Why You’re Not Getting the Full Health Benefits From the Broccoli You Eat🥦

Photo by Kate Kozyrka on Unsplash

Are you a broccoli lover? Hopefully, you’re not a hater like President George H.W. Bush who reportedly despised the crunchy green stalks. Nutritionists wax poetic about the health benefits of broccoli and it tops the list of most nutritious produce. What’s not to love about this green, crunchy vegetable?

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, a class rich in compounds that show cancer preventive properties in the laboratory. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K and a noteworthy source of fiber and antioxidant compounds.

In terms of taste appeal, broccoli is a bit polarizing. In some surveys, it ranks at the top of the list people love but a significant portion of the population proclaim it’s the veggie they hate most!

Unfortunately, even if you’re eating your broccoli you may not get the full benefits of this nutrient-dense vegetable. The way you cook it and what you eat it with can affect how much benefit you get from eating this cruciferous vegetable. Here’s why you’re not enjoying the full health benefits from the broccoli you eat.

How Do You Cook Your Broccoli?

Some of the health benefits of broccoli come from glucosinolates, natural compounds that give broccoli its anti-cancer benefits. Studies show these compounds boost the activity of detoxification pathways that help our bodies eliminate toxins that damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer.

Plus, some research shows that compounds in broccoli activate tumor suppressor genes that block the growth of malignancies.

There’s only one catch. To get the full anti-cancer benefits of broccoli, your body must convert glucosinolates into active compounds called sulforaphanes. An enzyme called myrosinase is the key to getting the job done.

Myrosinase goes to work turning glucosinolates from that serving of broccoli into active sulforaphanes, the form you need for the full health benefits. Cooking broccoli destroys some of this important enzyme.

by freepic.diller at FreePik.com.

The best way to preserve as much myrosinase as possible is to eat it raw, steam, or saute it with a light touch. Avoid boiling or blanching it. No soft and mushy broccoli, please! The longer you expose broccoli to heat, the more vitamin C you lose.

Vitamin C, thiamine, and riboflavin are three of the most heat unstable vitamins, If you’re eating broccoli for its vitamin C content, it’s best to eat it raw. That’s true of most fruits and vegetables, as exposure to heat and light destroys vitamin C.

The Problem with Frozen Broccoli

Frozen broccoli is convenient! Just pop it in the microwave and it’s ready to season and serve. The good news is frozen broccoli is as nutrient-dense as fresh broccoli in most respects, sometimes more so, since manufacturers freeze broccoli right after harvest and that locks in their nutrients. In contrast, fresh broccoli loses vitamin C and some B-vitamins after harvest, during transport, and when it sits on store shelves.

On the downside, frozen broccoli doesn’t carry the same cancer-fighting benefits as fresh broccoli. It lacks myrosinase because frozen broccoli manufacturers blanch broccoli to ensure it keeps its green color. The blanching process, which exposes the vegetable to heat, destroys myrosinase.

The frozen broccoli in that store-bought package may look crisp and green but blanching depleted its most important enzyme. It’s possible to blanch broccoli at a lower temperature that still preserves its myrosinase, but that’s not the industry standard.

There is a way to still get boost the anti-cancer benefits of frozen broccoli. Enjoy it with real wasabi, horseradish, or mustard since they contain myrosinase. You can also eat frozen broccoli with other raw cruciferous vegetables, such as watercress, cabbage, or arugula since they can supply the myrosinase your body needs to convert glucosinolates to sulforaphanes.

Broccoli Sprouts Are Another Option

If you’re eating broccoli for its potential anti-cancer benefits, broccoli sprouts are a splendid choice. Broccoli sprouts have top levels of myrosinase, up to 50 times the quantity in the mature broccoli plant. If you eat frozen broccoli with broccoli sprouts, you get the anti-cancer benefits because they contain a large quantity of myrosinase to convert glucosinolates to sulforaphanes. Sprinkle them on salads or add them to soups, stews, and wraps. Some people even grow their own at home in a glass jar.

Here’s another tip. Sprinkle broccoli sprouts or broccoli with lemon juice. Research shows the acidity of the lemon juice enhances myrosinase even more. Plus, a squeeze of lemon juice adds more vitamin C too.

Skip the Broccoli Supplements

Some people try to take the easy route and buy broccoli supplements.(aff) Don’t waste your money! They’re processed in a way that destroys myrosinase. Now you know why that’s a deal-breaker! It’s another example of how getting nutrients and micronutrients from whole foods is a better option than getting them in pill form. You can’t capture the health benefits of produce in a pill.

Plus, you know exactly what you’re getting when you eat a serving of broccoli and that’s not true of supplements. There are many examples of supplements not containing what’s listed on the label, not containing enough of the active ingredient, or containing impurities.

Take-Home Points

  • For maximal anti-cancer benefits, eat broccoli raw or cook it lightly by sautĂ©ing or steaming.
  • Frozen broccoli is nutritious but doesn’t have the same anti-cancer activity as raw, fresh broccoli.
  • Broccoli sprouts are an excellent source of myrosinase. Sprinkle on salads.
  • Don’t count on broccoli supplements to have the same benefits as raw broccoli or broccoli sprouts.
  • Don’t microwave broccoli. Doing so also destroys the critical enzyme myrosinase.

References:

  • Nutraingredients.com. “Frozen Broccoli Lacks Ability to Form Health Compound”
  • World’s Healthiest Foods website.
  • Journal of Biological Chemistry, 270, 20530–20535.
  • Journal of Functional Foods. Volume 5, Issue 2, April 2013, Pages 987–990.
  • ScienceDaily.com. “Health benefits of broccoli require the whole food, not supplements”
  • Curr Pharmacol Rep. 2015 May; 1(3): 179–196. Published online 2015 Jan 30. doi: 10.1007/s40495–015–0017-y

I’m a family physician who believes in the power of lifestyle to transform health and prevent disease. Food is the best medicine!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store