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Slytherin and coleslaw.

In the Harry Potter books, J. K. Rowling exhibits an amazing talent for onomatopoeia and metaphor when she makes up names. Think of Slytherin House, where all the students have a propensity for evil. Both the hissing sound of the name and the word slither conjure up the image of snakes. It's no wonder that we assume those students are the bad guys. We just do not like snakes. According to a recent study, the fear of snakes is actually hardwired into our genes.

In August 2013, Nicole Erlich and colleagues reported that babies recognize and respond to sounds that evolutionarily would have represented threats, in particular the sounds of snakes. Sixty-one 9-month-olds infants were exposed to an assortment of recorded sounds, including hissing snakes. Heart rate, startle reactions, and other responses showed that the infants responded to these sounds of ancient threats, while modern threat sounds (sirens, bells, alarms) did not elicit similar responses. It had been thought that children learned to fear these sounds from the adults around them. Ehrlich's data suggest that we are born programmed to fear specific sounds that in our distant evolutionary past represented dangers. Responses to modern sounds such as police sirens are learned behavior. Fear of hissing snakes is innate. (1)

This study raises the question, what other "apps" might be preinstalled before birth in our brains? Which brings me to coleslaw.

Consider the foods with which coleslaw is commonly served: barbecued meats of any sort, but particularly barbecued chicken and also fried chicken, especially fish and chips, and of course part of the recipe on Reuben sandwiches with pastrami.

These are classic combinations not just because they taste good together, but possibly because there is a health benefit to the combination. Do our brains recognize this instinctively?

These foods are all high in heterocyclic amines (HCAs). These highly carcinogenic chemicals are formed in animal products during cooking. See our review in the Natural Medicine Journal: That article focused on ways to reduce HCA formation during cooking. Simple meat marinades reduce HCA formation by as much as 70%. Adding cherries, lemons, onions, garlic, and other ingredients is also helpful in reducing HCA production.

Coleslaw is an example of another approach to dealing with the threat of HCAs, which is to reduce harm by inactivating and eliminating them after ingestion.

Cabbage, the main ingredient in coleslaw, is a cruciferous vegetable. Cruciferous vegetables contain chemical compounds that help the body detoxify and rid itself of HCAs. The best known of these chemicals is called sulforaphane. This chemical is particularly desirable for cancer patients, as it may help eliminate cancer by triggering a cellular process called apoptosis, a term that is often translated as cellular suicide. (2) The idea that cancer cells might be inspired to commit suicide by eating has a certain charm to it.

Sulforaphane is valued for more than its anticancer action; it is cardioprotective, lowers bad cholesterol, controls adult diabetes, has anti-inflammatory effects, protects the brain against degeneration and depression, eradicates H. pylori, and may prevent COPD. (3-10) The important point related to this discussion is that sulforaphane inactivates the cancer-causing effects of heterocyclic amines. (11)

What's not to like about this stuff?

Sulforaphane isn't actually present in cruciferous vegetables. Instead sulforaphane's precursor, glucoraphanin, is present along with an enzyme called myrosinase. These two chemicals are held in different cell compartments and are only released when the plant is crushed, chopped, juiced, or chewed. Think of how a clove of garlic is transformed when mashed, creating a much stronger, more pungent smell and taste. The same thing happens when cruciferous vegetables are chewed; they create sulforaphane.

A list of cruciferous vegetables includes white and red cabbage, broccoli, radishes, watercress, arugula, cauliflower, mustard greens, brussels sprouts, turnip greens, collard greens, and kohlrabi.

Cooking these vegetables destroys myrosinase and greatly reduces sulforaphane production and their anticancer value, and other health benefits. Cooking will also destroy any sulforaphane present in the vegetable. So we generally suggest eating these vegetables raw, and chopped. That's starting to sound like coleslaw, isn't it?

Actually it's not quite that simple. While bringing these vegetables to a boil destroys myrosinase and any sulforaphane present, heating them to a lower temperature, 140 [degrees]F to be exact (60 [degrees]C), actually increases sulforaphane levels. (12)

Thus to get the very most health benefit from cruciferous vegetables, you have several choices. First, you can cook them ever so slightly so that the internal temperature hovers around 140[degrees]. Second, you can juice the vegetables and then heat the juice to 140[degrees]. Or third, the lazy approach is to just eat them raw, but chopped finely and allowed to sit.

Thus consider coleslaw as an antidote to the dangers of eating foods high in HCAs. For years we thought that fried chicken had the highest HCA content of any food, even more than barbecued beef, and that smoked meats such as pastrami were a close second, and we weren't too worried about fish. We were wrong. In June 2013, Khan et al. reported that in fact fried fish had rather high HCAs. In fact, fried swordfish "is among the richest known sources of HCAs other cooked seafood items contained ... concentrations typically reported for meat." (13) enough active myrosinase to produce sulforaphane is unclear. People might get more benefit if they take these sprout supplements with meals containing coleslaw or other raw cruciferous vegetables that will supply myrosinase.

Thus you should understand how the hiss of Slytherin spurred my interest in coleslaw. And my pondering whether our appreciation for coleslaw is the result of some innate internal knowledge that appreciates the protection that it provides.

