By Dr. Scott E. Rosenthal
Eat your broccoli! We’ve heard this mantra since we were little sprouts ourselves, and perhaps chant it to our own children. “Eat the little trees,” we say, because broccoli is supposed to be one of the healthiest foods on Earth. It’s a green vegetable that’s full of fiber. But, are you wasting your hard-earned green buying it?
Broccoli got its start in ancient Rome, and was developed from wild cabbage. From there, it made its way to the near east and the rest is history. In the U.S., we produce about 300,000 metric tons of the perky little plant. China grows an estimated 9.5 million metric tons—nearly 50 percent of the world’s production. So what do the Chinese know that we don’t? Or are they also wasting their money and throwing yuán down the cèsuŏ?
As well as being fabulously high in health-promoting vitamin C, broccoli contains what most Americans fail to get enough of: FIBER! It even has more protein in a 100-calorie portion than steak. But what makes broccoli the real vegetable rock star that it is? Besides benefits to your brain, eyesight and stomach, protection from free radicals and aiding in detoxification, broccoli contains an ingredient that helps prevent and treat cancer. This all sounds great, but depending on how you prepare it, you may be throwing the anti-cancer benefits of broccoli away along with your cash!
Sulforaphane is the active ingredient of broccoli which has been shown in research to affect and prevent cancer. This is the good news. The bad news is that there is NO sulforaphane in broccoli. WHAT??
Broccoli has two separate substances: the enzyme myrosinase and the compound glucoraphanin. When these two ingredients are mixed together, sulforaphane is produced along with an antibiotic called raphanin. There is one big problem: myrosinase is destroyed by heating. This means that when you cook your favorite broccoli dish with all your good health-promoting intentions, you destroy the myrosinase resulting in no sulforaphane production and the loss of its anti-cancer benefits.
Don’t worry, you can still have your broccoli and eat it too! There are several choices for creating a sulforaphane-rich meal. First, you can eat the broccoli raw. If this is not appetizing, chop or blend your broccoli and let it sit for about 40 minutes prior to cooking. This allows the sulforaphane-producing action of the precursors to do their work.
What happens if you forgot to chop your broccoli, and dinner has to be made? How about just adding some myrosinase to the dish once finished? This works well if you work for a chemical company and can order a bottle of myrosinase to keep on the shelf. If you don’t, please don’t run down to the local super market and ask, “Which aisle is the myrosinase in?” Despite the perplexed look you’re likely to receive from the cashier, myrosinase exists in every super market across America. You just have to ask for the right product: mustard seed powder! The spice is loaded with the enzyme. Once the broccoli dish is ready to be eaten, sprinkle about ½ teaspoon of mustard powder on it.
Broccoli sprouts have the highest levels of sulforaphane (which peak when the sprouts are only two days old). Broccoli supplements do exist and offer some benefits, but were dramatically outperformed by the sprouts. The pills also cost significantly more. If you can stand the sight, smell and taste of broccoli and don’t want to fork out the bucks for supplements, other choices exist. Sulforaphane can also be obtained from other cruciferous vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, kale, collards and cauliflower.
Please don’t take this information as a cause to go on a broccoli-only binge. Research investigating the medicinal use of broccoli found that damage can be caused by the daily consumption of 100 cups of the veggie or 4 cups of the sprouts. Unless you are a groundhog, it is unlikely that you will ever have to worry about reaching an unsafe dose.
There is no doubt that broccoli, with all of its nutritional benefits, is a gift from nature. It is wise to consider making it a regular part of your menu. But, please remember to sprinkle a dash of myrosinase on it!