access to better broccoli will mean that people eat more vegetables, and that is generally good for public health.

This was easy to respond to.  I wrote about Jed Fahey’s work on broccoli 22 years ago.

Nestle M.  Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: clinical, dietary, and policy implications [Commentary].  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1997;94:11149-11151.

I think my arguments hold up pretty well, even after all this time.  See if you agree.

At the time I wrote the article, Fahey was involved in a company promoting and selling broccoli sprouts and sulforaphane supplements.  According to a unit at Johns Hopkins, that is no longer the case.

As you may know, in the late 1990s Drs. Paul Talalay and Jed Fahey founded a company to promote broccoli sprouts and other chemoprotective foods.  This company, Brassica Protection Products, no longer is involved with broccoli sprouts in the USA, but they do sell broccoli seed extracts to the supplement industry.  Paul and Jed removed themselves from any and all management, advisory, or financial relationships with that company many years ago because it created a conflict of interest with their continuing work on broccoli sprouts.

Good for them.  Smart decision.

Oct 28 2019

Study of the week: Mushrooms, prostate cancer, Japan—Gastro-patriotism!

A reader, Jeff Nelson (whose interview with me is online here), sent me a link to this Japanese study that identified a link between eating mushrooms and prevention of prostate cancer.

The study:  Mushroom consumption and incident risk of prostate cancer in Japan: A pooled analysis of the Miyagi Cohort Study and the Ohsaki Cohort Study.  Shu Zhang, et al.  International Journal of Cancer. First published: 04 September 2019. 

Conclusion: “The present study showed an inverse relationship between mushroom consumption and incident prostate cancer among middle‐aged and elderly Japanese men, suggesting that habitual mushroom intake might help to prevent prostate cancer.”

Funding: “Our study was supported by the NARO Bio‐oriented Technology Research Advancement Institution.”

I looked up NARO:

The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization or NARO is the core institute in Japan for conducting research and development on agriculture and food. Our overall mission is to contribute to the development of society through innovations in agriculture and food, by promoting pioneering and fundamental R&D. We conduct technological development to make agriculture a competitive and attractive industry, and contribute to increasing the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate.

Jeff’s question: “Is this considered commercial research? Mushrooms’ magical impact of preventing cancer?”

My response: “Gastro-patriotism

I would classify this one as ideologically driven more than commercially driven.  Mushrooms are part of traditional Japanese diets and this institute promotes commercialization of Japanese agricultural products.

The result is far-fetched enough (mushrooms prevent prostate cancer, really?) to be suspicious, but this looks more like gastro-patriotism to me than the result of mushroom industry lobbying–if such exists, it was not disclosed.

Gastro-patriotism is a term I just this minute coined.*  It describes the promotion of nationalism and civic pride through a country’s cuisine.  Examples leap to mind with French cuisine leading the way and anything having to do with terroir.  The Greek government’s promotion of olive oil is another example.

* Addition October 29

A reader, Polly Adema, reminds me that the term is hardly original. There is, she says:

an established concept and practice of gastronationalism. It is a recognized variation of gastrodiplomacy, one getting increasing attention within various academic circles…Lots of articles will come up if you search gastronationalism in google scholar or your search engine of choice.  The term is from and grows out of Michaela DeSoucey’s 2016 book, Contested Tastes: Foie Gras and the Politics of Food.  Here is a link to an earlier DeSoucey piece: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0003122410372226#_i11

Oops.  Apologies to Michaela DeSoucey, for not citing her excellent book, which I had read, blurbed, and posted as weekend reading, but did not think of in this context.

 

Dec 24 2018

Ithaca’s farmers’ market: the annual rutabaga curl

I was lucky to be in Ithaca for the end of the farmers’ market season on Saturday and the not-to-be-missed Rutabaga Curl, now in its 21st year.

Contestants hurl rutabagas toward a traffic marker.  The one that gets closest wins.

Ithaca’s mayor, the charismatic Svante Myrick, does the opening curl.

The event begins with the kid curlers:

This is Ithaca, after all, so there are protesters.

I’m not much of a sports fan, so I come for the performance of the Rutabaga Chorus by Ithaca’s Vociferous Cruciferous Choir to the tune of Handel’s Messiah (its last-minute rehearsal).

I went once before in 2012 (unfortunately, the links seem to have disappeared).

But my favorite lines remain the same: “Rutabaga! Rutabaga!  Repeat refrain, forever and ever.  Rutabaga.”

Happiest of holiday seasons.

May 15 2018

Have some glyphosate with your food? Broccoli, at least, is glyphosate-free

Journalist/author Carey Gillam of US Right to Know has an article in The Guardian about glyphosate (Roundup) in food based on emails obtained in a lawsuit.

The emails concern FDA’s testing of food samples for residues of glyphosate, the herbicide widely used with genetically modified crops.  The agency has not yet released the test results.

