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Want good luck and health in the new year? Eat some sauerkraut

Many cultures ring in the new year by eating a special meal that's supposed to bring good luck. Viv Williams shares a family tradition that may not make you lucky, but it may boost your health.

Sauerkraut, pork and mashed potatoes
Sauerkraut and pork is a Pennsylvania tradition said to bring good luck in the new year.
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ROCHESTER — Every Jan. 1, my family shares a special meal with a small group of friends. It's not a fancy event at all. But it is a bit exclusive, as the people in attendance are those who like — or at least pretend to like — sauerkraut.

"OMG, I could smell that stuff way out at the beginning of your driveway!" exclaimed one friend several years ago. That person, perhaps needless to say, has not returned, despite my repeated invitations.

Unlike that friend, I love sauerkraut. Eating the fermented cabbage and pork is a Central Pennsylvania tradition said to bring good luck for the New Year. Many regions and cultures have special New Year's food traditions. And since I grew up in Williamsport, Penn., where there were a lot of people with German backgrounds, I go for the sauerkraut.

In reading online about this tradition to brush up on the details for this article, I uncovered some interesting things about why some people say that eating sauerkraut and pork on the first day of the year brings good luck. An online article published by the news source PennLive, notes that, according to PA German folklore, pigs "root forward." So if you eat pork on New Year's Day, you'll move ahead throughout the year to come. The article also describes how the swelling of the sauerkraut during the cooking process symbolizes bounty.

Another Pennsylvania news outlet, The Morning Call, expands on that idea in an article that notes cabbage — being leafy and green — represents money. So eating the vegetable may increase your chances of accumulating some cash. (I wish!)

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Do annual food traditions work to bring you good luck? Who really knows? But there are some health benefits that arise from the process. Annual traditions are fun, can help you bond to friends and family, and may increase your happiness factor. Results of a study from the University of Chicago show that family rituals boost feelings of closeness and help you enjoy the holidays more.

And, depending on what's on the menu, food traditions can be healthy and nutritious. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. Fermented foods have been in the news a lot recently because of the health benefits associated with eating them. An article in the journal Nature explores the anti-inflammatory properties of fermented cabbage and other plant-based foods. The study authors also explain that fermented foods may help protect against obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

A Mayo Clinic article lists sauerkraut as a bacteria-fermented food and a good source of probiotics, which support the health of your gut by maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria. A balanced, healthy gut microbiome promotes healthy digestion, boosts the immune system and may even benefit mood and mental health. The Mayo Clinic article also notes that research about probiotics and probiotic supplementation is ongoing.

For those of you who don't like sauerkraut — and believe me, I have witnessed people fleeing from my house after getting a big whiff of the stuff, which is why I now offer hesitant guests clothes pins for their noses — other fermented foods, such as yogurt, kombucha and kimchi provide the same benefits.

But for hose who do like sauerkraut or who are willing to give it a try, my very easy recipe for sauerkraut, pork and mashed potatoes is below. My grandmother also included dumplings in her recipe. I do not, but I do serve the sauerkraut and pork with homemade soft pretzels and fresh radishes.

Enjoy, and good luck to you in 2023!

Viv's New Year's Day Sauerkraut and Pork with Mashed Potatoes Recipe

6 servings
Ingredients:
3 pound pork loin and/or pork shoulder
2 bags, cans or jars of sauerkraut (about 32 ounces)
3 tablespoons (more or less to taste) brown sugar
1 to 2 cups water
3 pounds potatoes (I use Yukon Gold), peeled
1/2 to 1 stick butter

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Directions using slow cooker:

For the sauerkraut and pork:
Put a thin layer of sauerkraut on the bottom of the pot. Place pork on top. Pour the rest of the sauerkraut over the pork. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top. Pour in water. Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours or more.

For the mashed potatoes:
Peel potatoes, cut them up and boil in water until tender. Drain. Add butter and mash by hand. I usually don't salt the potatoes because of the high salt content in the sauerkraut.

Serve the sauerkraut and pork over the mashed potatoes.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

MORE HEALTH FUSION:
When arctic blasts plummet temperatures, stepping outside can be dangerous. In this Health Fusion episode, Viv Williams talks to a researcher about what intensely cold air could do to anyone's lungs.

Related Topics: HEALTH FUSIONFOOD
Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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