Russia is playing host for the 2018 FIFA World Cup – the most watched sporting event in the world. Spectators will be traveling from all over the world to support their nation’s soccer team compete with the world’s best, while also experiencing the local Russian culture. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional benefits of some of the staple foods commonly found in Russian cuisine.
When you think of Russian cuisine, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is Borscht, a soup made from beetroots. There are many nutritional benefits associated with consuming beets. To begin, they help lower blood pressure. This is due to the nitrates beets contain. Nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which helps dilate and relax blood vessels thereby improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. They also contain powerful phytonutrients that help fight cancer, inflammation, and support detoxification. If you’re really feeling adventurous, try incorporating the beet greens into your diet. They are arguably even more nutrient-rich than the beet itself. Beet greens even contain more iron than spinach! To add more beets into your weekly routine, try them raw as part of your salad, added into your veggie juice, or sauté some beet green in with spinach or Swiss chard to a delicious new side.
Sour cream – aka Smetana
Sour cream, or smetana, is served with many Russian dishes, including soups, pancakes, salads, bread, and potatoes. Surprisingly, sour cream has plenty of nutritional benefits. It can be a source of protein to help create energy and boost immune function. One half cup serving of sour cream contains about 2.4 grams of protein. Sour cream also is a good source of calcium. Calcium helps boost bone health, nerve and muscle function, and improves heart health. That same half cup serving provides almost 13% of the daily recommended calcium intake. Sour cream also contains riboflavin, which helps convert food into energy. Our bodies can neither produce nor store riboflavin, so it is essential that we get the recommended amounts from our diets.
Russia has the highest annual cabbage consumption per capita in the world at around 44 lbs per person! Cabbage contains a wide array of nutrients that perform several different functions within the body. Sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound that gives cabbage its bitter taste, helps prevent cancer. Cabbage also has powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which help decrease inflammation that may lead to heart disease. When cabbage is fermented, it is full of probiotics. Probiotics are great for boosting your immune and digestive systems. As an added bonus, enzymes produced in the fermentation process help to make the vitamins and minerals in cabbage easier to absorb and digest. Cabbage also has a high fiber and water content, which helps prevent constipation and promotes a healthy digestive tract.
Given the long, cold winters that most of Russia experiences, the potato serves as a lifeline to many residents throughout the country given that it can be efficiently grown in harsh conditions. Potatoes are ubiquitous in Russian cuisine, from soups to desserts and, of course, vodka. While potatoes may get a bad reputation for their higher carbohydrate concentration, they actually contain several other very important nutrients. Iron and zinc play crucial roles in the production of collagen. Coupled with phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, these nutrients increase bone health by helping the body build and maintain bone structure and strength. Higher levels of potassium help to decrease blood pressure naturally as it is a vasodilator, which means it widens the blood vessels allowing for better blood flow. Potatoes also contain large amounts of fiber, which aids in lowering total cholesterol and thereby decreasing your risk of heart disease. Fiber also assists in weight maintenance and weight loss by increasing satiety so that we feel fuller longer. Potatoes can also help fight inflammation and increase our immunity due to choline and vitamin C, respectively.
Check out the Russian recipes we featured this month or find other great recipes on our Pinterest page to incorporate these Russian staples into your weekly routine!Get more recipes, follow us on Pinterest!
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.