History is marked by environmental disasters that have resulted in people being exposed to radiation. While the devastating disaster of Japan is still unfolding, and the full extent of the damage is unlikely to be known for some time, there have been other events that come to mind. Russia’s Chernobyl and the U.S.’s Three Mile Island are but two that often spring to mind, but the largest and most devastating in terms of loss of life is the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.
Between 150,000 and 246,000 people are believed to have lost their lives within the first two to four months of the bombings in Japan. Of that, it is estimated that roughly 15 to 20 percent died from radiation sickness, 20 to 30 percent from flash burns, and 50 to 60 percent from other injuries compounded by illness. While both horrific and devastating, the events in Japan provided scientists with valuable insights into radiation disease.
Since the late 1940s, leading nutritional scientists, public health educators, and environmental organizations have often met to discuss what to do in the event of a similar situation, where a population experiences a nuclear attack or accident. Once it was realized that people could actually survive a nuclear explosion, questions as to how to improve the odds of survival became an obsession for many.
Studies were conducted and plans developed based on findings from Japan and other events, and one of the most interesting aspects that emerged was the idea that certain foods and dietary approaches may actually aid in providing protection from radioactive pollutants. Amazingly, there were foods you could consume on a regular basis that could prevent radioactive pollutants and related contaminants from entering your body.
The effect radiation has on the body is best illustrated by accounts given of the devastating after-effects of the 1945 Japan atomic bombings. Millions of people who survived the initial blast had to contend with the effects of the radiation. Those living in close proximity to the blast sites developed symptoms of radiation sickness within a matter of days. In Nagasaki, Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki at the St. Francis Hospital soon recognized the effects the fallout from the bomb was having on his staff.
He devised a program to combat the symptoms of radiation disease, which involved placing his staff and patients on a strict traditional Japanese diet of brown rice, miso, tamari soy soup, wakame, kombu and other sea weed, Hokkaido pumpkin and sea salt. Banished was the consumption of sugar and sweets. The results were astounding. According to one of his books, recounting the events, Akizuki claimed that his patients and staff survived and recovered from the radiation sickness, while other survivors perished.
Canadian researchers at McGill University of Montreal in 1968 offered even more evidence of radioactive-fighting foods. Through a series of laboratory experiments, they discovered that sea vegetables such as kelp, kombu, and other brown seaweeds contained a polysaccharide substance called sodium alginate that could selectively find radioactive strontium particles in the body and help to eliminate them. Moreover, it was able to remove the radiation from bones without interfering with the absorption of calcium.
In 1974, Japanese scientists published a similar study in the Japanese Journal of Experimental Medicine (44: pgs. 543 – 46), which found that several varieties of Kombu Mojaban (a form of sea vegetable common in Asia) had proved effective at treating tumors in mice. The sea vegetable was found to inhibit the implantation of sarcomas in roughly 89 to 95 percent of samples tested. In fact, the scientists actually noted that tumors completely regressed in half of the mice tested.
What to Eat
Whether you are worried about radiation from health and dental procedures such as x-rays or mammograms or from fallout, several foods incorporated into your diet will naturally help to combat the effects of radiation.
A variety of marine algae can offer significant protection against the absorption of radioactive particles that may be released. Kombu (common kelp), or seaweed like nori that is used in making sushi rolls are usually easy to find, but they are not your only options. Just a few tablespoons daily of these sea vegetables, or others like hiziki, wakame, arame or mekabu, will provide sufficient protection. Note, I said just a few tablespoons. As these foods are concentrated minerals, eating more will not provide any additional benefits.
Sea vegetables should be an important part of any diet, regardless if you are concerned about radioactive particles or not. These vegetables have antioxidant benefits, and are an excellent source of iodine, iron and vitamin K. They are also a good source of the B-vitamin foliate and riboflavin, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Sea vegetables come in a wide variety of colors, each having their own distinct shape, taste and texture. Descriptions of the more common varieties are provided here:
- Nori: dark purple-black color that turns phosphorescent green when toasted, used in sushi rolls
- Kelp: light brown to dark green in color
- Hijiki: a strong flavored vegetable that looks like small strands of black wiry pasta
- Kombu: used in soups, this vegetable is very dark in color and generally sold in strips or sheets
- Wakame: used a lot to make Japanese misou soup; it is similar to kombu
- Arame: this sea vegetable has a milder, almost sweeter taste in comparison to its cousins
- Dulse: a reddish-brown colored sea vegetable that is soft and chewy in texture
What to Buy
When shopping for sea vegetables, look for those that are sold in tightly sealed packages. Sea vegetables kept in sealed containers at room temperature can actually stay fresh for several months. If you see evidence of moisture, do not buy. Sea vegetables are packaged differently and come in sheets, flakes, or even powder form. What you’ll buy will depend on what you want to use it for in cooking.
