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The brilliance of broccoli


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A little broccoli each day may help to keep cancer at bay. Broccoli is a veritable powerhouse of protective nutrients and phytochemicals (phyto = plant) that help to keep your immune system robust and vigilant, make your bones strong and healthy, maintain optimal digestion and even ensure healthy detoxification.

 

Origins of broccoli

Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, also known as the brassicaceae family. Other members include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mustard, cauliflower, broccolini, watercress, horseradish and turnips. The name is derived from the Latin word brachium, meaning strong arm or branch, which refers to the multiple branches that grow from the main stem.

It was also known as the “five green fingers of Jupiter” by ancient Roman farmers. Broccoli is believed to have been cultivated originally in Ancient Rome from wild cabbage and we have Italian immigrants to thank for its introduction elsewhere.

As well as the familiar emerald-green heads of broccoli, known as calabrese, there are also purple and white varieties as well as broccolini, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale, grown for its edible stalks, like asparagus.

 

Packed full of nutrients

Broccoli contains large amounts of vitamins C and K. In fact, it’s so rich in vitamin C that a bowl of steamed broccoli or juiced broccoli heads may be a more effective treatment for the common cold than orange juice. Vitamin K is essential for healthy blood clotting and, just as importantly, is needed for strong, healthy bones, where it acts like the cellular glue that holds the minerals in place. It’s also rich in folate and carotenoids, including betacarotene and lutein. One cup of broccoli contains one-quarter of the RDA for folate.

 

What’s in broccoli?

  • Sulphoraphane
  • Indole-3-carbinol
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Zinc

 

Anti-cancer nutrients

The list of nutrients broccoli contains reads a little bit like that of a multivitamin and mineral supplement, but where broccoli really shines is in its unique anti-cancer and detox nutrients, which you’re unlikely to find in your average multivitamin tablet. Regular consumption of plants from the brassicaceaea family is associated with a reduced risk of many cancers including lung, colon, bladder, breast and ovarian cancer. Eating broccoli more than once a week is also associated with a reduced risk of aggressive stage III and IV prostate cancer.

Like other members of its family, broccoli is rich in the phytonutrients sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Sulforaphane belongs to a group of chemicals known as isothiocyanates. It stimulates and supports powerful detoxification pathways that help your body to clear toxic chemicals and carcinogens much faster and more safely. Broccoli contains five times more sulforaphane than cabbage, with the highest concentrations in the florets compared with the leaves and stalks. Broccoli sprouts contain the highest levels of sulforaphane.

I3C helps to reduce levels of the most potent and dangerous form of oestrogen, oestrodial, and elevate levels of the much safer oestrogen, oestriol, thus helping to reduce the risk of hormonally related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer. Laboratory research has also shown that I3C may stop cancer cells in their tracks and prevent them spreading to other parts of the body. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that I3C could inhibit cancer cells from reproducing by up to an amazing 90 per cent in some cases. I3C also helps to stimulate more effective detoxification.

 

Broccoli and the thyroid

Broccoli contains a naturally occurring compound found in other members of its family, as well as in soy foods, that can prevent your thyroid accessing essential iodine and therefore contribute to or worsen an underactive thyroid gland. Cooking helps to deactivate goitrogens, so if you suffer from thyroid problems make sure you limit your intake of raw broccoli.

 

Cooking with broccoli

If you want to maximise the healthy benefits of broccoli, you’ll need to be choosy about how you cook and prepare it. A study published in Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that steaming resulted in the least loss of vitamins. Boiling and microwaving caused the greatest losses of vitamin C and folate. Microwaving broccoli resulted in losses of between 74 per cent and 97 per cent of its three major antioxidant compounds. Gentle stirfrying with extra virgin olive oil is another healthy way of preparing broccoli that minimises nutrient loss. Store broccoli in a plastic bag in the crisper, but don’t wash it first. Most of the vitamins and valuable nutrients in broccoli are water-soluble and any water left on your broccoli after washing will leach these nutrients out of it.

If you want to maximise the amazing health benefits of broccoli as a functional food, you’ll need to eat it at least three times a week.

 

Sarah Luck is a natural health consultant specialising in hormonal imbalance, children’s health, pregnancy and breastfeeding. She practises from Levity Health in Bondi Junction (02 9389 0278) and Sage Beauty in North Bondi (02 9130 7064). W: www.thenaturalhealthhub.com and natural health blog at www.goodhealthnaturally.nourished.com.au.