cultured foods bad or good for you?
slate recently ran an article titled "The WHO Says Cellphones—and Pickles—May Cause Cancer
Should I stop eating kosher dills?"
if you read the article it states that pickles are basically rotting foods and there's no benefit eating them. however, in the article it doesn't manage to distinguish between regular pickles with a vinegar base versus the cultured raw pickles that are popular with the Whole Foods/ farmer's market/raw foods crowd.
The what about yogurt? all along i kept thinking yogurt was good for you. after further internet searches i'm finding studies stating sour milk or yogurt isn't that great for you. really?
i'm so confused. all along i thought cultured foods were good for you. can anyone with more knowledge on this shed some light on this matter? thanks!
I make my own fermented dill pickles and sauerkraut (and yogurt), and happen to be an epidemiologist, so I read the Slate article with great interest. I haven't read the entire article they cite (just the abstract), but plan to. Meantime, here are some thoughts.
The Slate article does not say there is no benefit to eating pickles.
The article that Slate cites does not say there is no benefit to eating pickles. It says eating lots of pickled vegetables *may* (their word) increase the risk of gastrointestinal cancer, and eating lots of fresh vegetables may reduce it. Slate gets this just right in noting that it may be eating too many pickled and not enough fresh veggies that may be the problem. If so, as long as you eat enough fresh veggies you can eat all the pickles you want without increasing your cancer risk.
The association between Asian diets and cancers of the digestive system has been known for decades. Most early studies were what's called ecologic (comparing populations rather than individuals). It seems each of the studies in the article Slate cites are limited to one population (Japanese, Korean, etc). Both of these facts make it hard to extend their findings to other populations, .
As for yogurt, there's not much dairy in most Asian diets, so I don't think this article sheds any light on that subject.
I finally got around to reading the original article. This was not an original study but what's known a meta-analysis, where the results of previous studies were combined and analyzed using some complicated statistical methods that are beyond me. But the one thing that stands out is the fact that they deliberately excluded studies from central and eastern Europe (where pickled vegetables means sauerkraut and kosher style pickles) and only included studies from specific parts of Asia, including Korea where kimchee is something of a national dish. There was no explanation for this. Maybe the European studies did not support their thesis, or perhaps they know there is some important difference between European and Asian style pickles, in which case they were right to exclude the European studies.
In any event, that paper sheds no light at all on the risk associated with eating western style pickles, so Slate's theory that vinegar pickles might be less risky than fermented is not supported by the study they cite. You'd think they could afford a science editor by now.
The most interesting part to me is the suggestion that commercial (vinegar) pickles might actually be better for you than naturally fermented products. Not that I plan on changing my eating habits either way.
It's also interesting that apparently researchers have known about this possibility for some time, apparently at the same time that the natural food types were getting all excited about the benefits of natural pickling. What are those benefits supposed to be again?
Salt is needed by the body. Since it's the primary (+) charge outside of cells, without it, cells can't function properly and we'd die. At the same time, too much of that (+) charge on the outside is really bad, especially if your body can't properly get rid of the excess.
That's one example that applies to just about everything. Most foods are good for us and sometimes even mandatory for basic functions. But, all of them are bad if taken in excess and balance is disturbed.
In other words, literally everything can be a negative factor for your health and in upping your odds of cancer, if your balance is out of whack. It's going back to the whole moderation thing (One of the few absolutes in food and health).
Interesting. But I won't be giving up kimchee or half-sour pickles anytime soon. :-)
Funny thing is, it just all depends (as usual) on which 'experts' you believe. There are those who say that fermented foods are healthy and beneficial (apparently especially where soy is concerned...there are writings that indicate that fermented soy products are the ONLY healthy soy products and unfermented soy should be avoided at all costs. Go figure).
There's lots of scaremongering out there...I think that the old "all things in moderation" approach is the only sane one.
re: The Professor
And there is nothing to stop a food from having bad *and* good effects - or any other factor for that matter.
For example, skin cancer is associated with sun exposure and UV radiation. But high sun climates are associated with lower rates of some other types of cancer - so you win on one, and lose on the other. And lack of sunlight produce vitamin D deficiencies and rickets.
I don't know anything about pickles but yoghurt is EXTREMELY good for you because the culture that sets it up is very similar to our own intestinal flora - it's chock full of good bacteria that will improve your digestion and save you from the wrath of a gut full of antibiotics.