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Steam Broccoli, Add Sprouts to Boost Cancer Fighting Benefits


If you want to boost the cancer fighting benefits of broccoli, the secret is to steam it lightly—never overcook it--and to add broccoli sprouts. This combination can nearly double the anticancer properties of this cruciferous vegetable.

Steam broccoli to preserve the enzyme myrosinase

Much has been studied and written about the cancer fighting and anti-inflammatory properties of broccoli and one of its ingredients, sulforphane, which is credited with these benefits. However, you can virtually eliminate these advantages if you overcook broccoli or depend solely on broccoli powder supplements.

That’s because overcooking broccoli destroys the enzyme myrosinase, which is necessary for sulforaphane to form, according to a new University of Illinois study. Broccoli powder supplements also do not have this critical enzyme.

According to Jenna Cramer, co-author of the study, “There is a way to boost that powder’s effectiveness, though. Broccoli sprouts contain myrosinase in abundance.” Therefore the investigators hypothesized that the myrosinase in broccoli sprouts would boost sulforaphane formation and absorption from broccoli powder if people ate them together.

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To test this idea, they enrolled four healthy men who each ate four meals consisting of dry cereal and yogurt along with 2 grams of broccoli sprouts, 2 grams of broccoli powder, both, or neither. Blood and urine samples were collected from the men after their meals.

The researchers found a nearly twofold increase in the amount of sulforaphane absorbed when the men ate sprouts and powder together. They also said their findings indicate myrosinase from the broccoli sprouts produced sulforaphane both from the sprouts and from the precursor of sulforaphane present in the powder.

Broccoli has been credited with a variety of health benefits. Studies suggest sulforphane boosts the activity of a natural protein that protects the arteries against inflammation, and that the sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts may protect the gut from damage from bacteria that leads to stomach cancer and ulcers. Broccoli compounds have also been shown to kill breast cancer stem cells, benefit the heart, and protect the lungs of smokers.

If you are reluctant to include broccoli sprouts in your diet, then you can add some other foods high in sulforaphane to enhance broccoli's cancer fighting benefits, such as Brussel sprouts, cabbage, mustard, radishes, arugula, and wasabi. Steam broccoli for 2 to 4 minutes to preserve the critical enzyme, myrosinase.

Cramer JM, Jeffery EH. Nutrition and Cancer 2011 Jan;
DOI: 10.1080/01635581.2011.523495
Image source: Wikimedia