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Green rescue: Broccoli helps reduce blood glucose, manage diabetes
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Green rescue: Broccoli helps reduce blood glucose, manage diabetes

High in fibre and low in glycemic index, broccoli is a super vegetable for people with diabetes looking to manage their sugar levels

Broccoli can be a major ally in the fight against diabetes.

Broccoli — or that ‘most hated’ vegetable, according to children — could be a great saviour for people with diabetes. From the raw regular steamed broccoli to certain hybrid varieties sold over the counter as part of diabetes-friendly ‘super soups’, this humble green vegetable could be a major ally in your fight against diabetes.

“Broccoli belongs to the family of vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, kale and bok choy which are called cruciferous vegetables because of their four (or more) petals resembling a cross,” says Bengaluru-based dietitian Deepalekha Banerjee.

Benefits of broccoli in diet

According to Dr Anusha Nadig, associate consultant, endocrinology, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, broccoli is packed with antioxidants like sulforaphane which help cut down the glucose released from the liver and control fasting blood sugar better.

According to Delhi-based dietitian Avni Kaul, including broccoli in a diabetic diet offers several benefits. Broccoli is low in calories and carbohydrates, making it suitable for managing blood sugar levels. “The fibre in it aids in digestion, slows down the absorption of glucose and promotes a feeling of fullness,” she adds.

Nadig says that some studies have shown that consuming broccoli has anti-cancer effects and helps in controlling triglycerides and LDL levels, which makes it good for cardiovascular health too. “The high fibre content in it also promotes better gut health by helping people with constipation,” she says.

According to Dr Ashwitha Shruti Dass, a diabetologist based in Bengaluru, broccoli has a low glycemic index of 15, which makes it suitable for inclusion in the diet plan of people with diabetes. Additionally, broccoli is high in nutrients and antioxidants which are good for overall health.

“When diabetics consulting me consumed broccoli as part of their diet, there were hardly any sugar spikes observed in the continuous glucose monitoring system [which tracks sugar levels],” says Dass.

Glucoraphanin in broccoli: The diabetes controller

Banerjee says that the glucoraphanin in broccoli is converted into sulforaphane in the body. Sulforaphane is a type of isothiocyanate (a compound produced by plants as a system of defence against pathogen attack) that reduces the blood sugar, fasting blood sugar and HbA1c (average blood sugar levels for the last two to three months).

Kaul says glucoraphanin is a natural compound found in broccoli, particularly in its florets and sprouts. An enzyme called myrosinase converts glucoraphanin into sulforaphane when broccoli is consumed.

“Sulforaphane has shown the potential of improving insulin sensitivity, which helps the body effectively use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels,” Kaul adds.

She says sulforaphane also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, reducing inflammation associated with diabetes and its complications. Another advantage is that it activates antioxidant pathways, protecting cells from oxidative stress.

“By including sulforaphane-rich broccoli in the diet, individuals with diabetes can experience improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation and enhanced antioxidant defence,” Kaul adds.

How to consume broccoli

According to Kaul, the healthiest way to consume broccoli is through methods that preserve its nutritional value. “Steaming broccoli lightly is a popular method as it retains most of its nutrients,” says Kaul.

Nutritionists recommend consuming broccoli in the form of raw or blanched salads which keep the nutritional content intact. Broccoli soup is also a great way of eating broccoli, but it is important to avoid adding high-fat ingredients like cream, butter or excessive salt to keep it healthy.

Opting for broth-based soups with herbs and spices helps to make broccoli palatable. Kaul says stir-frying broccoli with minimal oil or roasting it in the oven can also be a healthy cooking method. “The key is to avoid overcooking or using excessive unhealthy additives, ensuring maximum nutrient retention,” she says.

Broccoli super soup for diabetes management

Nowadays, a hybrid version of broccoli — recently developed by researchers in the United Kingdom along with a ‘super food’ firm — is being marketed as a super soup for managing type 2 diabetes. GRextra, the hybrid broccoli variant used in this soup, reportedly has more glucoraphanin and is more effective in diabetes management.

In a November 2022 media release, SmarterNaturally Food, manufacturers of this broccoli super soup, said: “Our soup offers people a powerful, easy and affordable way to boost the amount of glucoraphanin in their diet. In fact, a published clinical trial suggests that eating just one bowl of glucoraphanin-rich soup a week for several months can meaningfully contribute to bringing elevated blood sugar down to healthier levels — a key step in both preventing and controlling type 2 diabetes.”

According to a research article published in Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association, glucoraphanin has been found to be effective in managing and reducing obesity and insulin resistance in animal experiments.

Precautions to keep in mind

Broccoli is a nutrient-packed vegetable but people with certain health conditions may need to limit or avoid consuming it.

Kaul says people with a known allergy to broccoli or related cruciferous vegetables should avoid it. “Individuals with thyroid disorders, particularly hypothyroidism, may need to limit their intake of raw broccoli due to its goitrogenic [substances that disrupt the production of thyroid hormones] properties,” she adds.

Individuals with specific health concerns should consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to get personalised guidance.

Takeaways

It is a good idea for people with diabetes to include broccoli in their diet plan because the vegetable contains antioxidants and compounds like glucoraphanin and sulforaphane which are linked to insulin-controlling health benefits.

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