A recent study has found that a high intake of cruciferous vegetables is linked with a 15% reduction in breast cancer. Like most vegetables, crucifers are a great source of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other phytonutrients, however one member, the humble broccoli, appears to have additional benefits.
One study conducted back in 1998 in California found that men and women, aged 50-74 years, who consumed, on average, just under two cups of broccoli a week were 50% less likely to develop colorectal cancer compared to those who didn’t.
Today broccoli is famous for being the richest food source of glucosinolates – the sulphur-containing chemicals responsible for the pungent aroma and bitter flavour of cruciferous vegetables. In the body, glucosinolates are broken down to form biologically active compounds such as indoles, nitiles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates. Isothiocynanates are known to stimulate our bodies to break down potent carcinogens. One in particular, sulforaphane, can stimulate enzymes in the body to detoxify carcinogens before they can damage cells. Broccoli sprouts contain high levels of sulforaphane, approximately 20 to 50 times greater than mature broccoli.
Indol-3-carbinol (I3C), as well as nitrile crambene, through different mechanisms, activate detoxification enzymes. Interestingly, crambene is more active when combined with I3C. I3C also changes the way oestrogen is metabolised and thus can prevent oestrogen-driven cancers.
The antioxidant effects of broccoli components further contribute to its protective benefits. In one study where participants ate two cups of cruciferous vegetables a day, oxidative stress in the subjects bodies dropped 22% during the 4 week study period. In another study, broccoli sprout consumption decreased oxidative stress and improved cholesterol metabolism in only one week!
It appears that broccoli, particularly as immature broccoli sprouts, most certainly deserves its super food status and emerging research will continue to support its role in health and wellbeing.