This vegetable-flower belongs to the cabbage family, descendants of the maritime cabbage, which always grows in the wild. Long scorned in Europe, while it was very much consumed in America, it had to return to grace for its nutritional qualities.
The main producing areas of broccoli are North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia.
The story of broccoli
The term “Broccoli” from brocco Italian which means “arm or branch” on which rests the head or “cabbage shoots.”
There is a species called “broccoli-turnip”, “Italian broccoli” or rapini, but which, in reality, belongs to the botanical type of turnip (Brassica rapa var. ruvo). In addition, it can be found in Asian markets as variety of so-called “Chinese broccoli’ (Brassica oleracea alboglabra) or Gai Lon. Still, in this case, we cannot strictly speak of a broccoli because it is not the same species.
Broccoli comes from the same wild ancestor than the kale, as it shares the name, with a few variations. Broccoli has been selected during the same period, one or two centuries before our era. It is in the south of Italy, specifically in the province of Calabria, where it should have come from. The Romans grew and liked them. However, it seems it has disappeared from the scene with the decline of the Roman Empire. It has been reintroduced in Italy in the 16th century, from the ridge or East of the Mediterranean basin. It then spread in the North of Europe, where it was called it a time ‘Italian asparagus’, a name that still persists in some descriptions.
Introduced in England around 1720, it took the path to North America at the time of colonization. However, even well into the 1930s, it was unknown to everyone, except members of the Italian community. They grew many green, white and red varieties. Then, people discovered its medicinal virtues.
Usually green heads of broccoli can also be red, purple, or white, depending on the varieties.
Broccoli health profile
Broccoli is a vegetable of the family of crucifers. It contains a lot of vitamin C. Its bioactive compounds have anticancer effects. To enjoy it at its best and get the maximum benefits, it’s better to eat it raw or slightly cooked.
Benefits of broccoli
Several epidemiological studies have shown that a high fruit and vegetable consumption reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and other chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role in this protection.
• Cancer. Several studies have shown that regular consumption of vegetables from the family of crucifers (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels cabbage) may prevent some cancers, such as those of the lung, ovarian, prostate and liver. Broccoli, consumed at least a few times a week might be associated with a lower risk of colorectal stomach, lung, prostate cancer, and even of premenopausee breast cancer.
A recent study found regular consumption of broccoli can increase the chances of survival in bladder cancer.
Epidemiological studies indicate the vegetables of the cruciferous family, including broccoli, provide more protection against several types of cancer than fruits and vegetables in general.
Several studies show consumption of 3 to 5 servings of cruciferous a week results in significant protection against the cancer.
• Cardiovascular health. A daily consumption of cruciferous would be associated with a lower blood concentration of homocysteine, which would decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Among postmenopausal women, consumption of broccoli would be associated with a lower risk of death caused by cardiovascular disease.
It has been shown that eating 5 servings or more broccoli a week (one serving = 125 ml cooked broccoli or 250 ml of raw broccoli) among women significantly decreased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease compared to a low supply of broccoli (75 ml of cooked broccoli) or 125 ml of broccoli believed a week.
In addition, a reduction in mortality due to cardiovascular disease was observed for women with contributions raised in kaempferol, a flavonoid found mostly in broccoli and tea. Several epidemiological studies have observed a decrease in the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease with a high in kaempferol intake.
• Eye health. Several studies indicate that a regular intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration and cataract, two eye diseases. These two abundant carotenoids in broccoli, accumulate in the macula and retina of the eye, protecting against oxidative stress which could cause damage.
• Memory. A study among women has concluded that consumption of cruciferous would slow down cognitive decline.
What does broccoli contain?
Broccoli contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants compounds of the family of the carotenoides. A serving of cooked Broccoli (½ Cup or 125 ml) contains more lutein and zeaxanthin than raw broccoli. By comparison, (1 cup or 250 ml) of raw spinach, a vegetable rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, contains 3 times more than cooked broccoli. These compounds could help prevent some cancers, including those of the breast and the lung and participate in prevention of cardiovascular disease. Note, however, that studies on the consumption of antioxidants in relation to cardiovascular disease prevention are still contradictory.
Broccoli antioxidant ability diminishes during storage. It may even decrease by more than 50% after the time of maximum storage (either when broccoli presents a visual deterioration).
Like the majority of cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains glucosinolates. Glucosinolates in broccoli have the ability to turn into active molecules (sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol and 3,3′-diindolylmethane) when this food is chopped, chewed or in contact with bacteria of the intestinal flora. Several of these molecules would contribute to limit the development of some cancers, including breast cancer .
Studies have shown that the storage and the cooking of broccoli resulted in the loss of glucosinolates and that excessive cooking reduced the formation of sulforaphane. It would be better to consume this vegetable lightly cooked in a small amount of water or fried in a pan. A moderate cooking would optimize the formation of bioactive compounds.
Raw broccoli consumption results in faster sulforaphane absorption and increased its bioavailability compared with cooked broccoli.
