Anna S. Keck
Most people know that to stay healthy we should eat fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. However, sometimes it is hard to know how to incorporate them into our diet. A simple search for “fun with broccoli” or “broccoli recipes” on the Internet can provide you with great ideas. For example, “Broccoli Trees and Dinosaur Dip” is a recipe posted on the Midwest Dairy Association web site (www.midwestdairy.com/content.cfm/Category ID=119). The broccoli dish is fun to prepare and even more fun to eat. At the same time, you are providing the body with natural disease fighting and health promoting compounds.
Adding 1 cup of broccoli to your dinner three times a week can help you stay healthy and may prevent chronic diseases including many common cancers. Broccoli is high in antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C that boost the body’s natural defense system. They neutralize excess harmful free radicals (chemicals that may cause cancer and aging) before any damage occurs. This elevated protection may lead to optimal heart health and lowered risk of damage to the eye. Broccoli is also high in compounds that provide potent cancer protection.
At the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, we are studying the health benefits of eating regular broccoli compared to broccoli enriched with the mineral selenium. Some studies have demonstrated that selenium may lower the incidence and death from all cancers by almost half. Animal studies show that selenium-enriched broccoli may protect against cancer even more than broccoli or selenium alone. Our current research project is testing whether selenium-enriched broccoli will have the same health benefits in humans.
For this study, we have grown broccoli with additional selenium to produce selenium-enriched broccoli, while in other projects we have used naturally grown crop enriched in selenium. Enhancing the selenium concentration of commonly eaten foods will allow the majority of people to increase their intake of selenium without taking supplemental pills or tablets. Although there may be benefits from consuming supplements, the American Dietetic Association recommends that whenever possible we should get our nutrients from natural foods.
Our ultimate goal is to find natural foods that will provide cancer fighting power. Producing such foods will benefit the consumer as well as provide specialty and niche markets for the agricultural producer.