The Dish on Corned Beef and Cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage is traditionally served across America on St.
Patrick's Day. Recent beef recalls aside, in moderation meat may actually have
some health benefits, although a significant amount of evidence seems to support
a vegetarian diet.
The protein portion of this Irish feast is prepared from beef cured or pickled
in seasoned brine. The corn in corned beef refers to the grains of coarse salts
used to cure it. According to The History Channel, while cabbage has become a
traditional food item for Irish-Americans, corned beef was originally a
substitute for Irish bacon in the late 1800s. Irish immigrants living in New
York City's Lower East Side sought an equivalent in taste and texture to their
traditional Irish bacon and learned about this cheaper alternative from their
A study by the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, the National
Academies, Washington, D.C., reviewed the current dilemma consumers face when
trying to reconcile differences between potential health benefits and exposure
to potential toxins in meat.
Analysis estimating likely intake and exposure outcomes for young children and
women of child-bearing age revealed that seafood, chicken and beef, while
approximately equivalent in protein, vary in key nutrients of importance as well
as in levels of certain contaminants.
The researchers concluded that increasing the variety of choices among meats,
poultry and seafood and consuming them in amounts consistent with current
dietary guidelines and advisories will help meet nutritional needs while
reducing exposure to any single type of contaminant.
Bone fracture rates were compared at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK, in
four diet groups: meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
The study found that those who consumed meat had a slightly lower risk of bone
fractures; however, the study authors noted that fracture risk was similar for
meat eaters, fish eaters and vegetarians. They attributed the higher fracture
risk in the vegans to their considerably lower mean calcium intake.
Another study ascertained that consumption of cured meats, such as corned beef,
does not increase the risk of adult-onset asthma. However, study data did
suggest a possible correlation between cured meat and an increase in the adverse
effects of smoking, including an increased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary
More evidence seems to support cabbage as a healthy dietary choice. Extracts of
the vegetable have been studied for their anticancer, antifungal,
anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering activities.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) is a plant of the family Brassicaceae (or Cruciferae).
It was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for its medicinal properties.
In European folk medicine, cabbage leaves are used to treat acute inflammation.
A paste of raw cabbage may be placed in a cabbage leaf and wrapped around the
affected area to reduce discomfort. Cabbage contains significant amounts
glutamine, an amino acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
It is also a source of indol-3-carbinol, or I3C, an adjunct compound for
recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, a disease of the head and neck caused by
the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes growths in the airway that can lead
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Norway, explained
that Brassica vegetables are the predominant dietary source of glucosinolates
(natural compounds believe to be powerful antioxidants) and have been shown to
possess anticancer properties.
An Italian study found that juice made from extracts of cabbage had antifungal
effects and may therefore be useful in the prevention of certain diseases.
And finally, a Japanese study found that a beverage containing cabbage and
broccoli had cholesterol-lowering effects.
Overindulgence in green beer is not recommended.
1) Appleby P, Roddam A, Allen N, et al. Comparative fracture risk in
vegetarians and nonvegetarians in EPIC-Oxford. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2007
Dec;61(12):1400-6. Epub 2007 Feb 7.
2) Sisti M, Amagliani G, Brandi G. Antifungal activity of Brassica oleracea var.
botrytis fresh aqueous juice. Fitoterapia. 2003 Jul;74(5):453-8.
3) Takai M, Suido H, Tanaka T, et al. [LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of a
mixed green vegetable and fruit beverage containing broccoli and cabbage in
hypercholesterolemic subjects]. Rinsho Byori. 2003 Nov;51(11):1073-83.
4) The History Channel. St. Patrick's Day. www.history.com. Accessed February
5) Varraso R, Jiang R, Barr RG, et al. Prospective study of cured meats
consumption and risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in men. Am J
Epidemiol. 2007 Dec 15;166(12):1438-45. Epub 2007 Sep 4.
6) Volden J, Wicklund T, Verkerk R, et al. Kinetics of Changes in Glucosinolate
Concentrations during Long-Term Cooking of White Cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.
ssp. capitata f. alba). J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 28.
7) Yaktine AL, Nesheim MC, James CA. Nutrient and contaminant tradeoffs:
exchanging meat, poultry, or seafood for dietary protein. Nutr Rev. 2008
Source: Natural Standard, Integrative Medicine Newsletter
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