Mom was right: eat your broccoli

June 27, 2016 Providence Health Team

Broccoli is packed with healthy nutrients such as fiber, potassium, and vitamins B, A, and E. But did you know this superfood may decrease your risk of chronic illness?

Recently, researchers at the University of Illinois identified potential genes in broccoli responsible for accumulating phenolic compounds, including some flavonoids and phenolic acids. Consuming phenolic compounds is linked with a decreased risk of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, Type II diabetes, asthma and several types of cancers.

“Phenolic compounds have good antioxidant activity, and there is increasing evidence that this antioxidant activity affects biochemical pathways affiliated with inflammation in mammals,” explained Jack Juvik, geneticist at University of Illinois, in a statement. “We need inflammation because it’s a response to disease or damage, but it’s also associated with initiation of a number of degenerative diseases. People whose diets consist of a certain level of these compounds will have a lesser risk of contracting these diseases.”

Good broccoli genes identified

The researchers crossed two broccoli lines, then tested their offspring for total phenolic make-up and ability to neutralize oxygen radicals. By definition, radicals have an unpaired electron, making them highly reactive. As a result, radicals have the potential to damage healthy cells and DNA.

Now that scientists have pinpointed the genes involved in building up phenolic compounds, they can take the research one step further. They are hoping to breed broccoli and other vegetables in the Brassica genus, commonly known as cruciferous vegetables, to yield high doses of phenolic compounds.

Common Brassica vegetables include:

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Collard greens
  • Cauliflower
  • Bok choy

Nutrients give color

Some vegetables lose nutrients when cooked a certain way, but phelonic compounds are stable and flavorless. In other words, cooking the vegetables will not diminish any potential benefit derived from the compounds. And, researchers are working hard to breed super-vegetables without affecting the flavor or taste. 

Once vegetables are consumed, the compounds are absorbed and targeted to specific areas of the body or concentrated in the liver. Flavonoids, the largest group of naturally occurring phenolic compounds, are anti-inflammatory nutrients that give food its color.

“These are things we can’t make ourselves, so we have to get them from our diets,” Juvik said in a statement on the university’s website.

You can learn more about the study in the journal Molecular Breeding.

Eat more broccoli

There are many creative ways to get more broccoli in your diet. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Dip raw broccoli in hummus
  • Make broccoli pesto
  • Top homemade pizza with broccoli
  • Add broccoli to mashed potatoes
  • Grill broccoli with lemon
  • Stir-fry broccoli with other veggies

If you have questions about eating healthier and reducing the risk of chronic disease, talk with your provider. Don’t have one? Find a Providence provider near you.

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