The Bitter, Wonderful Secret of Broccoli
There might be no greater symbol for vegetable-hatred then a plate full of broccoli. It is a veggie synonymous with the scrunched up and pained face of a 6-year old desperate to avoid health and wellness. Yet, their are few foods as nutritious and beneficial in the long term as a stalk of good old broccoli. In fact it has been shown that a healthy diet of broccoli can not only help prevent certain types of cancers but also carry that benefit to your children.
So why all the hate?
Despite its superfood status, broccoli still repels a large amount of the population. According to several studies this is likely due to our genetic make up. Much like cilantro, there is a significant group that simply cannot get past the natural taste of broccoli. On average, 70% of people can taste the distinct bitterness of broccoli. However around 20% of us have two copies of the bitterness gene known as hTAS2R38, and are far more likely to despise the taste of broccoli.
Even worse, this 20% has a rough hill to climb when it comes to eating anything healthy. People with the double gene generally consumed much fewer vegetables overall when compared to the 70% with only one. Furthermore, their consumption of sweet, sugary foods was much higher.
So why do such genes exist at all if they deter us from the foods that would most help us?
It likely goes back to our hunter gatherer days when we had to be extra careful about what we picked and ate. That first bite told us a lot about whether the food we found would help or kill us. The bitter compounds in broccoli mimic the same compounds found in toxic plants and are meant to deter pests and animals as a last ditch defense.
It’s worth overcoming that repulsive bitter taste since broccoli has recently been shown to prevent multiple types of cancers. Scientists and medical researchers have been studying in depth how our diets effect our susceptibility to the types of cancers that effect our digestive systems and more. While medical advances have helped to reduce the instances of cancer overall, the growth of highly processed foods and shallow nutrition has lead to rise in cancers of the prostate, colon and stomach. While it has long been known that vegetables like broccoli, kale, and carrots are filled with healthy nutrients, research has shown that their are powerful compounds that not only protect us from cancer but possibly our children and even grandchildren. In broccoli, it is the sulforaphane, a sulphur compound present in cruciferous plants that helps to active genes in our DNA that suppress malignant tumor growth. These activated genes can then be passed down to the next generation. Studies have shown that sulforaphane is effective in fighting cancer cells in the prostate, breast, ovaries, colon and pancreas. Further evidence shows that sulforaphane may even help in late stages of the disease, making it a valuable part of treatment for increasing the efficacy of existing cancer therapies.
So if you are one of the unlucky few who gag at the taste of broccoli, it may be worth it to just plug your nose and go for it. It could save your life one day. If that’s too much consider dipping it in a fondue pot, your body will thank you!
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