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Broccoli is one of nature’s miracle foods. It’s relatively inexpensive, available year round and is naturally low in calories. One cup of chopped and cooked broccoli has only 46 calories, yet it is packed with essential vitamins and minerals, fiber and protein.
But its health benefits are the real miracle story here. This familiar green cruciferous vegetable has been around since ancient Roman times fighting all sorts of health issues from cancer and heart disease to age-related vision and bone problems.
It’s no accident that more than 300 research studies have focused on broccoli’s cancer fighting properties. Broccoli is rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals and omega-3 fatty acids—such as indoles, glucosinolates, beta-carotene, vitamin C and folate— that some studies have shown to inhibit the formation of cancer or reduce the size of the tumors in animals and humans.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, have been of particular interest to scientists because they contain the highest levels of certain glucosinolates, a class of phytochemicals that many believe may reduce the risk of prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancer.
When broccoli is eaten as a raw or lightly cooked food, enzymes help to break down the glucosinolates into two valuable compounds, sulforaphane and erucin.
If you want to get the most out of this miracle food, supplements just won’t do, according to a new study. It turns out Mother was right. You’ve got to eat your vegetables.
Researchers at Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University examined whether healthy compounds found in cruciferous vegetables can be just as easily obtained through supplements. The short answer is no, and overcooking them isn’t helpful either.
Emily Ho, the study’s lead investigator, says supplement forms of glucosinolates are missing a key enzyme, myrosinase, that’s necessary for the body to absorb healthy nutrients.
“Some vitamins and nutrients are actually better-absorbed as a supplement than through food,” Ho said. “But the particular compounds that we believe give broccoli and related vegetables their health value need to come from the whole food.”