Boosting the anti-cancer properties of broccoli

March 1, 2011
Volume 08    |   Issue 10

You’ve probably heard that broccoli is protective against some forms of cancer. This is because it contains a chemical called sulforaphane, which is a powerful anti-cancer substance. But broccoli’s benefits occur only under particular conditions. And not all forms of this vegetable have the same action.

Sulforaphane needs the enzyme myrosinase in order to protect you against cancer and its inflammation. But overcooking broccoli will destroy myrosinase. Researchers suggest you steam it for just two to four minutes to get maximum benefits. So the first step is to avoid cooking your broccoli to death. It should be bright green and a little “al dente” (firm, but not hard) — not a dark green mush.

The newest form of broccoli is broccoli sprouts. Several years ago, their anti-cancer properties made headlines. These sprouts are, indeed, protective because they’re high in myrosinase. You can find broccoli sprouts in many supermarkets and health food stores. Add them to your salads or sandwiches.

Then there are broccoli powder supplements. They often contain a precursor to sulforaphane without the needed myrosinase. You may be tempted to pop a few broccoli powder capsules. But that’s not the ideal solution.

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Researchers at the University of Illinois tested various forms of broccoli. They found a combination that nearly doubled its protective qualities. The most effective combination was eating broccoli sprouts with the broccoli powder. The myrosinase from the sprouts produced sulforaphane both from the sprouts and from the precursor in the broccoli powder. Add broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower and bok choy, to the sprouts and powder and you have a tasty cancer-fighting dish.

You can boost broccoli’s effectiveness with other foods that naturally contain sulforaphane. These include mustard, radishes, arugula, and wasabi. Without knowing about combining various forms of broccoli, I’ve been eating it with a mustard sauce. You can either do this, or just sprinkle sprouts on your broccoli.

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