This genus of plants contains more plants for human consumption than any other. You can think of them as roots: radishes, rutabaga, turnips, daikon, as stems: kohlrabi, as leaves: cabbage, kale, collards, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, arugula, cress, as flowers: cauliflower, broccoli, and as seeds: mustard seed and oil producing rapeseed (canola). Wasabi is also a brassica.
There are numerous beneficial compounds in these plants. Besides vitamins, carotenes and fiber, they contain nutrients with anti-cancer properties – the most promising one being sulforaphane.
Plants in the genus brassica produce sulforaphane (SGS) to defend against insect predators. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that SGS is especially high in broccoli sprouts. SGS is an ‘indirect antioxidant’ that eliminates many types of free radicals before they can harm cells, and cycles over and over again, triggering a long lasting process. It stimulates other natural antioxidants, such as glutathione, the body’s most abundant antioxidant. Studies from the University of Michigan found that SGS, from broccoli, inhibits breast cancer stem cells in mice and cell cultures, and prevents new tumors from growing. Studies are also ongoing on protection against ovarian and prostate cancer. There is preliminary work on the ability of SGS to protect against skin cancer, ulcer-producing bacteria in the stomach (helicobacter pylori) and inflammation of blood vessels in the heart.
The researchers at Johns Hopkins have established a company that sells regular or decaf green or black tea with SGS – it is available from the Baltimore Coffee and Tea Company at 800-823-1408. You can also make home-grown broccoli sprouts – organic broccoli seed for sprouting is available by calling 800-695-2241. If you want some help in making broccoli sprouts at home, watch “how to grow broccoli sprouts with your homemade sprouter” on You Tube. The best way to prepare regular broccoli to maximize SGS is to steam it lightly for 3-4 minutes- until it is tough-tender.
There is a downside to brassica vegetables – eaten in high amounts they can interfere with the formation of thyroid hormone, and induce goiter formation. So – include them in your diet, especially if you are a cancer survivor, but eat a lot of other vegetables and fruits as well.
Dietary spices – These include onions, garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, mint, all Indian curry ingredients, all Italian herbs etc. These and other spices/herbs have been studied at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas for their many roles in preventing cancer. There is interesting science here. Include them in your diet every day. I will be writing more details about these ‘nutraceuticals’.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH see back issues on this blog