We’ve always known that broccoli was a superfood; now its star power has just increased.  New research from Dr. Pier Paolo Pandolfi at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Cancer Center and Cancer Research institute shows that a compound found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and other cruciferous vegetables may play an important role in helping to suppress tumors.

There is a continuous battle going on inside the body as it works to prevent tumors from developing, while tumors fight back to try to grow and spread.  One one side is an important cancer-suppressing gene called PTEN that provides instructions for making a protein that controls cell growth (with cancer being out-of-control cell growth).  On the other side is an enzyme called WWP1 that encourages cancer growth by interfering with PTEN function.  The new potential weapon is that researchers have discovered that a naturally occurring compound in cruciferous vegetables called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) neutralizes WWP1 and allows PTEN to do its tumor-suppressing work.

I3C occurs naturally in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, arugula, cabbage, kale and cauliflower.  Although its cancer fighting properties are established, there is still work to be done to determine how best to use it.  At this point, you’d have to eat about 6 pounds of broccoli every day to equal the doses used in the lab trials, so enjoy it but don’t try to overdo it.

In addition to fighting cancer, cruciferous vegetables offer a number of additional benefits:

  • Reduced risk of obesity – containing sulforaphane a naturally occuring organic sulfur, which lowers the rate at which weight is gained as well as reducing how much visceral fat you build up.
  • Help fight diabetes – sulforaphane also reduces glucose production
  • Lowered risk of heart disease and stroke – helping to reduce cholesterol and keeping blood vessels strong
  • Strengthened immune system – great source of vitamins C, A, B6 and K
  • Healthy metabolism and digestive system – from all the fiber in these veggies
  • Anti-inflammatory – a great source of antioxidants

Keep in mind that the cooking method you use will also play a role in how much of the beneficial nutrients remain in your vegetables.  For example, if you steam broccoli for 3 – 4 minutes vs eating it raw or microwaving it, you’ll maximize the amount of available sulforaphane.  Frozen broccoli is also not optimal because the blanching used in the steaming process reduces the sulforaphane level.  Chopping vegetables prior to steaming or sauteing  starts the enzyme action as well as reducing cooking time.  Go ahead and experiment with various cooking methods and added flavors including onions, garlic and spices to pinpoint what you like best, but no matter what, eat your broccoli!

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