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Does broccoli really pack a punch?

The answer is undoubtedly YES. Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse packed full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.  Where science has proved time and time again that food is our best medicine,  broccoli is no exception.  It is a vegetable that is of particular interest in the Integrative Oncology world and there is good reason for this.

Broccoli is part of the brassica family (also known as cruciferous vegetables). Broccoli contains a number of compounds that have been extensively studied due to their anticancer properties, one of which is sulforaphane.   Sulforaphane is a sulphur-rich compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter taste. It plays a role in activating many different genes, allowing the necessary compounds to switch on genes that prevent cancer development, and switch off genes that help it spread. It can also intervene in the cancer process by activating cell death and regulating important mechanisms within the cell.

Indole-3-carbinol (IC3) is another important compound found in broccoli, and it has been found to stop the growth of cancer cells. It supports the liver in metabolising oestrogen, which is protective for hormone-dependant cancers and is very helpful for removing toxins from the body.  IC3 is thought to be particularly protective against breast cancer and can act  in a similar way to the drug Tamoxifen.

Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, also contain a range of antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin.  Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit or neutralise cell damage caused by free radicals,  helping to reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation in the body can result in long term damage that has the ability to create an environment that supports tumour development.

Then of course there are all the other nutrients broccoli  contains,  such as vitamins C, K, A, folate, B6, B2 and magnesium, all of which are important for good health and a well-functioning body.  It is also low in calories, so is a useful food to be regularly adding to your diet if you are struggling with your weight.

Broccoli is a great source of fibre. When we think of fibre, it is usually to do with bowel function or gut health, which is very important, but it also has the ability to increase the production of something called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). SHBG circulates in the blood and ensures that  oestrogen levels are kept in check.

How should you eat broccoli? Eat all parts of the plant – leaves, florets and stalks.  Yes – that’s correct even the leaves which are often discarded.  They can contain nutrients that aren’t found in the stems and florets and are often higher in beta-carotene than the florets. You can juice, sprout, cook it or eat it raw. I personally love the stems in my morning juice. I want to make special mention of broccoli sprouts, these are young broccoli plants that can contain 10 to 100 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds than those founds in the same weight mature broccoli head. Broccoli sprouts are really easy to grow at home and quite inexpensive. They usually take around 3 days to sprout and then, eaten raw, they can be added to salads, sprinkled on top of any meal or just eaten in a small bowl with some olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

If you can, aim to buy organic because then you get all the great nutrients without the harmful pesticide residues. The therapeutic components of many vegetables and fruits are reduced as they are digested or cooked, so the amount we actually absorb might not be the amount that was in the food to begin with. It is therefore important to eat these foods regularly.

Eating well is an easy and powerful way to strengthen your body’s defence against cancer. Whilst broccoli is the focus of this article, it should be consumed along with a healthy lifestyle and varied diet for optimal benefit.