Broccoli – More than food
Broccoli is a super vegetable that contain a number of important nutrients, among them an antioxidant that may have a protective effect against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In addition it works preventive against other diseases and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
There has been a lot of research on the health benefits you get from eating broccoli. Most studies have been focused on the glucosinolat sulforaphane. Glucoraphanin is a compound found in abundance in products like cabbage, kale and cauliflower however broccoli and particularly broccoli sprouts hold a very high level of glucoraphanin. As we consume these vegetables the compound is converted into a potent antioxidant named sulforaphane.
Sulforaphane has been thoroughly researched and is very interesting for medical science due to its many favorable health benefits. It has been shown to protect against different types of cancer, lower the risk of getting cardiovascular diseases, act as an anti-inflammatory along with positive effects on autism and osteoporosis.
There is robust epidemiological evidence of the favorable effects consuming broccoli has on your health. Many of these are tightly connected to sulforaphane. In the 1990s a lab study on rats was published, it showed a cancer preventive effect of sulforaphane isolated from broccoli. Since then more than 3.000 similar studies have been published describing this effect. Animal studies have proven sulforaphane to have a number of health benefits. Among them are lowering of blood sugar, cholesterol, oxidative stress and the development of chronical diseases. Health benefits also include a reduced risk of inflammation, stomach cancer, prostate cancer and other cancers. It has also been shown to reduce risk of already active cancers turning more aggressive, it has a rejuvenating effect on the immune system and is preventive on cardio vascular diseases.
Nearly halves the level of peptic ulcer bacteria
Chlorophyll is another favorable compound found in broccoli. Chlorophyll absorbs toxins and neutralize so-called free radicals and as a result protects the DNA molecyles in our cells from damage.
Studies have also shown sulforaphane to have a positive effect on Helicobacter Pylori infections (”the peptic ulcer bacteria”). In a study where half the participants consumed broccoli sprouts daily this group reduced their level of helicobacter pylori antigens by more than 40%. The amount of antigens shows the level of helicobacter pylori and is measured in feces. 8 weeks following the participants of the study stopped their daily consumption of broccoli sprouts, their level of helicobacter pylori antigens were back to normal.
Reduces growth of aggressive prostate cancer
Sulforaphane appears to have a favorable effect on colon and prostate cancer. A weekly serving of broccoli can reduce the risk of the aggressive form of prostate cancer by 45% a study concludes. Another study shows the best effect is achieved by combining tomato and broccoli. Such a diet has been known to half prostate tumors.
Samples of the tumors confirmed the cancer cells of rats fed with the tomato/broccoli-mixture to grow slower than those not fed with the mixture. The only treatment that had a better effect in this study was castration. It shrunk the tumors by more than 60% - however most would probably prefer eating their vegetables.
Disrupting the enzymes that contribute to malignant cell growth
Indol-3 carbinol (I3C) is another weapon in the battle against cancer. Consuming cabbage and broccoli provides you with I3C. It works by decreasing the activity of an enzyme that is linked with rapidly developing breast cancer. Scientists have previously discovered that I3C disrupts cellular growth. In addition, the tendency to spread is dampened and the compound changes the ability of malignant cells to attach to other tissue. Same compound is known to counter the survivability of malignant cells. According to scientists the sum of these effects is that it inhibits the growth of cancerous tumours.
Indol-3 carbinol, and a chemical compound Genistein found in soy beans, also helps increase the level of genes that prevent damaged genetic information from being passed on to future cell generations, thus reducing the risk of cancer.
Beneficial for diabetes
One study even claims the compound sulforaphane is beneficial in reversing damage caused by high blood sugar. It seems sulforaphane helps producing enzymes in the body that protects blood vessels by reducing the tissue damaging substances released by high levels of blood sugar. The vascular complications of diabetes are the most serious manifestations of the disease. It leads to heart disease, stroke, damage to small blood vessels – which leads to eye problems, damage to kidneys and bad circulation in the legs – which in turn increases the risk of amputations.
Animal trials have shown sulforaphane can protect the heart from damage when being exposed to reduced oxygen supply, as is the case with e.g. blood clots.
Folic acid and the prevention of dementia
To eat a lot of vegetables high in folate – e.g. broccoli – is stated to mitigate Alzheimer´s disease (dementia).
According to the Norwegian Directorate of Health there is currently no conclusive evidence that supplements such as folate, Vitamin B6 or Vitamin B12 can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Conversely a folic acid deficiency may contribute to the ageing of brain processes, increase the risk of Alzheimer´s disease and in case of severe deficiency lead to dementia. (link) A folic acid deficiency is also associated with depression.
In some of the studies mentioned in this article so-called «superbroccoli» has been used. This is broccoli containing more of the glucosinolate sulforaphane than what you are able to find at a your convenience store. As a result these glucosinolate derivatives play an important role in preventing spread of cancer.
Half of the population has an increased disease prevention benefit from consuming broccoli. The reason for this is they have a gene called GSTM1, which leads to a better uptake and thus better effect of the sulforaphane from broccoli. This is part of the reason why scientists are interested in developing a ”superbroccoli”. They even believe that larger quantities of sulforaphane can lead to an increased disease prevention effect to the other half lacking the GSTM1 gene.
High in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Broccoli is high in vitamins A, C , K, E and B9 (folate). In addition its a good source of the minerals iron, calcium, potassium, selenium and magnesium. It also contains a wide range of antioxidants (carotenoids, flavonoids, chlorophyll and glucosinolates). The protein content is 3.2 g per 100 g.
There is a great variation in the amount of antioxidants in different types of broccoli. Stress - as bright light, drought and saline soil - stimulates the plant to increase its production of antioxidants. The amount of minerals and vitamins also varies between the different types of broccoli and their growing conditions. Research has shown broccoli sprouts to have an even higher level of disease prevention compounds than a fully grown broccoli.
Broccoli has a short shelf life if its stored in room temperature. It only takes a few days for it to turn yellow. Neither should it be stored next to fruit or tomatoes that might escalate the aging process. Broccoli is best kept in a sealed plastic bag or a covered container and in the refrigerator between 0-4 degrees Celcius.
If you want to preserve as much of the valuable nutrients as possible, it is best to eat broccoli raw. Steaming also retains far more of the valuable nutrients than if you boil it. To avoid losing the many good nutrients in the broccoli it is important you don’t overcook it.