Broccoli is rightly believed to be one of the most powerful superfoods.
It is packed with healthy nutrients such as vitamin C but is best known for its apparent ability to fight cancer. We take a look at this and the other many health benefits of broccoli. By Ross Chainey, Health Editor Last updated September 18 2006
It is loathed by children and presidents alike, but recent research has shown that when it comes to broccoli, we really should be eating our greens. Broccoli has emerged during the last decade as the vegetable perhaps most deserving of the oft-used title of ‘superfood’.
Broccoli’s most fêted strength is widely considered to be its cancer-fighting properties, which is as good a reason as any for us to be eating as much of this delicious vegetable as possible.
Consider the evidence: research published in the British Journal of Cancer earlier this year found that a chemical in broccoli (as well as cauliflower and cabbage) can help repair DNA in cells and stop them from becoming cancerous. The research was carried out by a team at Georgetown University, which found that broccoli contains a compound called I3C.
Diet and cancer link
Broccoli has been thought for some time to play a part in cancer prevention, but scientists were never entirely sure why. The research by the team at Georgetown went some way to explaining this link between our diet and the development of cancer.
The proteins which carry out the repairs are regulated by genes called BRAC1 and BRAC2 and are essential for preventing damaged genetic regulation being passed on to the next generation of cells. Faulty BRAC genes mean a person is at a higher risk of developing some forms of cancer such as breast, ovarian and prostate.
Cancer cells contain low levels of BRAC and the research team believes a higher level might prevent a person developing cancer. I3C is effective at increasing levels of BRAC proteins, thus explaining the protective effects of broccoli.
Professor Eliot Rosen, who led the research team, told the BBC: “Studies that monitor people’s diets and their health have found links between certain types of food and cancer risk. However, before we can say a food protects against cancer, we have to understand how it does this.
“It is now clear that the function of crucial cancer genes can be influenced by compounds in the things we eat. Our findings suggest a clear molecular process that would explain the connection between diet and cancer prevention.”
The Georgetown research is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health benefits of broccoli. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a paper that listed broccoli as the food most likely to prevent colon cancer, while the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston conducted research which found that broccoli helped to reduce the risk of cataracts. Another study found that, in a list of foods that could prevent strokes, broccoli again came out on top.
Broccoli is also full to the brim with nutrients, containing more vitamin C than an orange (ounce for ounce) and, perhaps more surprisingly, more calcium than a glass of milk. Broccoli is also rich in fibre and vitamin A, both substances that are vital for maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.