Broccoli: Lean, Green Anticancer Machine

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italica)?loved by many, despised by legions more?is the cancer-fighting cruciferous crusader of the produce isle.

The Folklore. The name broccoli comes from the Latin brachium and Italian brocco, which means arm or branch. Originally enjoyed on dining tables of the Roman Empire, broccoli eventually made an appearance in the colonial garden of Thomas Jefferson. But the vegetable only gained popularity in the early 1920s, when two Italian brothers farmed broccoli in California and shipped it to Boston’s mostly Italian North End. Broccoli became infamous in the early 1990s when the first President Bush declared his dislike of it.

The Facts. The Brassica family of vegetables, to which broccoli belongs, includes
Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and turnips. Collectively, they are called cruciferous (or ?cross-bearing?) vegetables, courtesy of the distinctive cross shape of the flower’s petals, characteristic of all plants in the family.
   Raw or cooked, broccoli boasts a wealth of nutrients. Packed with vitamins A, C and K, folate and beta-carotene, broccoli is also a source of the minerals potassium, calcium and magnesium. At 30 calories per cup, it is a calorie counter’s dream. Florets that are dark green, purplish or bluish green contain more beta-carotene and vitamin C than lighter green tops.

The Findings. In the 1990s, John Hopkins researchers discovered that broccoli is particularly rich in a powerful antioxidant called sulforaphane that mobilizes substances called Phase 2 enzymes, the body’s own defense against cancer cells. Researchers believe that isothiocyanates like sulforaphane may combat heart disease, perhaps even stomach ulcers and macular degeneration. Moreover, one cup of broccoli florets contains more vitamin C than an orange plus an abundance of lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients thought to contribute to eye health. Eating broccoli?or any cruciferous vegetable?has been linked to reduced risk of cancer of the lung, colon, rectum and stomach.

The Finer Points. Broccoli has two distinct harvests’spring and fall. Fresh broccoli  should have a sturdy stem and tight, compact green buds. A woody stem or yellow buds indicates an older and tough, stringy vegetable. Store broccoli unwashed in the refrigerator in a perforated bag. Wet broccoli becomes limp and moldy. Use within three to five days; older broccoli develops a strong flavor. Steam broccoli for three to five minutes to maintain its firm texture and bright green hue. Overcooking will produce a strong sulfur odor and significantly cut the vitamin C content. Like other green vegetables, be careful not to cook in acidic water or in an aluminum pot, or you?ll end up with gray mush.  

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