Before we consider coleslaw recipes, let us consider a list that compares sulforaphane yields from different vegetables.

Not all foods contain the same amount of glucoraphanin. Broccoli is usually considered the best source. An interesting comparison is found on the website for Beneforte, a trademarked brand of broccoli that apparently has nearly triple the sulforaphane yield of standard broccoli:

As you will notice in their graph, they claim that their broccoli yields 270% the amount of sulforaphane as regular broccoli. Green cabbage yields only a measly 24% of broccoli's. Kale, for all its hype, yields only 10% of the sulforaphane of regular broccoli.

Thus while coleslaw is good for you, a slaw made from broccoli may be considerably better. To maximize the sulforaphane content, gently heating the broccoli in a pot of hot water might be even better. Trying this with cabbage may merely yield cooked cabbage. So for now we'll stick with raw cabbage in our coleslaws.

As mentioned elsewhere, sprouted broccoli seeds are actually the richest source of sulforaphane. By weight they may have 20 to 50 times the sulforaphane yield of broccoli. While the juiced and powdered broccoli sprouts may yield high glucoraphanin levels, whether they still contain

RELATED ARTICLE: Broccoli Cabbage Slaw

Shred 12 cups of cruciferous vegetables (consider equal parts of broccoli, red cabbage, and white cabbage), with perhaps some carrots.

Mix in:

1 cup slivered almonds, or chopped nuts or roasted seeds (sunflower or pumpkin)

1 cup raisins

Add some dressing; use one of these two options:

Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

1/4 cup lemon juice
2 TB honey
1 TB Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
1 scallion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients together and refrigerate

Classic Mayo Dressing
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 TB sour cream
2 TB grated onion
2 TB honey
2 TB vinegar
1 tsp dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery seed salt and pepper to taste


(1.) Erlich N et al. Of hissing snakes and angry voices: human infants are differentially responsive to evolutionary fear-relevant sounds. Dev Sci. Aug. 27, 2013. doi:10.1111/ desc.12091. Abstract available at

(2.) Tomczyk j. Olejnik A. Sulforaphane-a possible agent In prevention and therapy of cancer. [Article in Polish]. Postepy Hig Med Dosw. 2010 Nov 29;64:590-603. Review.

(3.) Evans PC. The influence of sulforaphane on vascular health and its relevance to nutritional approaches to prevent cardiovascular disease. EPMA 1. 2011 Mar;2(1):9-14.

(4.) Rodriguez-Cantu LN, Gutierrez-Uribe JA, Arriola-Vucovich J, Dtaz-De La Garza RI, Fahey JW, Serna-Salcilvar SO. Broccoli ( Brassica oleracea var. italical sprouts and extracts rich in glucosinolates and isothiocyanates affect cholesterol metabolism and genes involved in lipid homeostasis in hamsters. I Agric Food Chem. 2011 Feb 23;59(4):1095-1103.

(5.) Bahadoran Z, Mirmiran P, Azizi F. Potential efficacy of broccoli sprouts as a unique supplement for management of type 2 diabetes and its complications. / Med Food. 2013 May;16(5):375-382.

(6.) Zhou J, Joplin DG, Cross IV, Templeton DJ. Sulforaphane inhibits prostaglandin E2 synthesis by suppressing microsomal prostaglandin E synthase 1. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49744.

(7.) Tarozzi A, Angeloni C, Malaguti M, Morroni F, Hrelia S, Hrelia P. Sulforaphane as a potential protective phytochemical against neurodegenerative diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2013;2013;415078.

(8.) Martin-de-Saavedra MD, Budni J, Cunha MP, et al. Nr12 participates in depressive disorders through an anti-inflammatory mechanism. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013 Ocb38(10):2010-2022.

(9.) Fahey JW, Stephenson KK, Wade KL, Talalay P. Urease from Helicobacter pylori is inactivated by sulforaphane and other isothiocyanates. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2013 May 24;435(1):1-7.

(10.) Harvey CJ, Thimmulappa RK, Sethi S, et al. Targeting Nrf2 signaling improves bacterial clearance by alveolar macrophages in patients with COPD and in a mouse model. Sci Transl Med. 2011 Apr 13;3(78):78ra32.

(11.) Shishu, Kaur IP. Inhibition of mutagenicity of food-derived heterocyclic amines by sulforaphane-a constituent of broccoli. Indian! Exp Biol. 2003 Mar;41(3):216-219.

(12.) Matusheski NV, Juvik JA, Jeffery EH. Heating decreases epithiospecifier protein activity and increases sulforaphane formation in broccoli. Phytochernistry. 2004 May;65(9):1273-1281.

(13.) Khan MR, Busquets R, Saurina I, Hernandez S. Puignou L. Identification of seafood as an important dietary source of heterocyclic amines by chemometry and chromatography-mass spectrometry. Chem Res Toxicol. 2013 Jun 17;26(6):1014-1022.

by Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

Jacob Schor, ND, graduated from National College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1991. He is currently president of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is a member of the AANP's board of directors. He is a regular contributor to the Townsend Letter and an associate editor of the Natural Medicine Journal. He was the first recipient of the AANP's Vis Award in 2009.
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Author:Schor, Jacob
Publication:Townsend Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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