The health benefits of broccoli–lower cholesterol, reduced inflammation, high fiber and stronger bones–are old news, but a new Johns Hopkins study has revealed an additional advantage to the cruciferous powerhouse: detoxification.
China’s reputation for high amounts of air pollution led researchers to seek out a set of 290 Chinese men and women for their study on the detox properties of broccoli. Participants were divided into two groups for the duration of the 12-week long study. One group was given a mixture of water and fruit juice, while the other was given the same beverage base with the added ingredient of powder made from freeze-dried broccoli sprouts.
Analysis of blood and urine samples revealed that, within one day of beginning the broccoli-infused beverage, participants were excreting 61 percent more benzene–a chemical found in rubbers, dyes, lubricants, pesticides, cigarette smoke, gasoline and plastics that has been cited as a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–than they had been before imbibing the special drink.
Researchers also measured how much acrolein, a toxic respiratory irritant created by the burning of organic matter, oil and gasoline, was secreted by the participants. For those consuming the beverage with the broccoli boost, acrolein secretion was increased by 23 percent. These benefits never tapered off, remaining strong throughout the duration of the investigation.
These findings led study authors to conclude that there is potential in food-based strategies to reduce the adverse health effects of air pollution. “This study points to a frugal, simple and safe means that can be taken by individuals to possibly reduce some of the long-term health risks associated with air pollution,” says co-author and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Thomas Kensler, in an article on the school’s news site.
The science behind the benefits
How does a simple bunch of broccoli help the human body rid itself of harmful chemicals?
The key, according to researchers, lies in glucoraphanin, a chemical compound found naturally in broccoli kale, cabbage and cauliflower. When ingested, glucoraphanin creates sulforaphane, which in turn energizes the biochemical processes that exorcize harmful chemicals from the body.
One caveat: the detoxification effect of consuming broccoli and its cruciferous cohorts is only known to extend to recently-encountered pollutants. Not much is known about whether the beneficial effects of these vegetables extends to harmful chemicals that have been in the body for a while.
Kensler and his colleagues also note that the broccoli powder in their investigation provided participants with a highly-concentrated dose of the vegetable’s beneficial compounds–far greater than the amount typically consumed by the average broccoli eater. They say additional studies are needed to help determine if people who consume typical amounts of the vegetable experience similar detox effects as the participants in the study.
A non-genetically-modified hybrid product dubbed “super broccoli”ť cropped up a few years ago, claiming to offer two-to-three times the amount of glucoraphanin normally found in the plant. But experts caution that the long-term effects of consuming foods with artificially-elevated glucoraphanin remain unknown, due to the conflicting results of several studies conducted on rats.
Given the ever-increasing evidence of the ill-effects of air pollution–a primary contributor to one out of every eight deaths, worldwide, according to recent figures from the World Health Organization–and the already proven advantages of a diet high in cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens, aiming to include more broccoli in one’s diet is a simple way to naturally boost the body’s ability to defend against dangerous chemicals.
How to use broccoli in a smoothie
Adding broccoli to a smoothie can help people who have trouble chewing (or who simply don’t enjoy chomping on a raw floret) reap the detoxifying benefits of the vegetable.
As smoothie ingredients go, broccoli is a bit wily. Some blenders are not up to the challenge of fully breaking down a bunch of broccoli, which can turn an otherwise tasty beverage into a gritty, grainy mess. And while blending a broccoli stalk unleashes the vegetable’s health-enhancing nutrients, it also lets some of the natural bitterness of broccoli loose as well.
The key to a well-balanced broccoli smoothie is to blend well and use balanced flavors. For example, bananas can be used to offset broccoli’s bitterness while offering a low-fat source of creaminess. Frozen broccoli also tends to be less bitter and easier to blend than raw.
Strawberry Banana Bonanza Smoothie
1 cup strawberries (frozen or fresh)
1 cup frozen broccoli
1 cup water or preferred base (e.g. almond milk, skim milk, etc.)
Add ingredients to blender and blend well. May need to add water or ice to achieve desired consistency. Recipe can be expanded to include protein powders, chia seeds, etc.
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