Better Broccoli

November 18, 2013 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Eating healthfully requires more than just consuming fresh, whole foods. The manner by which you combine foods and how you prepare them also plays an important role. A case in point was presented at this year’s meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Maryland.

Cruciferous vegetables are frequently cited as among the healthiest known foods. Popular members of this revered category of non-starchy vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale and mustard. When cooked gently or eaten raw, cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane – a potent phytochemical which possesses anti-cancer properties. However, if these vegetables are cooked for prolonged periods of time or heavily processed, sulforaphane decomposes.

So, what’s the best way to ensure that you’ll get the most out the broccoli you’re eating? For starters, lightly steaming broccoli for up to 5 minutes ensures that myrosionase, an enzyme needed to form sulforaphane, remains active. In addition, if you eat raw cruciferous vegetables at the same time as cooked cruciferous vegetables, the production of sulforaphane will still take place. As a practical example, this might mean eating some grilled chicken or fish with a side of roasted broccoli and an arugula salad (another member of the cruciferous family).

It’s also worth noting that there are many other healthful components present in broccoli and its relatives. For example, broccoli is a good source of carotenoids, a group of antioxidants which support bone, ocular health and beyond. However, in order to efficiently absorb these fat-soluble substances, broccoli and other vegetables need to be eaten with fatty foods. Studies published in the medical literature reveal that adding oil-based condiments, such as mayonnaise and olive oil to cruciferous vegetables increases the bioavailability of many of their health promoting nutrients and phytochemicals.

Last, but not least, if you really don’t care for the taste of lightly cooked or raw broccoli, you can always add some broccoli sprouts to salads or sandwiches. Fresh broccoli sprouts contain an abundance of sulforaphane and do not possess the characteristic flavor or odor associated with cooked broccoli. Instead, they have a much milder taste that is reminiscent of radishes. What’s more, recent studies have documented numerous health benefits related to broccoli sprouts, including their potential to protect against heart disease, insulin resistance and oxidative stress.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Steaming Broccoli Preserves Potential Power to Fight Cancer, Study (link)

Study 2 – Effects of Mayonnaise on Postprandial Serum Lutein/Zeaxanthin and (link)

Study 3 – Effects of Stir-Fry Cooking w/ Different Edible Oils on the Phytochemical … (link)

Study 4 – Bioactive Compounds and Antioxidant Activity of Fresh and Processed … (link)

Study 5 – Effect of Broccoli Sprouts on Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetic (link)

Study 6 – Broccoli Sprouts Powder Could Improve Serum Triglyceride & Oxidized (link)

Study 7 – Broccoli Sprouts Reduce Oxidative Stress in Type 2 Diabetes ... (link)

Cooking/Processing Broccoli Affects Antioxidant Activity (FRS)

Source: Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:367819. (link)

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Food and Drink, Nutrition

15 Comments & Updates to “Better Broccoli”

  1. rob Says:

    Cant eat broccoli raw, but lightly cooked with some butter and garlic equals rum

  2. JP Says:

    Hi Rob,

    That’s a winning combo in my book too. 🙂

    Be well!


  3. G Paul F. Says:

    Hi JP,

    Thank You!

    Particularly intriguing the benefits of absorption of lutein and zeaxanthin when eating broccoli with mayonnaise! If a person does not like mayonnaise, do you think that a similar synergy could be be attained adding hard boiled eggs to the broccoli?

  4. JP Says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful question, Paul.

    I suspect a similar effect could be expected if a sort of deconstructed mayonnaise is eaten with broccoli. For instance, one might drizzle lightly steamed broccoli with extra virgin olive oil and top it with chopped or sliced hard boiled eggs.

    Be well!


  5. rob Says:

    Adding some fat to veggies and most foods apparently allows for better absorption of nutrients/vitamins

  6. JP Says:

    Indeed. Fat soluble antioxidants (carotenoids such as lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin) and nutrients (vitamin A, D, E and K) require a lipid “shuttle” to assist absorption. Egg yolks and monounsaturated fats (avovados, nuts, olive oil) are excellent options.

    Be well!


  7. G Paul F. Says:

    Thank you JP,

    Your idea of reconstructing the mayonnaise solves the puzzle!


  8. JP Says:

    Happy to help, Paul!

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Update: Attention farmers …

    The effects of UV radiation during the vegetative period on antioxidant compounds and postharvest quality of broccoli (Brassica oleracea L.).