How to Prepare
Sea vegetables generally do not require any cooking. Many can be added to a dish after a good 5 to 10-minute soak. However, it’s always best to follow the directions on the package for the best results.
You can use sea vegetables in sushi rolls, on top of salads, in a bowl of miso soup, or even when cooking beans. Here are a couple of recipes using sea vegetables that you might want to try:
5-Minute Miso Soup with Dulse
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tbs. miso
- ¼ cup sliced dulse seaweed
- 2 tbs. minced scallion
- 1 tbs. grated ginger
- 2 tbs. diced tofu (optional)
Directions: Add miso, ginger, and dulse to one cup of boiling water. The soup is ready in 5 minutes. Serving size: 1
- 2 medium pieces wakame, (2 tbs. soaked and chopped)
- 2 tbs. chopped dulse seaweed
- 2¼ cups warm water
- ½ medium onion, minced
- 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup long-grain brown rice
- salt and white pepper to taste
Directions: Chop garlic and mince onion, then let them sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse wakame, and soak in warm water. After 5 minutes, squeeze out the water from the wakame and chop it. Save the water. While wakame is soaking, chop the dulse. Heat 1 tablespoon of seaweed soaking water in a medium saucepan. Sauté chopped onion over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in garlic, rice, chopped seaweed, and soaking water. Bring water to a boil on high heat. As soon as it begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for about 35 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Serving size: 4
Miso is a type of soybean paste that is popular in Japan; however, in recent years, it has become a more familiar product in U.S. supermarkets. Miso, while generally made from soybeans, can also be made using rice, barley or wheat. A yeast mold called koji is added to the main ingredient and the mixture is fermented anywhere from a few weeks to years, depending on the type of miso. Once the fermentation process is complete, the ingredients are ground into a paste and sold.
Used more as a flavoring agent, a small amount of miso packs a powerful punch. Just one tablespoon of miso contains 2 grams of protein and 25 calories. While high in sodium (1 oz contains 52% of the recommended daily value for sodium), miso has distinct health benefits. It is a great source of vitamin B12 and K, tryptophan, magnesium, copper, and omega fatty acids.
Researchers have found that miso paste, used as a bouillon in soup broth, has a remarkable health quality, especially when combined with root vegetables like carrots, onions, turnips, or radishes. This combination is effective at stimulating good digestive enzymes and eliminating harmful pollutants from the bloodstream.
What to Buy
Miso is sold in tightly sealed containers and will usually have a freshness stamp that you need to check. Make sure that there are no additional additives like MSG in the product. Also, beware of lesser quality misos that add chemicals, sugar, or genetically modified soybeans. Once opened, keep it in the refrigerator. If sealed tightly, it can keep for up to one year.
Color plays a big role in terms of the taste of misos. Darker-flavored misos are stronger and more pungent, they are best for heavier foods, while the lighter-colored misos are more delicate and best in soups, dressings, and light sauces.
How to Prepare
Miso can be used in soups, on sandwiches, and even as a marinade for meat, fish or poultry. Here are a few recipe suggestions for miso:
Ginger Miso Carrot Soup
- 1 qt vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup water
- 5 or 6 dried shitake mushrooms
- 1/2 cup slivered carrot
- 6 ounces or so of cubed tofu
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 2 tbs. yellow miso
- 1 tsp. ground ginger
- rice noodles
Directions: Bring vegetable stock, water, carrots, and mushrooms to a boil. Add ginger and sugar, and allow to boil for about ten minutes, or until the carrots are cooked. Add the tofu. Lower heat to simmer, and add seaweed. Remove about a cup of liquid from the pot, and stir the miso into that liquid until it is smooth with no lumps. Replace the liquid, and allow it to come to a very low simmer. Add rice noodles, and simmer until they are soft. Serving size: 4
Grilled Vegetables with Miso
- 1 tbs. shoyu
- 2 tbs. sugar
- 2 tbs. dry white wine
- 50 ml dashi (Japanese soup stock from kelp)
- 2 tbs. red miso
- 2 tbs. soybean oil
- 2 small zucchini, cut into slices
- 2 medium eggplants
- 1 medium onion
- 10 shiitake mushrooms, without stems
Directions: In a pan, combine the first four ingredients (shoyu, sugar, white wine, and dashi). Slightly heat over medium to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and add the red miso and mix until the sauce is smooth. Cut onion in half and then cut crosswise into thick slices. With a wooden pick, skewer each onion slice to keep the rings together. Heat the grill and brush it with some soybean oil. Place vegetables on the grill and brush with the soybean oil. Grill the vegetables for about 5 minutes, turning once. Brush the red miso sauce on the vegetables and grill each side for another 30 seconds. Serving size: 4
3 tbs. miso
100 ml water
50 ml vegetable oil
2 tbs. vinegar
1 tsp. prepared mustard
Directions: Mix the miso and the water. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve over a salad of your choice.
