Broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. var. Italica Plenck) is a plant belonging to the brassica family. Some research says that it is the healthiest vegetable in the world. It has a high content of biologically active compounds and is classified as one of the plants with the strongest anti-cancer potential.
What makes broccoli so super healthy is a large number of polyphenolic compounds, mainly flavonoids. The most important of these are quercetin and kaempferol. Besides, nitrogenous compounds such as glucosinolates play an essential role. Broccoli has a large content of carotenoids and other compounds with strong antioxidant properties. This vegetable also contains lutein and vitamins B2 and C that protect our eyesight. Apart from this, it also contains chromium, which supports the maintenance of proper carbohydrate metabolism. However, what really sets broccoli is its high sulforaphane content.
Sulforaphane is a biologically active compound present in broccoli. It belongs to the group of isothiocyanates and occurs naturally in cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli contains about 0.8-21.7 μmoles of glucoraphanin, which is the precursor of sulforaphane, in 1 gram of dry matter. This ingredient can protect against free radicals, activate detoxification enzymes, help prevent cancer, and support its treatment. Additionally, it prevents stomach ulcers by fighting Helicobacter pylori.
The anticarcinogenic effect of sulforaphane has been noted at all stages of tumor development. Its biological activity supports the metabolism and detoxification of genotoxic and mutagenic factors and reduces their reactivity. There is evidence that it can interfere with angiogenesis and reduce the metastasis process. Sulforaphane also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Sulforaphane is a compound that is formed by a chemical reaction of glucoraphanin (a precursor) and an enzyme called myrosinase present in broccoli. When chewing or chopping raw vegetables, the precursor mixes with the enzyme and forms sulforaphane. Raw broccoli has the highest content of this compound. The myrosinase enzyme is not resistant to heat treatment, so sulforaphane content in cooked vegetables is significantly reduced. To properly prepare broccoli, chop it and let it sit for a few hours for sulforaphane to form. Unlike myrosinase itself, sulforaphane is temperature resistant. If we cook broccoli after it sits for a few hours, it will not lose its health-promoting properties. However, it significantly lengthens the meal preparation process. If we want to save time, but benefit from sulforaphane, it is worth betting on broccoli sprouts that can be eaten raw.
Broccoli is also a major source of glucosinolates. The average content of these compounds is 15.2–59.3 mmol per kilogram of dry matter. These compounds are classified as sulfur glycosides. Due to thermal and enzymatic degradation or with the participation of the intestinal microflora, these glycosides become precursors of isothiocyanates and indoles, biologically active compounds with anti-cancer properties. Glucosinolates can change the activity of phase I and II enzymes in detoxification, and therefore they play a significant role in protecting cells from damage to DNA molecules. DNA molecules can be damaged by free radicals and other carcinogenic factors, which may promote the development of cancer. The inhibition of the process at this level may stop carcinogenesis. Besides, glucosinolates enable the degradation of cells already malignant.
Cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, in particular, can be used in cancer prevention. Research shows that broccoli consumption, due to biologically active substances, may reduce the risk of breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers.
Broccoli is a nutrient-rich vegetable that can improve health in many different ways. Adding broccoli and broccoli sprouts to a diet is a nutritious and tasty way to improve one’s health.
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