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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is broccoli more nutritious raw than when cooked?

Broccoli Cooking on a Stove

A: Actually, raw broccoli is not necessarily more healthful than cooked. Broccoli is part of the cruciferous vegetable family and a great food to include in your diet either raw or lightly cooked. These vegetables provide many nutrients but their unique contribution is a group of compounds called glucosinolates. When we chew or chop these vegetables, glucosinolates are exposed to an enzyme stored elsewhere in the plant that converts these inactive compounds to isothiocyanate compounds which studies suggest may reduce cancer risk.

The latest research shows that you can get high amounts of these protective compounds if you blanch the vegetables first. Blanching is a quick dip in boiling water, followed immediately by cooling. You can also preserve both nutrients and the enzyme needed to form protective isothiocyanates if you steam broccoli for three or four minutes (just until crisp-tender) or microwave for less than one minute.

Epecially if you won’t be consuming the cooking liquid (as in soup), boiling broccoli—or other cruciferous vegetable—is not the optimal method. Boiling leaches out the vegetable’s water-soluble vitamins in these vegetables, such as vitamin C and folate, as well as many of the glucosinolate compounds, which are water-soluble, too. Moreover, too much exposure to high temperatures destroys the enzyme that converts the inactive glucosinolates to active compounds. Serving broccoli raw is an excellent option, since it retains these nutrients and the enzyme that forms isothiocyanate compounds. Before serving on a relish tray or salad, quickly blanching and cooling allows you to get even a bit more of these compounds. When you want cooked broccoli, steaming or very brief microwaving are excellent choices.

For more on the health benefits and cancer research related to broccoli, visit AICR's Foods that Fight Cancer.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 06/08/2015

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