Monday, 30 November 2015

‘Rooting’ Out the Truth: Daikon, Japan’s “Superfood”

The Japanese “big root”, daikon, is considered by many to be a modern day superfood. With the appearance of a big white carrot and the taste of a mild radish, daikon is probably not on the top of your ‘to eat’ list. However, the health benefits crammed into this one vegetable may surprise you.
Although foreign in appearance, many of us have eaten daikon on more than one occasion without realizing it. This is especially true if you enjoy sushi. As a garnish, daikon is grated and added to Japanese dishes, giving the appearance of crushed ice. However, it would be a gross understatement to label daikon a simple adornment. Rather, daikon regularly plays the role of protagonist in Asian cuisine (often in soups, salads, and stews).

Miracle Diet and Cancer Fighter?
There are many a sensational claim of a new and wonderful ‘superfood’. If you are a bit of a cynic, like me, then you’ll have wrinkled your nose more than once when bombarded with the latest celebrity diet or the newest miracle food. Needless to say, I approached this tuber with a similar reluctance when I read that it could help you lose weight and fight cancer.

Japanese comedian, Kumiko Shiratori, apparently lost 10kg while on the “Daikon Diet”. What does this diet consist of? Adding the daily dose of 300g of grated, raw daikon to a balanced diet. The theory behind the “daikon diet” is two-fold: firstly, the extremely low carbohydrate count means your body burns more energy digesting daikon than it receives from this tuber. Secondly, the antioxidants in daikon help to boost your metabolism, helping you burn more calories.

Since I’ve got a few more kilos around my belly than I’d like, I thought I’d give the Daikon Diet a chance. Fresh, crunchy and juicy enough to make a nice snack, with only a hint of radish flavor, I can’t say that I was disappointed when I first tried daikon. But, of course, taste is not all that matters and I can personally attest that eating more than 300g of Daikon per day can cause bloating and gas. Needless to say, I didn’t stay on the daikon diet for very long.

What about daikon’s anti-cancer properties? Some, like Vicky Chan in her article “Daikon – The Cancer Fighting Radish”,  claim that daikon has the ability to “prevent/stop the development of cancer cells.” That’s a pretty big claim. The idea behind this is the potent antioxidant compound Nitrosamine. A recent study has shown that nitrosamine may have some ability to prevent the growth of cancer cells. If you enjoy long and complicated medical essays, then have a read through the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry article sited in the credits, which discusses the study behind daikon’s anti-cancer research.

Of course, rationality argues that petri dish findings and real life do not always agree with each other. Still, even if the cancer fighting properties have yet to be defined, it can’t hurt to add daikon to your daily menu just in case.

What’s Really in it for Me?
Besides the high claims, daikon does have some interesting, proven benefits. Antioxidants, vitamin C and calcium are just a few of the components found in daikon. The Organic Facts blog article: “Health Benefits of Daikon” mentions several other advantages of eating daikon: facilitates digestion, boosts immune system, reduces risks of inflammatory disorders, aids in curing respiratory issues, and helps to prevent wrinkles.

Diuretic: As a powerful, natural diuretic daikon can help the body to flush out toxins. It stimulates urination, cleansing the kidneys of toxins, excess water retention and other unhealthy build ups, such as fats and sodium.

Antioxidant: Antioxidants have caused a lot of controversy over the past years. However, there are proven benefits. Antioxidants seek out and neutralize free radicals. There is some research that they also help to prevent cancer. Many credit antioxidants with the ability to improve the clarity, youthfulness and circulation of the skin, giving the appearance of fewer wrinkles and a healthier complexion.

Digestion: Daikon may also assist in proper digestion. Studies have shown that several of the enzymes common to the digestive tract are also found in daikon. Referring to these enzymes the Organic Facts article mentioned: “These can facilitate more efficient digestion of complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats into more easily manipulable compounds for the body.”

Are There Any Side Effects?
Any food or drink, including water, should be consumed in moderation. Too much of anything is bad for you. And this rule applies with equal force to daikon. What are the potential side effects to eating daikon? I for one found that eating daikon every day made me feel bloated. This may have been avoided by having slowly added daikon to my diet. However, some people are more prone to bloating from consuming cruciferous vegetables.

Vicky Chan recommends that those who have weak stomach conditions avoid daikon as it may produce stomach pain. She also warns that because of its diuretic properties, daikon may lessen the effectiveness of other medicinal herbs being consumed, such as red ginseng. Organic Facts warns that those suffering from gallstones should avoid daikon. That said, they also mention that “daikon is not commonly known as an allergen and is generally considered healthy for anyone.”

And the conclusion of the matter is…
Whether daikon can really cure/prevent cancer or help you lose 10kg is still to be proven. However, the many other health benefits of this odd tuber make me wonder what there could be to lose by eating daikon in moderation on a regular basis? We could all use an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory boost now and again. So next time you’re at the grocery store, why not reach for the big, ugly, white carrot? It just might turn out to be a new favourite at your dinner table.

By Barak Anderson

“Daikon – The Cancer Fighting Radish”, Vicky Chan,
“How the Daikon Diet Can Help You Lose 3 Pounds Per Week”, Martin Nicholson,
“Health Benefits of Daikon”, Organic Facts,
“Cyotoxic and Antioxidant Activity of 4-Methylthio-3-butenyl Isothiocyanate from Daikon Sprouts”, Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry,

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