    In this study, the effects of supplementary UV radiation during the vegetative period on antioxidant compounds, antioxidant activity and postharvest quality of broccoli heads during long term storage was studied. The broccolis were grown under three different doses of supplementary UV radiation (2.2, 8.8 and 16.4 kJ/m2/day) in a soilless system in a glasshouse. Harvested broccoli heads were stored at 0 °C in modified atmosphere packaging for 60 days. The supplementary UV radiation (280-315 nm) during the vegetative period significantly decreased total carotenoid, the chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b content but increased the ascorbic acid, total phenolic and flavonoid contents of broccolis. All supplementary UV treatments slightly reduced the antioxidant activity of the broccolis, however, no remarkable change was observed between 2.2 and 8.8 kJ/m2 radiation levels. The sinigrin and glucotropaeolin contents of the broccolis were substantially increased by UV treatments. The prolonged storage period resulted in decreased ascorbic acid, total phenolic and flavonoid contents, as well as antioxidant activity. Discoloration of the heads, due to decreased chlorophyll and carotenoid contents, was also observed with prolonged storage duration. Glucosinolates levels showed an increasing tendency till the 45th day of storage, and then their levels started to decline. The weight loss of broccoli heads during storage progressively increased with storage time in all treatments. Total soluble solids, solids content and titratable acidity decreased continuously during storage. Titratable acidity was not affected by UV radiation doses during the storage time whereas soluble solids and solids content (dry matter) were significantly affected by UV doses. Supplementary UV radiation increased the lightness (L*) and chroma (C*) values of the broccoli heads. Pre-harvest UV radiation during vegetative period seems to be a promising tool for increasing the beneficial health components of broccolis.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Update: Frozen broccoli is just fine, maybe even better than fresh in some ways …

    Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2015 Feb 18:1-7.

    Effect of industrial freezing on the stability of chemopreventive compounds in broccoli.

    Abstract: Broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. var. Italica) is largely consumed all over the world and has a high economic importance. Likewise, broccoli contains high levels of glucosinolates, carotenoids and total phenols, which are related with the prevention of chronic diseases. The present project’s objective was to evaluate the effect of industrial freezing on the stability of bioactive molecules in seven commercial broccoli cultivars (Tlaloc®, Endurance®, Florapack®, Domador®, Steel®, Iron Man® and Avenger®). In general, industrial freezing increased the extractability of total glucosinolates, whereas total phenols remained constant in most broccoli cultivars. Likewise, broccoli subjected to industrial freezing showed higher levels of total carotenoids (∼60-300% higher) as compared with fresh broccoli. Results suggest that bioactive compounds in frozen broccoli would be more bioavailable than in raw.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Update 06/01/15:

    J Food Sci. 2014 Sep;79(9):S1756-62.

    Consumer acceptability and sensory profile of cooked broccoli with mustard seeds added to improve chemoprotective properties.

    Broccoli, a rich source of glucosinolates, is a commonly consumed vegetable of the Brassica family. Hydrolysis products of glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, have been associated with health benefits and contribute to the flavor of Brassica. However, boiling broccoli causes the myrosinase enzyme needed for hydrolysis to denature. In order to ensure hydrolysis, broccoli must either be mildly cooked or active sources of myrosinase, such as mustard seed powder, can be added postcooking. In this study, samples of broccoli were prepared in 6 different ways; standard boiling, standard boiling followed by the addition of mustard seeds, sous vide cooking at low temperature (70 °C) and sous vide cooking at higher temperature (100 °C) and sous vide cooking at higher temperature followed by the addition of mustard seeds at 2 different concentrations. The majority of consumers disliked the mildly cooked broccoli samples (70 °C, 12 min, sous vide) which had a hard and stringy texture. The highest mean consumer liking was for standard boiled samples (100 °C, 7 min). Addition of 1% mustard seed powder developed sensory attributes, such as pungency, burning sensation, mustard odor, and flavor. One cluster of consumers (32%) found mustard seeds to be a good complement to cooked broccoli; however, the majority disliked the mustard-derived sensory attributes. Where the mustard seeds were partially processed, doubling the addition to 2% led to only the same level of mustard and pungent flavors as 1% unprocessed seeds, and mean consumer liking remained unaltered. This suggests that optimization of the addition level of partially processed mustard seeds may be a route to enhance bioactivity of cooked broccoli without compromising consumer acceptability.

    Be well!


  12. JP Says:

    Update 06/05/15:

    Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015 Apr 30;13(1):62-7.

    An Open Study of Sulforaphane-rich Broccoli Sprout Extract in Patients with Schizophrenia.

    OBJECTIVE: Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by severe cognitive impairment. Accumulating evidence suggests a role for oxidative stress in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. Sulforaphane (SFN) extracted from broccoli sprout is an agent with potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. In this study, we attempted to evaluate the effect of SFN on cognitive impairment in medicated patients with schizophrenia.

    METHODS: We recruited a total of 10 outpatients with schizophrenia, all of whom gave informed consent. Participants took 3 tablets of SFN, consisting of 30 mg of SFN-glucosinolate per day, for 8 weeks. Clinical symptoms using the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) and cognitive function using the Japanese version of CogState battery were evaluated at the beginning of the study and at week 8.

