While a humble head of broccoli is not everyone’s idea of a superfood – it certainly packs a punch when it comes to your health.
Scientists have unlocked a major secret, in the form of a chemical called sulforaphane. This is created when you chew (or cut) cruciferous vegetables. Once it gets into your blood stream, the health benefits quickly multiply.
This page gives you an overview of Sulforaphane and covers why natural food sources are the best way to consume this.
Broccoli, Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables contain a precursor to sulforaphane. Glucoraphanin is the precursor molecule. This needs a catalyst in the form of an enzyme called myrosinase to become sulforaphane and unlock those major health and fitness benefits. This enzyme is also in the vegetables, in saliva and in your gut microbiome too.
Raw vegetables are ideal, though steaming them works too. These beneficial compounds vary widely, even between different types of the same vegetable. For maximum effectiveness, choose broccoli sprouts instead of the mature version.
Oxidation occurs naturally inside our cells. Molecules are stripped of electrons, which then bind to our DNA and other cell components as part of our normal energy cycle.
Ordinarily, we repair issues caused by ‘free radicals’ continually.
When our bodies are stressed by pollution, too much sugar or even fatigue – the amount of oxidation skyrockets.
This is where having powerful antioxidant chemicals like sulforaphane on hand makes a significant difference. It balances the negatives of oxidative stress, and even helps remove environmental toxins from our blood.
Oxidation and free radicals are present in many chronic and even fatal conditions.
Reducing inflammation (our response to oxidative stress) is a proven way to get the best from our immune response.
Papers have linked sulforaphane with better outcomes for prostate and other cancers. While not statistically significant (small sample sizes), the benefits were measurable in controlled trials using placebos.
Scientists have also linked sulforaphane with reduction in heart disease, dementia and autism.
Keep in mind that broccoli alone is not a panacea, and that you should always speak with a medical professional about symptoms or concerns.
Tipping the balance from starchy carbohydrates to plant fibres shows another key reason that cruciferous vegetables are the healthy choice.
Those carbs from flour, white rice or potatoes are broken down into glucose rapidly. This sets of a chain of responses from your body. Insulin enables your cells to store the glucose as fat. Spike your blood sugar enough and your response to insulin diminishes. This road leads to pre-diabetes and eventually to Type 2 diabetes.
Fibre is not broken down in this way. Add the vitamin and mineral content (plus the Sulforaphane) and you quickly see why leafy greens are the best option for overall fitness.
Sulforaphane packs a punch, though I certainly understand why regular broccoli or kale is not for everyone.
In complete contrast, you get antioxidants from eating chocolate. No, not the mix of sugar and chemicals you get in your local newsagent – from dark chocolate make from cocoa. This has flavonoids, phenolic antioxidants and procyanidins.
Blueberries are delicious and packed with antioxidants. The key chemical here are a type called anthocyanins. You also get these (in smaller amounts) from strawberries and raspberries.
We can add beans, certain types of nuts and my favourite salad base – spinach- to this list.
Before you reach for expensive supplements, keep in mind that those scientific papers found big benefits from something as simple as occasional bowls of broccoli soup.
Nature provides multiple ways to boost our defences against the constant oxidative stresses of our diet and environment. Make sure you are taking full advantage my making cruciferous vegetables a regular part of your healthy diet.
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