Broccoli and its super effects

The dark green vegetable is a reservoir of phytochemicals like glucosinolates, sulphoraphane (sulphur compounds), carotenoids, and flavonoids that play a key role in fighting cancer.

Broccoli is believed to originate in the Mediterranean region and derives its name from the Latin word “brachium,” meaning branch. It belongs to the brassica family, which contains powerful cancer-fighting plant chemicals, known as phytochemicals, like glucosinolates, sulphoraphane (sulphur compounds), carotenoids, and flavonoids.

Broccoli is known as a super-food and its consumption could reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and increase immunity. Sulphoraphane and glucosinolates in broccoli are released when it is chewed, which then converts into phyto-nutrients called isothiocyanates and indoles. Isothiocyanates have been shown to inhibit tumour formation while indoles work as chemo-preventive agents, particularly against hormone-related cancers.

Studies indicate that isothiocynates play a protective role in pancreatic cancer, and sulphoraphone has an inhibitory effect on breast cancer cells, even in the later stages. Broccoli and its sprouts also fight against against H.Pylori, the bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers and gastric cancer. Glucosinolates are known to be good for the heart.

Broccoli is rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, the plant form of vitamin A. Vitamin C and beta-carotene are powerful antioxidants that help to build a strong immune system, fight chronic diseases and slow ageing. Beta-carotene in broccoli has special anti-cancer properties and lutein, a carotenoid, helps prevent cataract, heart disease and stroke.

Broccoli also contains significant amounts of iron and folic acid. The latter is required to preserve cellular health and DNA, and both help in preventing anaemia. Folate is effective in removing homocysteine from the circulatory system, which has been linked to cardiovascular diseases and dementia.

Broccoli is rich in other B-complex vitamins like vitamin B2 (riboflavin), a water-soluble vitamin which helps in energy production and the maintaining healthy skin, eyes and red blood cells. Other vitamins in broccoli are vitamin B3 (niacin) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), which are important for good cardiovascular health. The high potassium content of broccoli makes it useful for blood- pressure regulation. Vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin, helps blood clotting and is needed for protein production, is abundant in broccoli. People on blood-thinning drugs (anticoagulants), like acitrom or warfarin, should avoid broccoli.

Broccoli also contains calcium, which is needed for healthy bones. It is also rich in selenium, an antioxidant needed for maintaining tissue elasticity.

One portion of boiled broccoli (100 grams) provides one half of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin C and beta-carotene. The darker the florets, the higher are the amounts of both vitamin C and beta-carotene. Tender florets of broccoli are richer in beta-carotene than the stalks.

Phyto-chemical content in the vegetable varies depending on whether the vegetable is fresh, frozen, raw or cooked. The amount of isothiocyanates is three times greater in raw broccoli than in cooked. Boiling broccoli halves its vitamin C content. Broccoli lends itself best to steaming, micro-waving or stir frying.

A study in 2009 compared the effect of the five most common cooking methods — steaming, microwaving, boiling, stir-frying, and stir-frying followed by boiling — on the nutrients and health-promoting compounds of broccoli. It was reported that all cooking treatments, except steaming, caused significant loss of most of the nutrients in broccoli. In other words, steamed broccoli has the lowest nutrient loss and is the best in retention of the nutrients in cooked broccoli; while stir-frying and stir-frying then boiling cause the highest nutrient loss.

Another study reported that boiled broccoli lost nearly 66 per cent of its folate content, whereas there was no significant loss when it was steamed. Hence, broccoli is best had by steaming it lightly, using the least amount of water.

Broccoli is now available year round. When buying broccoli, look for deep green heads with tight and dense florets. Avoid yellowing florets as they are signs of ageing. It can be enjoyed raw in salads or added to pasta, lasagne and casseroles. It makes a great accompaniment to fish or chicken, or as stir-fry along with other vegetables.

High in nutrients and low in calories, broccoli is a valuable addition to a weight-watcher’s diet. The best way to reap the benefits of broccoli is to include generous amounts in your diet.

Source: Ishi Khosla/India Syndicate