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Nutrition | For Broccoli, Raw Rules

For Broccoli, Raw Rules

The answer to the question, “Is it better to eat my vegetables raw or cooked?” is not as straightforward as it may seem. Different vegetables can offer more or less of many different nutrients, depending on how they are consumed. For broccoli however, researchers are zeroing in on why raw may be a better choice.

Less cooking, more nutrition

Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables—such as cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, radishes, and cauliflower—are the best source of a nutrient called sulforaphane. Many studies support that regularly eating sulforaphane-rich, cruciferous vegetables may lower risk of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

To better understand how these foods may fight disease, nutrition experts studied how well we absorb sulforaphane from them. Researchers had eight men consume 200 grams, or about ½ to ¾ cup of crushed broccoli along with a regular, warm meal. For one portion of the study, the men ate the broccoli raw. During the other part of the study, the men ate the broccoli cooked. After each broccoli-containing meal, researchers measured sulforaphane in participants’ urine and blood.

In the tests, 37% of the sulforaphane from the raw broccoli, but only 3.4% from the cooked broccoli was detected in urine in the 24 hours after eating the broccoli meal. In other words, the amount of sulforaphane absorbed—one of the broccoli nutrients believed to provide excellent protection against disease—was ten times higher for raw than for cooked broccoli.

Veggie smarts

Use the following tips to incorporate healthy, raw cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, into your daily diet.

• If you don’t enjoy raw broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables due to the taste, try pairing them with a low-fat, tasty dip.

• Dips that go well with raw vegetables include hummus, yogurt-based dips, or homemade vinaigrette. Skip the high-fat ranch and other prepared dressings, which often contain unhealthy sources of fat such as hydrogenated oils.

• Think moderation. You don’t need to eat a bucket-load of raw vegetables for benefit. A ½-cup serving will provide plenty of nutritional bang for your buck.

• If broccoli is not your thing, try other cruciferous vegetables. All of them contain sulforaphane and a host of other disease-fighting nutrients. Cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, kale, green and red cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kohlrabi, radishes, rapini (broccoli rabe), turnips, rutabaga, daikon root, mustard greens, chard, arugula (rocket), and watercress.

• Don’t lose the forest through the trees. While eating some veggies raw is a good idea, remember that more than 80% of Americans don’t meet the basic 5-A-Day recommended intake for vegetables and fruit. Any nonfried vegetables you eat, whether raw or cooked, count toward your 5-A-Day intake and will provide health benefit!

December 18, 2008

(J Agric Food Chem 2008;56:10505-9)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.

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