At the American Institute of Cancer Research’s 23d annual conference of scientists throughout the world who study the anti-cancer effects of foods, a few plants took top honors:
Broccoli was one of them. (Ok, they really didn’t give out awards, but their presentations on research created lots of buzz.)
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts are the best sources of sulforaphane, a key cancer-fighting compound that’s produced by an enzyme in broccoli. In fact, scientists in the exciting new field of cancer stem cell research have found that sulforaphane targets cancer stem cells.
So how should you eat broccoli to make sure you’re getting the most sulfurophane? Here’s the sulfur-filled bombshell dropped by Dr. Elizabeth Jeffery, professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Illinois:
Broccoli is better when it’s lightly cooked, she says.
That’s because broccoli is “bi-sulfurous,” so to speak, meaning it can swing either way. (I made up that word.) When its enzyme acts on its sulfur-containing compounds, they can get turned into either sulforophanes, which fight cancer, or nitriles, which don’t. “So every molecule of nitriles formed is a sulforaphane not formed, ” Jeffery says. And just a little heat will keep nitriles from forming.
But doesn’t heat destroy the enzyme, too? Yes, Jeffery says, so it’s a balancing act. Limit the amount of heat. Steam broccoli for 3 to 4 minutes (using a steam basket so the broccoli doesn’t touch the cooking water) or blanch it for 20 to 30 seconds–until bright green and crispy.
And to get more of that enzyme, eat broccoli along with a little raw crucifer–a teaspoon or even less of spicy mustard or wasabi, she suggests, or a couple of radishes. Tell me: Would you like to try out our anti-cancer recipe for broccoli dip with raw radishes?