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Sauerkraut and the tomato mystery

Q: Why is sauerkraut better nutritionally than cabbage?

A: That's a good question, since sauerkraut is just fermented cabbage. This mystery is similar to the tomato mystery. What's the tomato mystery? It seems that cooked tomatoes are better at fighting cancer (especially prostate cancer) than raw tomatoes. The cooking releases or alters some of the plant chemicals. This increases a powerful antioxidant called lypocene. It is speculated that perhaps the cooking breaks down cell walls and helps release the antioxidant. However it happens, cooked tomato products contain more lypocene than raw. And raw tomatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch themselves.

So back to sauerkraut. Finnish researchers have found that fermenting cabbage produces or releases a number of beneficial compounds including isothiocyanates. Like lypocene, isothiocyanates are speculated to reduce cancer risk (cancers of the breast, colon, lung and liver). Studies have found that isothiocyanates stimulate apoptosis in the digestive system. Apoptosis is the breakdown or self-destruction of precancerous cells. That said, sauerkraut is very high sodium, so those on a low sodium diet may not be able to partake.

Finally, just because of this new information, I wouldn't say that cooked tomatoes and fermented cabbage are the only way to eat these two vegetables. Raw cabbage and raw tomatoes are still very nutritious, so don't think about forgetting them. I would almost bet that as time goes on we will find more and more healing components in many foods, and that processing (cooking, canning, freezing) will destroy some and create others.

Questions for Nutrition Briefs should be sent to the Food section, Post-Bulletin, 18 First Ave. S.E., Rochester, MN 55904. Questions can be left on the Nutrition Hotline on City Line, 252-1111, category 5100, and questions will be forwarded to columnists. You also may e-mail questions to lifestyle@postbulletin.com.

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