Broccoli – along with cruciferous cousins Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage – is packed with powerful agents called sulforaphanes, which studies have shown can selectively target and kill cancel cells.
But in order for your body to absorb brocolli’s cancer-fighting goodness, you need a second chemical from broccoli called myrosinase, which is usually destroyed by even light cooking. There are two solutions: You could undercook your broccoli, which, duh. But we all know raw-ish broccoli can taste like rubber.
The better idea: Eat a small amount of raw cruciferous veggies with your cooked broccoli. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had four people eat a powdered form of broccoli, which contains sulforaphane but not myrosinase, along with 1.5 ounces of raw broccoli sprouts. The myrosinase in the sprouts boosted the amount of sulforaphane in the participants’ blood by a factor of 30, says study author Elizabeth Jeffrey, Ph. D.
Combining any raw cruciferious vegetable – including radishes, horseradish, wasabi, kale, cabbage, turnips, and even stone-ground mustard – with any cooked cruciferous vegetable will have the same effect. “It only takes a little bit of myrosinase from a raw vegetable to allow the sulforaphanes to go to work,” Jeffery says.
What’s more, it’s enough to simply eat your cooked and raw cruciferous vegetables in the same meal, not necessarily the same bite. (That is, unless you like wasabi on your broccoli.) Slather stone-ground mustard on a bratwurst burger, then eat that with a side of roasted broccoli. Or you could make stir fry with shrimp and broccoli, and pair it with a salad that includes raw radishes.
To get the cancer-fighting benefits of sulforaphane, just make sure you include at least 1.5 ounces – a little less than a quarter cup – of raw cruciferous veggies or stone-ground mustard with your meal.