    RESULTS: A total of 7 patients completed the trial. The mean score in the Accuracy component of the One Card Learning Task increased significantly after the trial. However, we detected no other significant changes in participants.

    CONCLUSIONS: This result suggests that SFN has the potential to improve cognitive function in patients with schizophrenia.

    Be well!


  13. JP Says:

    Updated 09/06/15:

    Public Health Nutr. 2015 Sep 2:1-8.

    Associations between cruciferous vegetable intake and selected biomarkers among women scheduled for breast biopsies.

    OBJECTIVE: To examine the relationship between dietary cruciferous vegetable intake and selected tumour biomarkers for histone acetylation (H3K9ac, H3K18ac, HDAC3 and HDAC6), proliferation (Ki-67) and cell-cycle regulation (p21) from breast tissue.

    DESIGN: The study used baseline data of women recruited to participate in a clinical trial of sulforaphane supplement. Dietary cruciferous vegetable intake was collected through a validated Arizona Cruciferous Vegetable Intake Questionnaire. Breast tissue was obtained from biopsy samples. Spearman correlations were calculated between intake of specific cruciferous vegetables and biomarkers. Tissue biomarkers were log2-transformed to obtain approximate normality. Linear regression analyses were conducted to examine associations between cruciferous vegetable intake and biomarkers adjusting for age and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. False discovery rate (FDR) was used to account for multiple comparisons.

    SETTING: Clinical trial baseline.

    SUBJECTS: Fifty-four women who had abnormal mammogram findings and were scheduled for breast biopsy.

    RESULTS: Mean intake of total cruciferous vegetables from all food sources was 81·7 (sd 57·3) g/d. Mean urinary total sulforaphane metabolites was 0·08 (sd 0·07) µm/mm creatinine. Total cruciferous vegetable intake was inversely associated with Ki-67 protein expression in breast ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) tissue (β=-0·004; se=0·001; FDR q value=0·03), but not in benign or invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) tissue. No association was found for other biomarkers measured (HDAC3, HDAC6, H3K9, H3K18 and p21) in all tissues examined (benign, DCIS and IDC).

    CONCLUSIONS: The present study sought to provide additional evidence for the potential role of sulforaphane in histone acetylation and cell proliferation. Here, we report that total cruciferous vegetable intake is associated with decreased cell proliferation in breast DCIS tissue.

    Be well!


  14. JP Says:

    Updated 04/24/17:

    Cancer Invest. 2017 Apr 21;35(4):277-287.

    Effect of Cruciferous Vegetable Intake on Oxidative Stress Biomarkers: Differences by Breast Cancer Status.

    This post hoc analysis examined cruciferous vegetable intake on urinary oxidative metabolites in postmenopausal women. Intervention participants (n = 69) received cruciferous vegetables (≥14 cups/week) during a 3-week period. First morning urine measured 8-isoprostane and 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine. Dietary intake was estimated using 24-h recalls. When stratified by history of breast cancer, those with breast cancer had significantly lower post-intervention urinary 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine values in the intervention arm versus. the control arm (1.1 ng/mL vs. 3.2 ng/mL, p = .01) after adjustment for baseline 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine. This was not observed in those without breast cancer. Further work is needed to understand the role of breast cancer in these relationships.

    Be well!


  15. JP Says:

    Updated 10/15/18:

    J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Sep 21;63:27-34.

    Broccoli consumption affects the human gastrointestinal microbiota.

    The human gastrointestinal microbiota is increasingly linked to health outcomes; however, our understanding of how specific foods alter the microbiota is limited. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli are a good source of dietary fiber and phytonutrients, including glucosinolates, which can be metabolized by gastrointestinal microbes. This study aimed to determine the impact of broccoli consumption on the gastrointestinal microbiota of healthy adults. A controlled feeding, randomized, crossover study consisting of two 18-day treatment periods separated by a 24-day washout was conducted in healthy adults (n=18). Participants were fed at weight maintenance with the intervention period diet including 200 g of cooked broccoli and 20 g of raw daikon radish per day. Fecal samples were collected at baseline and at the end of each treatment period for microbial analysis. Beta diversity analysis indicated that bacterial communities were impacted by treatment (P=.03). Broccoli consumption decreased the relative abundance of Firmicutes by 9% compared to control (P=.05), increased the relative abundance of Bacteroidetes by 10% compared to control (P=.03) and increased Bacteroides by 8% relative to control (P=.02). Furthermore, the effects were strongest among participants with body mass index <26 kg/m2, and within this group, there were associations between bacterial relative abundance and glucosinolate metabolites. Functional prediction revealed that broccoli consumption increased the pathways involved in the functions of the endocrine system (P=.05), transport and catabolism (P=.04), and energy metabolism (P=.01). These results reveal that broccoli consumption affects the composition and function of the human gastrointestinal microbiota.

    Be well!


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