What we eat is thought to have a protective effect on digestive cancers, (including cancers of the oesophagus, colon, pancreas, and stomach). Doctors believe that the steady decline of stomach cancers, in particular, is related to changes in diet. Some foods should be reduced and avoided; others should be eaten more frequently. This article focuses on how certain foods are thought to reduce the risk of cancer (primarily digestive cancers) and how chopping certain vegetables can lead to some unexpected health benefits.
- Cruciferous vegetables give our body special compounds that help fight diseases
- There’s more to broccoli than meets the eye
- Chopping could be the catalyst for certain vegetables to produce disease-fighting compounds
In general, fruit and vegetables do contribute to preventing cancer. The National Cancer Institute recommends that the average person should eat “5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.” Further studies have indicated that cruciferous vegetables specifically contain disease-fighting compounds.
So, should you incorporate more of these vegetables into your diet?
What is a cruciferous vegetable?
Cruciferous vegetables are easily distinguished by their pungent aroma and bitter taste. They contain glucosinolates: sulfur-containing compounds that are responsible for the smell and taste. Common cruciferous foods include cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and notably broccoli. The vegetables have been under the microscope for a number of years now as they have been consistently linked with reducing the risk of cancers.
The Special Properties of Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables contain cancer-fighting attributes and properties. When looking into the genetic make-up of cruciferous plants, all of them share a common enzyme known as myrosinase. The action of myrosinase precipitates the glucosinolate in the plant, turning it into a compound known as, sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is thought to mediate the underlying health benefits in this category of foods. All cruciferous vegetables are able to produce this compound, although it is particularly concentrated within broccoli.
Sulforaphane is a powerful disease-fighting compound that research has linked to fighting cancer. These cancer-fighting effects are thought to be the result of a number of different processes. These include: “suppression of inflammatory response, support of apoptosis (programmed cell death), and modulation of histones.”
A study from the University of Michigan found that substance directly targeted cancer stem cells (those that promote tumor growth), in mice. Two studies found an association between eating cruciferous foods and reduction in risk of certain cancers. In 2009, the National Cancer Institute reviewed 31 studies between cruciferous vegetable consumption and lung cancer risk. It was concluded that a high intake of vegetables could potentially decrease the risk by anywhere from 17 percent to 23 percent. A later study in 2012 from the Department of Epidemiology at the Institute of Pharmacological Research in Italy, similarly found, “regular consumption of cruciferous foods offered, between a 17 percent and 23 percent reduction in the risk of colorectal, breast, kidney, oesophageal, and mouth and throat cancers.”
Chop and wait
So, where does chopping fit into all of this?
It is thought, that chopping the vegetables is the key to releasing myrosinase and glucosinolate compounds which combine to form the vital sulforaphane. As explained by Alexandra Walker-Jones from BeingWell, it may take up to 45 minutes after chopping for the myrosinase to successfully chemically react and turn into sulforaphane.
However, there are some complications when cooking – myrosinase is very sensitive to heat and breaks down under high temperatures very quickly. If your chopped vegetables are placed into a pot very quickly after you cut them, then sulforaphane formation will not occur, thus inhibiting its health benefits.
Conversely, sulforaphane is not sensitive to heat. Research shows that you need to wait 45 minutes after they have been chopped before you put them in the oven or stove (or even eat them raw), then the disease-fighting compound sulforaphane will survive.
If you plan your meals throughout the day, this can be a fantastic way to regularly eat sulforaphane rich foods and potentially help you to fight future illness.
Abellán, Á., Domínguez-Perles, R., Moreno, D. A., & García-Viguera, C. Sorting out the Value of Cruciferous Sprouts as Sources of Bioactive Compounds for Nutrition and Health. Nutrients, 11.2 (2019): 429. doi: 10.3390/nu11020429.
Higdon, J. V., Delage, B., Williams, D. E., & Dashwood, R. H. “Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis.” Pharmacological Research, 55.3 (2007): 224–236. doi 10.1016/j.phrs.2007.01.009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2737735/.
Lehman, Shereen, and Fogoros, Richard. “Health Benefits of Vegetables With Glucosinolates.” (2020). https://www.verywellfit.com/what-are-glucosinolates-and-why-are-they-good-for-me-2505908#:~:text=Glucosinolates%20are%20sulfur%2Dcontaining%20compounds,bitter%20taste%20and%20pungent%20aroma.
National Cancer Institute. “Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Preventions.” (2012). https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet.
Stanford Health Care. “Stomach Cancer Prevention.” https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/cancer/stomach-cancer/stomach-cancer-prevention.html.
Walker-Jones, Alexandra. “What Chopping Your Vegetables Has to Do with Fighting Cancer.” (2020). https://medium.com/beingwell/what-chopping-your-vegetables-has-to-do-with-fighting-cancer-22cab5712b8b.
Yagishita, Yoko, Fahey Jed W., Dinkova-Kostova, Albena, T., Kensler, Thomas W. “Broccoli or Sulforaphane: Is It the Source or Dose That Matters?” Molecules. 24.19 (2019): 3593. doi: 10.3390/molecules24193593.