Short-grain, organically-grown brown rice is one of the best grains for cleansing the body and good maintaining health. Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese. Just one cup of brown rice can give you 88 percent of your daily value of manganese. Manganese helps your body produce energy from protein and carbohydrates, and is involved in the synthesis of fatty acids. It is also an extremely important component of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD offers us protection against damage from the free radicals that are produced during energy production. Other vital nutrients and minerals found in brown rice include magnesium, selenium, and tryptophan.
What to Buy
Rice is often available and purchased in bulk. As brown rice contains a lot of natural oils, it is important to check the package to see if there is a “use-by” date. If kept too long, brown rice can become rancid. Brown rice should be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. If stored properly, it can last for up to six months.
Secondly, it’s also important to purchase organic varieties. Why? Research suggests that some brands of non-organic U.S. long-grain rice have been shown to have anywhere from 1.4 to 5 times more arsenic than rice from Bangladesh, India, or Europe.
How to Prepare
Thoroughly rinse the rice under running water before using it to ensure all dirt has been removed. After cleaning, add one part rice to two parts boiling water or broth. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for roughly 45 minutes. To receive the maximum protective elements, and to make good digestion and absorption possible, you should chew brown rice, like all whole grains, extremely well.
Brown rice can be used in a variety of dishes ranging from rice pudding made with soymilk to sushi to flavorful rice salads. Here are a couple of recipe suggestions to get you started:
Fiesta Brown Rice Salad
- 4 cups cooked brown rice
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
- 1 cup corn
- 1 cup black beans
- 4 tbs. favorite vinaigrette
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 tbs. chopped cilantro
Directions: Combine 4 cups of cooked brown rice, diced bell peppers, corn, and black beans. Toss with your favorite vinaigrette. Add 1 tsp. cumin seed and a pinch of cayenne to dressing. Sprinkle rice salad with chopped cilantro. Serving size: 4.
Quick Black Beans and Rice
- 1 tbs. vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, undrained
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 1/2 cups uncooked instant brown rice
Direction: In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion, cook, and stir until tender. Add beans, tomatoes, oregano, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil; stir in rice. Cover; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes before serving. Service size: 4
Hokkaido pumpkin is actually a type of winter squash that is of the buttercup variety. This squash has a green, bluish-gray or deep orange skin. The flesh is deep yellow. It is also known as Kabocha (which is Japanese for squash), Ebisu, Delica, Hoka or Japanese Pumpkin.
Squash has an abundance of carotenoids, including alpha and beta-carotene, which are powerful antioxidants that battle the free radical activity that can damage cell structure and DNA.
How to Prepare
Hokkaido can be cooked whole or split lengthwise after removing the seeds. It has a rich, sweet flavor and is often dry and flaky once cooked. You can use this squash in any recipe you would use a buttercup squash in. Here’s a great one to try.
Hokkaido Pumpkin Soup
- 1 Hokkaido pumpkin
- 2 carrots
- 1 shallot onion
- 20-ounces of bouillon
- 1 tbs. oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and cut the cleaned carrots in half. Place pumpkins and carrots on a cookie sheet and roast until soft to the touch. This will take approximately 40 minutes. Remove pumpkins from the oven. Heat one teaspoon of oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, vegetables, and add bouillon. After cooking the mixture for about 10 minutes, puree it and cook it for another 5 minutes. Taste it and add salt and pepper to taste. Fry thin slices of pumpkin in oil and serve it on top of the soup before serving. Serving size: 4
Other Radiation Fighting Foods
Several other foods have been found to fight the effects of radiation such as:
- Orange and dark green colored vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, carrots, kale collards, chard, and spinach have been shown to protect against radiation-induced cancers.
- Cabbage family vegetables such as arugula, turnips, radishes, cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can protect your cells from the effects of radiation.
- Both green and black tea have been found to have radioprotective effects when taken either before or after exposure to radiation.
- Dried beans, particularly lentils, have been shown to reverse DNA damage from radiation.
Foods to Avoid
There are also foods you should cut back on such as salt, fat, alcohol, and sugar. Not only are these products filled with empty calories, but research suggests that, in some cases, they can contribute to the development of cancer in the body. Scientists have discovered that some types of tumors actually feed off of sugar. Dr. Akizuki may well have been ahead of his time when he banned the consumption of sugar and sweets when developing his diet to combat radiation sickness in 1945. We’ve long been told these products could kill us if we didn’t monitor our intake closely!
While the threat of a nuclear disaster is minimal, we must remember that our bodies are still bombarded by radiation almost on a daily basis. True, it is normally not at any significant level that it will kill us, but it still can have damaging effects on our overall health. So, if you could naturally incorporate foods into your diet that could boost your immune system against the effects of radiation and other free radicals that can lead to cancer, wouldn’t you do it?