Why Mother was right: Broccoli and other cruciferous veggies really are good for you

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“I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a  little kid and my mother made me eat it.  And I'm President  of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more  broccoli.”
– George H.W. Bush, 41st U.S. President


The first President Bush may not have been fond of his broccoli, but there are many  reasons why you should be. High in Vitamins C, K and A, folate, soluble fiber and  the omega-3 ALA, broccoli has proven cardiovascular benefits and is a great choice  for healthy eating. Yet what sets broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables above and  beyond are the glucosinolate compounds they contain, which have potent anti-cancer  effects.

Cruciferous vegetables belong to the mustard family, and include cauliflower, cabbage,  kale, Brussels sprouts, and bok choi, among others. When overcooked, they all produce  an unappetizing odor due to their glucosinolate content. These glucosinolates give  cruciferous plants their bitter/sharp taste, and in high doses are toxic to humans and  animals, therefore providing protection for the plants.

Many animal studies have shown that glucosinolates, when consumed in less-than-toxic  amounts, produce substances in the body that inhibit cancer. These isothiocyanates,  which include sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol, and crambene, both stop enzymes from  activating cancer-causing agents in the body, and increase the activity of enzymes that  disable and eliminate carcinogens. In other words, these substances derived from eating  cruciferous vegetables both inhibit the growth of, and slow the spread of, cancers.

Studies show a strong correlation between human and animal diets high in cruciferous  vegetables and lower cancer rates. People who eat the most cruciferous vegetables have  lower risks of prostate, colon, breast, ovarian, bladder, and lung cancer, even when  compared to those who regularly eat other vegetables. In the case of prostate cancer, it  appears that eating broccoli together with tomatoes is even more effective against tumors.

It is important to pay attention to how you select and cook your cruciferous vegetables  in order to maximize their nutritional value, including anti-cancer benefits. Look for  dark green heads on broccoli -- yellowing indicates it is past mature. Cauliflower should  be firm, compact, and creamy white, without any spotting. Brussels sprouts as well as  cabbage needs to be firm and without yellow or brown discoloration on the leaves. Leafy  greens such as kale should be firm and dark green.

When it comes to cooking, both old-fashioned boiling and new-fangled microwaving  are definitely out. Both sharply reduce the nutrient content. Steaming is the best bet  and shows little nutrient loss when kept to 5 minutes. Quickly sautéing with extra virgin  olive oil is another good choice. Remember that overcooking causes those wonderful  glucosinolates to be released and bother your nose rather than protect you from cancer.  Season with lemon juice and sea salt, or add to pasta, salad, or pizza.

So, has President Bush changed his mind yet? Maybe his mom simply overcooked his  broccoli”¦

- Rebecca Taggart

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