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Eat Your Broccoli – It Could Stave Off Cancer, Obesity And More

Posted on 2 June 2023

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According to research, broccoli ranks among the top 10 most hated vegetables in the UK. Yet if you’re among the 9% of the population that can’t stand the taste of broccoli, you could be missing out big time. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower, cabbage, and the dreaded Brussels sprout) contain a compound called glucoraphanin, which research hints could have powerful health benefits.

When plants containing glucoraphanin are damaged (such as when being chewed and digested), it comes into contact with enzymes that convert it into another compound called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane appears to have potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, and multiple studies suggest that supplementing with it or eating foods rich in its precursor might reduce risk of age-related diseases:

  • Cancer: Data from meta-analyses and large observational studies suggests that diets rich in glucoraphanin are associated with reduced risk of multiple forms of cancer. Risk of colorectal cancer, for example, was around 20% lower with a glucoraphanin-rich diet after controlling for confounding factors.
  • Obesity and insulin resistance: Sulforaphane has the ability to suppress oxidative stress and inflammation, which both play an important role in obesity and insulin resistance. Studies found that when mice were given glucoraphanin, their fat tissue burnt more calories, and they were less at risk of obesity and high blood sugar.
  • Neurodegenerative disease: Animal studies show that sulforaphane or a diet containing broccoli sprouts can reduce inflammation in the brain, which is likely to be a key driver of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. Sulforaphane also improves cells’ ability to clear damaged and misfolded proteins. More research in humans is needed, though.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Animal studies suggest that sulforaphane protects against cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis and high blood pressure, through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Much of this research was in animals, so let’s hope more human research is done soon. In the meantime, though, eating more cruciferous vegetables isn’t going to do you any harm…

Photo by Franzi Meyer on Unsplash

Well, no physical harm anyway.

So, which veg should you go for if you want to get as much glucoraphanin as possible? Based on the available figures, broccoli comes out on top – especially broccoli sprouts, which tend to contain higher concentrations of glucoraphanin than mature plants. Failing that, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale are examples of other decent sources of glucoraphanin. Cooking can also affect glucoraphanin content, with temperatures above boiling resulting in its gradual degradation. I won’t advocate eating raw broccoli, but try not to overcook it.

Many companies sell supplements containing sulforaphane or some kind of broccoli extract, promising the benefits of broccoli without actually having to eat the stuff. However, you will miss out on some of the beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals it has to offer.

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    Title image by Tyrrell Fitness And Nutrition, Upslash

    Cruciferous vegetables intake and the risk of colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis of observational studies

    Glucoraphanin: a broccoli sprout extract that ameliorates obesity-induced inflammation and insulin resistance

    Sulforaphane - role in aging and neurodegeneration

    Sulforaphane Protects against Cardiovascular Disease via Nrf2 Activation

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