My husband, who has a job that takes him around the world, has quite a few friends and colleagues in Japan, and he's been worried about their safety and health because of the recent earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear power plant dangers.
Through our talks about everything going on there, I've been reminded a lot about something I learned several years ago while writing the story of my recovery from breast cancer.
I've been remembering the astounding findings about the ability of miso to offset the impact of radiation exposure. I am so hoping, as everyone is, that experts are right and everything will be contained as much as possible. And I think it's worth sharing this incredible information.
Miso -- a soybean paste that has been fermented in salt anywhere from two months to three years -- has been considered a powerful substance for centuries in Japan. Perhaps the most compelling example of this in recent history is from Tatsuichiro Akizuki, M.D., who used miso to treat the sick and wounded who had survived the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Akizuki recorded his experience after the war:
On August 9, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It killed many thousands of people. The hospital I was in charge of at the time was located only one mile from the center of the blast. It was destroyed completely. My assistants and I helped many victims who suffered from the effects of the bomb. In my hospital there was a large stock of miso and tamari (the liquid that comes off the miso during the fermentation process and also used a condiment and soup stock). We also kept plenty of brown rice and wakame (a sea vegetable). So I fed my co-workers brown rice and miso soup. I remember that none of them suffered from the atomic radiation. I believe this is because they had been eating miso soup.
(Dr. Akizuki wrote about this further in How We Survived Nagasaki (London: Quartet Books, 1981), and more information about his studies and others about the powers of miso can be found at the Kushi Institute of Europe website. For more information about miso's benefits, visit this site by Delia Quigley, a health and nutrition author.)
I was exposed to a lot of radiation during my treatments for bone and then breast cancer. So I took stock in anything that I trusted would help counteract those treatments, including miso soup. The Japanese like to say that miso "strengthens the weak and softens the hard," meaning that it restores vitality to tired and sick organs, while softening and dissolving stagnation, cysts and tumors.
Miso contains a phytochemical called genistein that scientists have discovered performs the almost miraculous feat of cutting off blood flow to cancerous tumors, thus suffocating them. This incredible process, called anti-angiogenesis, is thought by many cancer experts, including the late Dr. Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School, to be an ideal form of cancer therapy -- one that attacks the cancer cells but leaves normal cells unaffected. Miso is rich in friendly bacteria, which aids digestion, and it's a source of protein, too.
My friend Sanae Suzuki, a fellow cancer survivor, who is from Japan, wrote a great post recently about "Essential Foods to Help Protect Against Radiation." Sanae reinforces the idea of eating miso soup and offers other advice to people in need of protection against radiation.
Here is my tried-and-true recipe for Miso Soup, which can be found in my new cookbook, A Life In Balance: Delicious, Plant-based Recipes for Optimal Health.
BASIC MISO SOUP
½ to 1 inch piece wakame sea vegetable (available at most health-food stores) per cup of soup
2 ½ cups of spring water
½ to 1 cup finely sliced vegetable (such as carrot, daikon radish, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, leek or shiitake mushroom. Use one or more vegetables.)
¾-1 teaspoon of miso paste per cup of soup (2 for this recipe)
1 teaspoon finely chopped scallion garnish per cup of soup
Place the wakame in a small cup of water to soak until tender (5 minutes). Finely slice the wakame and place it in a saucepan with fresh spring water or filtered tap water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat.
When the water is boiling, add the vegetables. Simmer all until tender, about three to five minutes. In a mug or small bowl, add the miso paste in a small amount of water and stir until blended. Pour the diluted miso into the lightly simmering broth and cook for five more minutes. Serve garnished with chopped scallion. Serves two.
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