Words Lim Teck Choon
Accredited Practising Dietitian (Aus)
Unicare Pharmacy (Petaling Jaya)
Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts are just some of the vegetables that fall under the Cruciferae family. Hence, the greens in this family are often referred to as cruciferous vegetables. Aside from those already mentioned, other cruciferous greens that often grace our dinner table include kai lan, bok choy, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, choy sum and wasabi (the plant, not the sauce).
Edna Loh, an accredited practising dietitian, explains that these plants are rich in sulforaphane, a substance that is increasingly found to be more beneficial to our health than we initially suspected.
Down with the Cancer Risk?
Sulforaphane plays a role in regulating a gene called nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). This gene allows for the production of signalling proteins (cytokines) that are involved in suppressing carcinogenic substances.
There have been several studies demonstrating the likelihood of sulforaphane in reducing the risk of cervical, bladder and prostate cancers. A large population study even found that there is a 39% reduction in risk of bladder cancer in participants who consumed two or more servings of broccoli compared to those who ate fewer than 1 serving per week.
Reduces Inflammation of Joints and Cardiovascular System
Some studies proposed that sulforaphane can help block the production of a signal protein, called interleukin 1 beta (IL-1), which when released will trigger inflammation. Therefore, it can be beneficial to add sulforaphane as a dietary component in combination with ongoing treatments for painful inflammatory conditions such as spinal cord or joint injuries.
Improved Detoxification by the Liver
Sulforaphane may help speed up the detoxification of potentially dangerous substances (drugs, pesticides, etc) by the liver, likely by stimulating the activity of liver enzymes that are responsible for the detoxification process.
Protects Our Cells Against Damage
Furthermore, research suggests that this helpful substance can activate 200 other genes to produce proteins that will improve the defence of our cells against damage by free radicals. If you may recall, free radicals are thought to be one of the possible risk factors for cancer. By protecting our cells from free radicals, sulforaphane helps to ensure the normal, healthy functioning of these cells.
Other Potential Benefits
- Protection from the ageing effects of sunlight (photoageing).
- Protection from risk factors that may affect brain development among children with autism.
GETTING THE GOODNESS
Here is the tricky part: even if you include cruciferous vegetables in your diet, sulforaphane is very sensitive to heat, and can spoil (denature) as a result of heat. Most studies recommend that you eat these vegetables raw.
Now, don’t make that face. If you’re not keen on the taste of raw vegetables, Edna Loh recommends the following to still get the most out of cooked cruciferous vegetables.
- Wash and then chop up the vegetables. Leave them aside for 30 to 45 minutes. This will allow the moisture on the vegetables to activate an enzyme (myrosinase) in these greens, which will lead to the formation of more sulforaphane.
- Steam the vegetables for no more than 3 minutes at 60-100°C.
- If you wish to boil broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables, add some mustard seeds to intensify sulforaphane formation.
Tip for Parents! If your kids are not fond of the taste of cruciferous vegetables, raw or cooked, try including them in their diet in the following ways: mix the cruciferous veggies with other vegetables (peas, carrots, etc), use them to make a pizza, roast them, or prepare creamy dips using these vegetables. Don’t worry if these dishes don’t contain much sulforaphane – Edna Loh says that the most important thing here is to allow your kids to develop an appreciation for these vegetables. This will make it easier for them to develop a liking for steamed cruciferous vegetables when they are older.
What about Supplements?
Sulforaphane supplements are available in the market. They can cost quite a bit because the technology to process this compound without causing heat to spoil it can be expensive. However, they may benefit certain groups of people such as those at high risk of cancer due to family history.
If you are keen to know more about these supplements or whether they may be of benefit to you, you can discuss this matter further with your pharmacist or doctor.
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