Natural supplements are a great way to complement a healthful diet. Never should they be considered an adequate replacement for whole foods. A new study drives this home with a look at several foods, including broccoli. It shows why it’s just a bad idea to skip the broccoli in favor of popping a pill.
Basically, a new study found that a key phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables is poorly absorbed and of far less value if taken as a supplement. Cruciferous refers to a very health family of veggies that includes many dark greens, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
Understanding the issue of whole foods vs. natural supplements is not simple. But it does seem that you need to eat the whole foods – and, what’s more, you can’t cook them too much or you risk diluting their great nutrients.
Some nutrients are better absorbed as supplements. These include the higher levels of folic acid needed by expecting mothers, and vitamin D in general. But there are many compounds in superfoods like broccoli that are just unavailable in supplement form. In this study, they found that an enzyme called “myrosinase” was missing from supplement forms of “glucosinolates” — which is the technical name for those cruciferous phytochemicals. Anyway, without that enzyme in the whole food (thus in supplement form), the body seems to absorb important nutrients to a far lower extent.
What else is bad: intensive cooking. If you cook broccoli until it’s soft and mushy, its health value plummets. If you are out to get healthy and are bothering to make broccoli, do yourself a favor and just steam it for a few minutes. Make sure it’s still relatively crunchy.
Broccoli has been of special interest, because it has huge levels of certain glucosinolates. These are what experts believe may reduce the risk of several cancers. Most supplements designed to provide these glucosinolates have the enzyme inactivated, so the cancer-shielding natural chemicals are just not as well absorbed.
As mentioned, this doesn’t mean that supplements are not a good idea. Many, like fish oil, probiotics and vitamin D, are difficult to get in sufficient levels through diet alone. But supplements that are intended to replace particular foods just might not be up to snuff.