Sulforaphane. Broccoli is one of the main sources of a glucosinolate called glucoraphanine. Under the action of the myrosinase, the glucoraphanin turns into an active isothiocyanate called sulforaphane. Researchers have found that broccoli naturally contained a protein that interfered with the formation of this compound, but that moderate cooking could disactivate this protein, which would enable greater amounts of sulforaphane. On the other hand, these researchers also noted that a too strong cooking reduced the formation of sulforaphane.
Indole-3-carbinol and 3,3′-diindolylmethane. The indole-3-carbinol is another active compound from glucosinolate in broccoli and other brassicas. In the body, the indole-3-carbinol may turn in turn 3,3′-diindolylmethane.
Other. Active compounds contained in Broccoli (sulforaphanes and indole-3-carbinol) also showed in animals a beneficial action on the formation of tumors, limiting the growth of cancer cells and promoting their autodestruction. In addition, it was observed that the sulforaphane had the ability to reduce the growth and destroy H. Pylori among animals, but also among humans. H. Pylori is a bacteria which can infect the stomach and cause ulcers and cancer among humans. Some results also demonstrate a beneficial effect of indole-3-carbinol against cancer of the uterus or the bladder. However, further research is necessary before confirming these findings among humans.
Brassicas, broccoli, hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer.
The Brassicas, including broccoli, should they be avoided if one suffers from hypothyroidism?
According to current knowledge, people shoudn’t moderate consumption of Brassicas in the case of hypothyroidism, unless blood assays indicate an iodine deficiency.
Explanation. Cruciferous vegetables are part of the family of the ‘goitrogenes’ foods that would have the capacity to hinder the use of iodine by the thyroid gland. On the other hand, since crucifers are good for health, it is not recommended to remove them completely, but only cook them slightly in order to reduce the activity of the goitrogenes molecules.
Is there a link between cruciferous and thyroid cancer?
Crucifers naturally contain some thioglucosides, substances having a link with cancer of the thyroid gland.
What the science says. Diet that involves very large amounts of crucifers (vegetables that belong to the family of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) can prevent the absorption of iodine by the body and thus increase the risk of thyroid cancer. The diets with high amount of raw vegetables other than cruciferous vegetables are slightly lowering the risk of thyroid cancer.
Vitamin K and blood thinners
Broccoli contains a high quantity of vitamin K, important among others for blood coagulation. People taking anticoagulant drugs (Coumadin, Warfilone and Sintrom) must adopt a diet whose content in vitamin K is relatively stable from one day to the other. Broccoli is part of a list of foods (asparagus, Swiss chard, cabbage, watercress, spinach, etc.) and should be consumed with moderation. It is strongly recommended to people under anticoagulation to consult a dietitian-nutritionist or doctor to know the food sources of vitamin K and to ensure a more stable possible daily intake.
The irritable bowel syndrome. Some people with irritable bowel syndrome may feel, to varying degrees, an intolerance towards the crucifers like broccoli. Limit or avoid fermentable foods like those of the crucifers family, can alleviate symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea) among people with this syndrome. When the symptoms are mild, or during the periods of “remission”, it is sometimes possible to gradually reintegrate these foods, always respecting the individual tolerance.
Interaction between moths and certain medications. The indole, some compounds found naturally in the cruciferous, can notably reduce the action of some analgesics such as products containing acetaminophen (Tylenol, Atasol, Tempra) and other drugs combining a mix of active ingredients (Benylin, Contac, Robaxacet). People who consume a large amount of cruciferous should take this aspect into account.
Selection and conservation
Choose broccoli with firm stems and a compact head. The yellow flowers are the sign that it is not fresh and it will certainly have a bitter taste.
The stems can be eaten. Peel them and cut in the direction of the length they take the same time to cook than the heads.
People usually do overcook the broccoli, which becomes pasty, unappetizing, and loses some of its properties. Cook it instead in steam leaving the crunch. This will make better and richer in nutrients.
The red florets broccoli loses its color when it’s cooked. If you care about the color, serve it raw, as a dip for example.
The rapini (or broccoli Italian) is consumed with its stems and leaves, and requires only a very short cooking.
Refrigerator. Four or five days in the crisper.
Freezer. Do bleach 5 minutes in boiling water, cool in ice water, drain and put in freezer bags.
Lacto-fermentation. Just like the cabbage, it can be turned into sauerkraut. Use the stems rather than heads and mince finely.
The culture of the broccoli is substantially the same as that of cabbage and the problems that the gardeners meet are also the same. However, broccoli grows more readily in summer, because to a certain extent, it can tolerate heat. We can lose it from spring until autumn. On the other hand, if the heat wave persists, it may go to seed, which makes it bitter. As for rapini and Gai Lon, they grow very quickly and can be planted several times during the season.
Ecology and environment
According to agricultural authorities, ozone, one of the major air pollutants, causes injury to broccoli leaves when they are growing. This gas would destroy part of the tissue directly or would make them sensitive to mildew, a fungal disease that is becoming increasingly widespread. Result: the broccoli heads are smaller and the lower yields.