Whew! The news on garlic, sprouts is hard to swallow

November 09, 2005|By ROB KASPER

Ugh! That was my first reaction to the news coming out of a meeting of cancer scientists in Baltimore that eating garlic, broccoli sprouts and fermented cabbage could be good for you.

Several lifestyle questions about this diet also quickly came to mind.

One was how could anybody get within 5 feet of you if you regularly ate that stuff? It would take at least a week's worth of mints to knock out the lingering sauerkraut breath.

And what about garlic's way of, how shall we say this, "revisiting" you later in the evening? That aromatic presence can clear a room.

A deeper question for me was could I really be happy if I had to eat sprouts for lunch? Admittedly, these are shallow concerns about a big issue.

I admit that if scientists could say with certainty that eating a fermented-cabbage-and-garlic sandwich is a surefire way to good health, I'd say, "Make mine a double."

But the scientists are not there yet. Judging by the news story I read, the scientists meeting in Baltimore last week for the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research convention were offering more measured, qualified statements on diet and cancer.

They did not say eating garlic, broccoli sprouts and cabbage was just what we need for quick, fast, speedy relief. Instead, they said there appears to be a correlation between diets rich in garlic, broccoli sprouts and cabbage and lower risks of getting some types of cancer. They suggested that more studies are needed.

These findings might have been a cause of joy among the big brains of science, but down at my level, as an everyday eater, they left a bad taste in my mouth.

The pronouncements reminded me of the old castor-oil approach to health. Namely, if something tastes terrible, it must be good for you.

If only the scientists had said that eating soft-crabs meuniere or steamed lobsters in drawn butter or chocolate mousse were areas that needed more study.

Then not only would I have applauded them, I also would have volunteered to help them with further research. As it is, I will have to let them labor in the fields, especially the cabbage fields, by themselves.

While I count myself as a friend of garlic, I know that it can be, like a boisterous guy at a party, hard to take in large doses.

Anyone who has unwittingly speared a clove of garlic with his fork knows that it says "Hello!" to your palate like the guy who greets you by slapping you on your back.

As someone who has led a mostly sprouts-free life, I was heartened to read that scientists meeting in Baltimore did confirm one of my lifelong prejudices. Namely, that there is no good reason to eat alfalfa sprouts.

While all sprouts taste pretty much the same to me - like silage - research indicates that they are not equal as disease fighters.

Broccoli sprouts have it all over alfalfa sprouts when it comes to battling bacteria linked to stomach cancer, peptic ulcers and gastritis, the scientists reported.

In one study, people who ate a handful of broccoli sprouts every day for 20 days had much lower readings of the bad bacteria in their digestive systems than the people who ate alfalfa. (Talk about a bummer: You choke down alfalfa sprouts for 20 days and you still end up feeling inferior to the broccoli crowd.)

As for fermented cabbage, I could see myself eating a little ceremonial sauerkraut on special occasions, such as Thanksgiving in Baltimore. But I couldn't pack it away three times a week as the Polish women did who were mentioned in one of the cancer-research studies.

These women, crack kraut eaters, reportedly had a lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate less than one serving of cabbage a week.

I figured it wouldn't be hard to eat cabbage three times a week if it were served as coleslaw, and if it appeared with some pulled barbecued pork. That, in my view, would not only be healthful eating, it would be close to heaven.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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