My parents always told me eat my vegetables, but after reading a recent article, those vegetables they served me may not have provided all the health benefits my parents thought they would.

The article talks about how for broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (examples: cauliflower, cabbage, kale) one must eat the “real thing”, not a supplement. There are some cases where supplements, like in the form of pills and vitamins, are recommended because they are better absorbed as a supplement than through food (example would be folic acid for pregnant women). This is not the case for vegetables, which is not surprising to me. I was a little surprised at the fact that the way broccoli is cooked also affects the actual health benefits you receive from the vegetable.

Since we are studying about enzymes I thought this article was good to look at because the researchers concluded that the reason broccoli and related vegetables need to come from the complete food to maximize their health value is because of an enzyme: myrosinase. This necessary enzyme is missing from most of the supplement forms of “glucosinolates” . Without myrosinase the research found, that the body actually absorbs five times less of one important compound and eight times less of another important compound (the article does not specifically address the names of those important compounds). By intensely cooking the broccoli at very high temperatures, essentially this important enzyme is lost and health value decreases greatly. So if you are eating very mushy and soft broccoli, the actual health value is very low. This makes senses because at boiling temperatures enzymes are  denatured. Essentially to maintain proper levels of the enzyme you want to cook the broccoli lightly for two or three minutes, or steam the broccoli until it’s still a little crunchy.

Broccoli was of particular interest in this study because it contains the highest levels of certain glucosinolates (defined in the article as: “a class of phytochemicals that many believe may reduce the risk of prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal cancer). When you eat real broccoli instead of a supplement and do not cook it until it is soft, enzymes in the broccoli help to break down the glucosinolates into valuable compounds: sulforaphane and erucin. Both compounds are important, but  in particular sulforaphane is relevant because it may help detoxify carcinogens and activate tumor suppressors genes. So if people want the real health benefits of broccoli and other vegetables like it, two simple guidelines to follow are: eat the real vegetable, and it either raw or very slightly cooked. For our next family meal I will probably ask to cook the vegetables.