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The Warsaw Voice » Other » August 13, 2008
Technology
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Cabbage Frankfurters a Cure for Cancer?
August 13, 2008   
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Can eating frankfurters help prevent cancer and high blood pressure? A group of scientists from the Gdańsk University of Technology in northern Poland seem to think so.

The team, led by Agnieszka Bartoszek, Ph.D., has developed original recipes for meats that combine traditional flavors with healthy extracts from cabbage. The range is called Brassica and consists of four products: frankfurters, small sausages, and the regional Polish krakowska and ¶l±ska sausages. These sausages have been on sale in selected stores in the coastal city of Gdańsk since January.

Research being carried out at the Gdańsk University of Technology on the utilization of crops beneficial to human health reflects an immensely popular worldwide trend to find so-called bio-inspired foods, or foods that can help prevent diseases.

Bartoszek, who works in the food biotechnology section of the university's Chemistry Department, says that bio-inspired foods are particularly important today because bad diets and the consumption of high-energy foods have contributed to an increased incidence of cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes in the developed world.


Why cabbage?
The Gdańsk scientists have set their sights on cabbage, a perennial staple of traditional Polish cuisine. Based on previous research and their own findings, the researchers have come to the conclusion that cabbage has chemical properties that in various ways protect the human body from the effects of pollution and have health benefits.

"This vegetable contains several types of what are called phytocompounds," says Bartoszek. "The most beneficial to human health are flavonoids, which are strong antioxidants, and extremely rare organic glucosinolates, which protect against harmful substances originating in the environment as well as from within the body as a result of illness." Furthermore, glucosinolates have yet another important property and that is the ability to inhibit cancer development since they are the forerunners of two anti-cancer substances: isothiocyanates and indoles.

Bartoszek's team decided to isolate the valuable compounds in cabbage and inject them into meats. In this way they wanted to create products not only with a higher nutritional value but also able to help protect people from cancer.

Cabbage is the most commonly eaten vegetable in Poland and other Central European countries, Bartoszek says. "Cabbage is popular in these countries because it is easily available and cheap," she says. "What's more, it seems that there are many scientific reasons for eating this vegetable."

The scientists decided to inject the valuable compounds found in cabbage into meats, particularly sausages. The reason for the choice of this group of products, says Bartoszek, is because meat foods are the main dietary factor contributing to the development of popular cancers such as those of the breast, prostate and intestine. "Decreasing the risk of cancer is of huge social significance and it has already been proven that cabbage lessens the risk of the disease," says Bartoszek. "The basis of this phenomenon is the ability of meat protein to reversibly link up with isothiocyanates, which are then slowly released into the alimentary canal and which may protect people against dangerous diseases." Bartoszek adds that meats were chosen because in Polish cuisine cabbage and pork are often served together. The antimutagenic action of cabbage neutralizes the cancer-forming compounds created during the grilling of sausages.


Healthy meats
The scientists undertook to develop technology that would fully utilize the nutritious value of meat and the health properties of cabbage phytocompounds. The project took seven years to complete. Zakłady Mięsne Nowak, a meat producer from Jankowo near Gdańsk, took an interest in the project and made available its laboratories for testing and developing the recipes, which took two years to finalize. The production technology for health meats is patented and therefore secret. "I can only say that it is based not so much on isolating valuable cabbage compounds but on the optimal processing of the vegetable's phytocompounds from substances that have a documented biological effect through to natural fiber that is good for health in a somewhat different way," Bartoszek said.

The meats developed at the Gdańsk University of Technology not only help prevent cancer forming but have other health benefits too. The unique recipe includes less salt and fat and a higher protein content than other meats available on the market. Thus they aid regulation of cholesterol in the body and help prevent high blood pressure. The Brassica meat range has a lot of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants that neutralize free radicals and work better at higher temperatures, which also means during cooking.

The unusual sausages are good for everyone, says Bartoszek. People suffering from liver problems or high blood pressure or who have lactose or glucose intolerances can eat them. At the same time, the flavor of the sausages is not impaired in any way. In fact, it is the cabbage that makes the sausages more succulent and improves their flavor, according to Bartoszek.

The researchers need a few more years to know if Brassica products indeed help prevent cancer and other diseases. At the moment, they are relying on the assumption that their sausages are beneficial to health because of the injected compounds that have been proved to have a beneficial effect on living organisms, including human. The sausages also have low salt levels, which is significant for people with high blood pressure.

Bartoszek says the team plans to carry out tests on volunteers who will eat a given product and then undergo tests for cholesterol levels and other indicators. However, there is no other way of gathering data on the anti-cancer activity of consumed meats in the human body than by observing a large group of consumers, some several thousand people, eating a given product for many years.

This unique project is still far from completion, Bartoszek says, and the researchers are constantly discovering new possibilities. The team plans to continue its research into cabbage phytocompounds. "For example, we will try to get funds to research the possible use of this plant to rejuvenate land that has a high concentration of heavy metals," she said.


Superfruit
Another area that the Gdańsk scientists are interested in is edible plants with specific health benefits, so-called superfruit, that could be used in the production of special foods for cancer patients, for example. Research has concentrated on plants that originate from all over the world but can also be grown successfully in Poland.

One of the most interesting plants of this type is the aronia/chokeberry fruit, which is a particularly valuable source of flavonoids that help treat heart disease, according to Polish biochemist Marek Naruszewicz, a professor at the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin.

"We are just beginning research in this area, but we have already identified several promising plants with regard to both the ease of cultivation and biological properties," Bartoszek says.

Julia Pawłowska
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