Monday, November 14, 2011


Cruciferous vegetables constitute one of the most widely consumed food items in the world and the major ones in this family include Cauliflower,Cabbage, Cress, Bok choy, and Broccoli. They contain significant levels of vitamin C, soluble fiber and many nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals with health protecting properties. Diindolylmethane, Sulfaraphane and Selenium are the three constituents present in these vegetables that make them nutritionally unique. But they also carry possible goitrogenic agents that can disrupt thyroid formation resulting in goiter if consumed in large quantities without cooking. However since most vegetables are cooked the goitrogenicity is more than off set by the beneficial phytochemicals with far reaching impact on health.

Broccoli recently caught the attention world wide because of the successful efforts in Britain where scientists were reported to have developed a super version containing higher levels of the phytochemical Glucoraphanin, almost 3 times the amount compared to its normal counterpart. Interestingly Broccoli sprouts are known to contain 10 times more Glucoraphanin compared to that in the mature vegetable and health conscious consumers buy them purely for protecting their health. Glucoraphanin is the precursor of the active constituent Sulforaphane that is considered almost a wonder nutrient.. The new version has been patented in Europe and safety cleared before entering the market. Normal Broccoli has sufficient Vitamin C to provide 107% of RDA in a 100 gm serving, besides 97% of RDA for Vitamin K and varying levels of others like dietary fiber etc..Whether the new super Broccoli  contains same levels or more of the these micro nutrients is not clear from available reports.

Diindolylmethane present is considered potent moderator of innate immune response system with antiviral, antibacterial and anticancer activities. Similarly Glucoraphanin is another chemical entity present that is implicated in reduction of fat in the body, cholesterol cutting and heart protective functions. Indole-3-Carbinol, another substance in Broccoli is reported to be effective in boosting the ability of cells to repair DNA damage and block the growth of cancer cells. it is well known that Broccoli has the highest levels of carotenoids in the brassica family, being particularly rich in inlutein. It also provides a modest amount of beta-carotene. A high intake of Broccoli has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. Broccoli consumption has also been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease though its consumption is associated with malodorous flatulence, from metabolism of the sulfur-containing compounds it contains.

Vegetables are invariably described by many experts as a veritable medicine chest and it is he failure of consumers to open this "chest" that leads to various diseases like CVD, Cancer, Blood Pressure etc. When it comes to Broccoli, it is unique in providing adequate levels of these health protective phytochemicals and no wonder it has become synonymous with good health similar to Asparagus. One of the problems in consuming adequate quantity of Broccoli is that if cooked in water the functional properties are lost significantly and this loss can be as high as 77% when cooking is prolonged for 30 minutes. Steaming, microwaving and stir frying are recommended for preserving these vital nutrients. However it is not clear whether these methods of cooking can also achieve freedom from goitrogenic property.

Interestingly the scientists who developed super Broccoli deployed conventional breeding techniques of crossing a traditional local variety with a wild, bitter Sicilian variety that has no no flowery head but was rich in glucoraphanin resulting in the new variety. No wonder it took the group more than 14 years to come out with a product with high concentration of this active ingredient. Probably if GM technology was deployed same result would have been possible in a fraction of the time spent by the research group. Obviously the same product derived with GM technology would have been confined to history because of the difficulty involved in getting safety clearance from the authorities concerned for universal marketing, One has to admire the foresight of the developers in developing such a product as there is a perceptible tendency among producers to inject extra nutrients into foods, ranging from calcium-enriched orange juice to fortified sugary cereals and milk with added omega 3 fatty acids. The new broccoli is sold as part of a line of vegetables that includes mushrooms with extra vitamin D, and tomatoes and potatoes with added selenium.

An interesting question that may still pose problem for sustaining the marketing of super Broccoli is about any safety risks associated with over consumption. Not sufficient data exists to know if anyone could overdose on glucoraphanin, but vitamin D and selenium in very high quantities can be toxic. Impending human trials using super Broccoli to compare its efficacy with normal version of the vegetable in improving heart health and other claimed benefits only will lay sufficient ground work to get necessary clearance from the European Food Safety Agency for advertising the claims. Of course there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that supports the efficacy of glucoraphanin and related compounds as an important preventive agents against heart attacks and certain cancers. Glucoraphanin is a mildly toxic compound used by plants to fight insects. In humans, glucoraphanin may stimulate the body's natural chemical defenses, potentially making the body stronger at removing dangerous compounds. Some experts believe that eating foods packed with extra nutrients would probably have only a minimal impact compared with other lifestyle choices, like not smoking and exercising. It is true that eating the super Broccoli is not going to counteract one's bad habits and there is considerable misgivings whether such nutrient boosted products like super Broccoli, if added to more popular foods would work to improve people's overall health. Because of the higher price tag, almost 35% more than that of normal Broccoli, how far the new version will become popular remains to be seen. If increasing acceptance of organic foods which are costlier than their industrially produced counterparts is any indication, super Broccoli may capture the imagination of the consumers who are becoming more and more sensitive to food safety and general health.


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