But the emails contain some interesting information.  For example, FDA chemist Richard Thompson writes that he had to use broccoli to establish testing standards.

I used broccoli because it’s the only thing I have on hand that does not have glyphosate in it. I have brought wheat crackers, granola cereal, and corn meal from home and there’s a fair amount in all of them.

How much?  We won’t know until the FDA releases the data.

Glyphosate is widely used for growing GMO corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and other ingredients of highly processed foods.  It is not surprising that residues remain in products made from GMO ingredients.

Should we be concerned?

One agency, IARC, judges glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, but industry scientists strongly dispute this decision and are fighting it in court.

We need better data for sure, but in the meantime it is hard to believe that glyphsate residues are good for us.

These findings are another reason to avoid ultraprocessed foods and eat your veggies.

Apr 28 2017

Weekend cooking: Spiralize This!

Martha Rose Shulman.  Spiralize This!  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

I did a blurb for this book but only just got my copy.  I don’t usually blurb books about cooking, but Martha is a friend and spiralized vegetables are more fun than anything.  Here’s what I wrote, all true.

Who knew that preparing vegetables could be so much fun.  The fabulous Martha Rose Shulman gives you full permission to play with your food and use a spiralizer gadget to produce the most gorgeous meals ever eaten.  Vegetables have never been so easy, beautiful, delicious, and inspiring to eat.

Dec 22 2012

All you need is a rutabaga and a dream

I’m just back from attending the 15th annual International Rutabaga Curling Championship at the Farmers’ Market in  upstate Ithaca, New York.

This year’s championship event took place, as always, on the last day of the farmers’ market season.

Rutabagas, for the unitiated, are root vegetables of the Brassica family, most likely originating as a cross between a turnip and a cabbage.

Unlovely as they may be, rutabagas are just right for rolling down an icy lane (you can cook and eat them afterwards).

Before the festivities begin, the chorus does a quick rehearsal, this one filmed by a Japanese photographer for a reality show of unusual sporting events.  The program sent a crew to participate, making this a truly international event.

The event has its own original song, Joe Crookston’s The Rutabaga Curl.

But beyond the sport, the high point is always the sing-along rendition of the Rutabaga Chorus.   Its words are explained as the original lyrics for a tune later repurposed for Handel’s Messiah.

My favorite line: “Re-peat re-frain forever and eeeeever….”

Happy holidays!

Jun 15 2012

The food politics of…broccoli !

I have a soft spot in my nutritionist’s heart for broccoli. It’s a lovely vegetable when fresh and lightly cooked, and is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and all those other good things that nutritionists like me encourage everyone to eat and enjoy.

I expressed some of this fondness for broccoli in a 1997 Commentary in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with this prescient title: “Broccoli sprouts as inducers of carcinogen-detoxifying enzyme systems: Clinical, dietary, and policy implications.”

 

 

In it, I quoted President (#41) Bush’s now famous statement:

I do not like broccoli…And I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!’

Even in the 1990s, broccoli had policy implications.

And now the New York Times has come up with a lengthy front-page investigative report on how broccoli came to be used by conservatives as a metaphor for the role of government in health care reform.

The story begins with a question asked by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  If the government can require people to buy health insurance, maybe it could force people to buy broccoli: “Everybody has to buy food sooner or later,” he said. “Therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.”

It turns out that broccoli did not spring from the mind of Justice Scalia. The vegetable trail leads backward through conservative media and pundits. Before reaching the Supreme Court, vegetables were cited by a federal judge in Florida with a libertarian streak; in an Internet video financed by libertarian and ultraconservative backers; at a Congressional hearing by a Republican senator; and an op-ed column by David B. Rivkin Jr., a libertarian lawyer whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was 10.

The Times report is well worth reading, not least as a case study in how conservatives frame issues.  My favorite part is the sidebar on “the broccoli trail.”  Here’s the example from April 2012:

Rush Limbaugh, on his radio program:

“You’re telling me that you want the Supreme Court to decide that the government can tell you that you have to buy health insurance and broccoli?”

In late March, New York Times columnist (and Nobel-prize winning economist) Paul Krugman wrote of “Broccoli and Bad Faith.”

Let’s start with the already famous exchange in which Justice Antonin Scalia compared the purchase of health insurance to the purchase of broccoli, with the implication that if the government can compel you to do the former, it can also compel you to do the latter. That comparison horrified health care experts all across America because health insurance is nothing like broccoli.

Why? When people choose not to buy broccoli, they don’t make broccoli unavailable to those who want it. But when people don’t buy health insurance until they get sick — which is what happens in the absence of a mandate — the resulting worsening of the risk pool makes insurance more expensive, and often unaffordable, for those who remain. As a result, unregulated health insurance basically doesn’t work, and never has.

Maybe the best we can do with all this is to eat our broccoli and hope that it keeps us out of the health care system.