Bladder Friendly Disease Fighter – Fresh Tastes by Bev

By Bev Laumann, Author of A Taste of The Good Life: A Cookbook for IC & OAB

booktoglOne of the most healthful foods we can eat, whether or not we have a chronic illness, appears to be the lowly broccoli. Far from a favorite at American tables, this member of the cabbage family has nonetheless become more popular as recent scientific studies have confirmed one after another of broccoli’s health benefits. Best of all for those with IC is the fact that this nutritional goldmine is low in acid, bladder-friendly, and low in oxalates. There is just one teensy-weensy problem…

The Vitamin C food

All of the cruciferous vegetables (so named for their flower petals which resemble a cross) are low in fat, low in calories, and high in fiber. But did you know they’re also a non-acidic, bladder friendly source of vitamin C? Depending on how it’s cooked, broccoli can have more vitamin C than an glass of orange juice. According to the USDA’s Nutrient Database, a small five-inch stalk of frozen broccoli, cooked by boiling, has 104 mg. of vitamin C whereas one cup of orange juice has only about 82 mg. of vitamin C.

[1]. The USDA’s recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin C for adults is 60 mg., an amount you can easily get from a little more than half of that cooked broccoli stalk[2]. Cooking of course tends to destroy vitamin C, and the longer you cook a vegetable the more is lost. So if you want to get the most vitamin C possible, eat your broccoli raw with a dip, in a salad, or sprinkle finely chopped broccoli tops on bagels with cream cheese. The big advantage of getting your immune-boosting, cancer-fighting vitamin C via vegetables is that you don’t have to remember to take a pill or worry about an IC flare up from the acidity and inert ingredients in the pill.

Steaming or microwaving is a great way to preserve broccoli’s vitamins. But the broccoli tops do tend to become overcooked while the stalks are still undercooked. To help even out the cooking time needed, slit the stalk of the broccoli with a knife about halfway to the top before cooking.

Milder broccoli

Not everyone likes the strong taste of broccoli, especially kids. To make the flavor milder, boil broccoli stalks rather than steam or microwave them. The water will dissipate some of the substances that give it the strong flavor. (By the way, beware of cooking broccoli in aluminum pots– they may make the cooking odors from cruciferous vegetables even stronger. My cookbook, Taste of the Good Life, lists some ideas from professional chefs to combat cooking odors from cruciferous vegetables). And speaking of boiling, in terms of vitamins it’s one situation where size matters. If you chop a medium-sized stalk of broccoli into pieces and boil it, you’ll only get 58 mg. of vitamin C– about half the vitamin C of a smaller stalk, cooked whole. Why? The chopped pieces have more surface area exposed to the leaching effects of the water. Be sure to steam or microwave chopped broccoli.

Another trick to making broccoli at least seem milder is to disguise it with other ingredients that have a definite flavor, such as a sauce. Like cheese sauce on your broccoli? Aged cheddar is the cheese typically used for sauce but it tends to cause bladder symptom flare-ups. Some IC patients can substitute American cheese (which contains some cheddar). Or try the tasty recipe below that features mild unaged and bladder-friendly farmer cheese.
Which brings me to yet another way to get the great vitamin benefits of broccoli without the strong taste– baby broccoli or broccolini. Broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale, and tastes milder than regular broccoli.

Get your calcium here

Aged cheeses, sour cream, and yogurt are frequently off limits for diet sensitive IC bladders. Given that most people diagnosed with IC are women, and many of those are post-menopausal, you can easily see why a lot of IC patients are concerned about osteoporosis and getting enough calcium. Of course we can always take Tums or Prelief, and if we aren’t allergic to milk or have a lactose intolerance we can always drink milk. But why not include some other high calcium foods in your diet for insurance? Once again, broccoli is a star. Half a cup of chopped cooked broccoli has more calcium than a whole cup of milk [1]. But here’s the good part: Broccoli has lots of fiber, even more than a slice of typical whole wheat bread, whereas calcium carbonate (the active ingredient of Tums) tends to be constipating. (Constipation is a troubling side effect of some IC medications).

Veggie hero fights off deadly disease

One of the worries many of us have is that someday we’ll contract a disease that is deadly, not merely challenging to live with. Although there is absolutely no connection between IC and cancer or any other life threatening disease, like most people, we watch the tv news. And we worry about all the drugs we take.

One of the best things we can do to combat the effects of stress and chronic illness and to protect our health in general, is to eat a diet rich in antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, and lutein. (Lutein is a carotenoid found in plants. Plant carotenoids supply the body with vitamin A). In a study of thousands of Americans, recently published by University of Utah scientists in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, lutein intake from vegetables like broccoli and spinach significantly lowered the risk of colon cancer[3]. And another article in the March 2000 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology suggested that broccoli in the diet of older women was strongly associated with reduced risk of death from heart disease. The study monitored the diet and health status of more than 34,000 postmenopausal women in Iowa over a period of more than ten years[4].

Broccoli is a rich source of all of these nutrients but its disease fighting power goes way beyond mere antioxidants. Chemists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered that broccoli supplies large quantities of isothiocyantes, substances which stimulate the body to produce its own cancer fighting enzymes. And in 1999 Japanese scientists showed that isothiocyanate can block the growth and spread of melanoma skin cancer cells[5].

Broccoli is a rich source of isothiocyanate. Broccoli sprouts however, have many times more of this anti-cancer substance than the mature stalks do. Broccoli sprouts are the week-old seedlings of broccoli and have appeared on restaurant menus and at markets recently. They’re often used in salads, on sandwiches, and in stir-fry dishes. At the moment they’re found mostly at trendy restaurants and high-end gourmet markets but that may change. They are beginning to be sold nationwide in regular grocery stores, though the price is a bit steep. As the market expands, more sources are expected to be available and the price may come down as a result of some pending litigation.

Despite recent concerns of the Centers for Disease Control about the safety of commercially grown alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts appear so far to have eluded the problem of bacterial contamination. One company, Brassica Protection Products, has patented a safe growing process for broccoli sprouts which complies with FDA guidelines for sprout growing. Brassica currently is the largest concern marketing broccoli sprouts and sells them under the label BroccoSprouts(tm). “To our knowledge there has never been contamination of any sprouts when the FDA procedures are properly followed. In addition, there has never been any reported case of food borne illness associated with broccoli sprouts,” said Tony Talalay, president of Brassica, in a press release earlier this year.

As of this writing, BroccoSprouts are available through Acme stores (Pennsylvania), Albertsons (Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma), Whole Foods Markets (Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida), Fresh Fields (Baltimore, Maryland), Whaley’s Market (Tampa, Florida), and Linden Hills Co-op (Minneapolis, Minnesota). If they aren’t in the produce aisle of your local store they are probably in these companies’ warehouses, so the store’s manager can order you some.

Reducing & Controlling Gas

That teensy-weensy problem, intestinal gas Ah yes… that socially embarrassing problem associated with fiber-rich cruciferous vegetables, especially when eaten raw. (It’s darned painful too if you have irritable bowel syndrome!) Drug stores and supermarkets carry an enzyme product called Beano (made by our friends AkPharma of Prelief fame) , which effectively curtails production of the gas these foods cause. It’s best taken with the first bite of food. Beano can, however, knock out the good effect of your E