You know when there’s nothing on the telly, so you scroll through all that stuff you blindly recorded in a whim, hoping for a little gem. Well, my gem last week was this programme about Superfoods on BBC2. The channels were full of either cricket or Corrie so I pressed play and settled down. It was a piece about broccoli.
“Yeh, we’ve had that drummed into us since we were toddlers. What’s new?”
Within ten minutes my chin was on the floor.
Broccoli and Cancer
Firstly, there was a chap on the programme who had been suffering from Prostate Cancer. His wife had made him broccoli soup and he had eaten a bowl of this (willingly, I believe) every day for six months. The tumour had shrunk in horror in the face of all those antioxidants and the cancer tumour had shrivelled and disappeared. The consultant was there and I saw him with my very own eyes declare that it was, even after chemo and radiotherapy, down to the power of that little green tree.
So, dear reader, I am arising from an afternoon of trawling through science-y and not so science-y websites and have unearthed some jolly useful stuff. For years we’ve been told it’s ‘healthy’, ‘good for us’ ‘can’t have any pudding till you’ve eaten it’. Let’s get the real scoop. The inside story.
- Stick with this bit, prop your eye-lids open with some match sticks. It’s a bit dry and dull but very necessary. Let’s just get a bit of background about free radicals and anti-oxidants. Free radicals in our body are molecules with unpaired electrons. Mighty dangerous. Think loose canon. Bit like a person who’s lost their phone or wallet… they desperately look everywhere trying to find it, causing mayhem as they go. Same happens with the free rads…. they scavenge through your body trying to find the missing part, wreaking havoc and destruction on the way. Antioxidants (gained from our food) neutralise these free radicals and hand over one of their own electrons, so stopping that electron stealing process in its tracks. Vitamins C (that’s our broccoli) and Vitamin E (almonds, fish, tofu… oh, and broccoli again) are particularly good at this job. Free radicals are thought to play a massive part in the development of cancer. Environmental factors such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke can also create free radicals.
- What’s the special ingredient in broccoli? It’s down to a compound called SULFORAPHANE. It’s made in the body when we consume cruciferous vegetables, of which broccoli is the most potent. It is very sensitive to heat so requires careful cooking – see below.
- Is that it? Lordy, no. Half a cup of cooked broccoli (about 80grams) gives us 30 calories, 6g carbs and 3g protein. This serving would give us 80% of our daily Vitamin C (vital for fighting free radicals, for the maintenance of bones, muscle and blood vessels and for the production of collagen): 30% of our daily Vitamin A (for healthy vision, immune system, bone growth and fertility) and 10% of our Vitamin B9 (healthy foetal growth and red blood cell formation). It also has oodles of calcium and omega 3 and 6 plus some potassium and phosphorus.
- How does it help fight cancer? It works by increasing liver enzymes responsible for cancer inducing chemicals that you ingest from food or the environment. It is particularly beneficial for breast, ovarian, lung, colon, prostate and bladder cancer. It also helps fight sun damage and the bacteria responsible for ulcers.
- How should I cook it? 2-4 minutes steaming is good for maximum sulforaphane production. Even better is 1 minute microwaving (which cooks from the inside out), but this leaves it very crunchy and it wouldn’t get past your 2-year old. Raw is good too. Boiling for 4 minutes will half the benefits of the broccoli and 9 minutes will kill the lot stone dead.
- How much should I eat each day? About an 80-100g portion of cooked broccoli is perfect. More if you can. But every day is good.
- If the benefits are so fantastic why aren’t there any supplements? There are. You can get Broccoli Powder which you can add to water or shakes or sprinkle in soups. Ensure you get the freeze dried version though so that nothing is destroyed with heat.
- Even better than the mature broccoli plant are broccoli sprouts. These are 20-50 times more powerful than the normal mature plant we eat on our plates (I know…. bit of a wide range, but no-one was committing to anything tighter). You can grow them from seed and they’re a bit like cress, but you must eat them (on your salads) at 3 days old. Bit of a faff frankly. I have enough deadlines in my life so I poked about on the internet a bit more and found that a hydroponic farm in Somerset produces Broccoli Sprout Juice. Bit expensive (£14 for 7 shots) but there again… at two quid a pop, it’s the same price as a small Americano in Costa.
- Ok, so I’m going to be knocking back broccoli faster than my Friday night mojitos, but what about the… after effects? You know… the wind…? Right, this happens because of the presence in the broccoli of a sugar called raffinose. This raffinose doesn’t get broken down in the small intestine because humans lack the right enzyme. So, it gets shoved along to the large intestine where bacteria have a go at mashing it into a more suitable state. This process can create a lot of gas and gurgling which can cause discomfort for you (not to mention others…) There are supplements available containing an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase which, when taken directly before eating, will calm the gas down. Either pop a tablet or put drops of a liquid form on your tongue.
So go forth and munch. It’s never too late to repair cells, or set yourself on a path to supreme health, or swamp your body with Vitamin C and have permanent green bits stuck between your teeth. Make it an everyday food. Stuff your breakfast omelette with it, have it cold in a lunchtime salad or on the side with your salmon steak for dinner.
Have a healthy, happy evening. Something much more light-hearted coming in a few days.