As published in Indian Express on March 2, 2013 - High in nutrients, low in calories and associated with reducing risks for a number of diseases including Breast and Prostate Cancer, Broccoli - the original superfood - is a must-have for the health conscious and even those watching their weight.
Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, Broccoli derives its name from the Latin word "Brachium", meaning branch and belongs to the brassica family, which has been found to contain powerful cancer-fighting phytochemicals (plant chemicals).
The vegetable is loaded with vitamins and minerals, while numerous epidemiological studies report that brassica vegetables protect us against cancer since they are rich sources of glucosinolates.
Sulforphane and glucosinolates are kown to possess natural cancer fighting properties. When broccoli is cut or chewed, glucosinolates are released and converted into phytonutrients called isothiocyanates (inhibits tumour formation) and indoles (fights breast and prostate cancer).
A recent (2010) study reported the inhibitory effect of sulforaphone on breast cancer by inhibiting the increase in breast cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth. Emerging research indicates protective role of broccoli and its sprouts against H. Pylori, the bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers and possibly gastric cancer. Glucosinolates, have also been shown to be protective against heart disease.
Broccoli is also rich in anti-oxidants like Vitamin C and Beta-Carotene (plant form of vitamin A) and lutein (a carotenoid), which help to build a strong immune system, fight chronic diseases and slow ageing.
This nutrient rich vegetable also contains significant amounts of iron and folic, which help preserve DNA and cellular health. Together with iron and folic acid they help in preventing anemia (low hemoglobin levels).
The vegetable is also rich in B-complex vitamins like Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), for healthy skin as well as Vitamin B3 (Niacin) and Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) for cardiovascular health.
Its high Potassium content makes it useful for blood pressure regulation as well. Vitamin K, is also present and helps in blood clotting.
Steam, dont cook
Phyto-chemical content varies depending on whether the vegetable is fresh, frozen, raw or cooked. Bioavailability of isothiocyanates (plant chemicals) is three times greater in raw broccoli than cooked. Boiling broccoli also halves its vitamin C content.
Broccoli lends itself best to steaming, micro-waving or stir frying. A recent study reported that all cooking treatments, except steaming, caused significant losses of most of the nutrients including chlorophyll, Vitamin C and glucosinolates.