According to a new study from the University of Illinois in the US, eating broccoli three or four times a week may be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma and several types of cancer.
Researchers identified candidate genes controlling the accumulation of phenolic compounds in broccoli. Consumption of phenolic compounds, including certain flavonoids, is linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and several types of cancer.
"Phenolic compounds have good antioxidant activity, and there is increasing evidence that this antioxidant activity affects biochemical pathways affiliated with inflammation in mammals," said Jack Juvik. "We need inflammation because it is a response to disease or damage, but it is also associated with initiation of a number of degenerative diseases. People whose diets consist of a certain level of these compounds will have a lesser risk of contracting these diseases," Juvik added.
Researchers crossed two broccoli lines and tested their progeny in terms of total phenolic content and their ability to neutralise oxygen radicals in cellular assays. They then used a genetic technique called quantitative trait locus analysis to search for the genes involved in generating phenolics in the most promising progeny. By identifying the genes involved in accumulating these compounds, researchers say they are one step closer to breeding broccoli and related Brassica vegetables like kale and cabbage with mega-doses of phenolic compounds.
Phenolic compounds are flavourless and stable, meaning the vegetables can be cooked without losing health-promoting qualities, researchers said. Once these vegetables are consumed, the phenolic compounds are absorbed and targeted to certain areas of the body or concentrated in the liver, they said.
Flavonoids spread through the bloodstream, reducing inflammation through their antioxidant activity. "These are things we cannot make ourselves, so we have to get them from our diets," said Juvik. "The compounds do not stick around forever, so we need to eat broccoli or some other Brassica vegetable every three or four days to lower the risk of cancers and other degenerative diseases," he added.
The findings were published in the journal Molecular Breeding.
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