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The Best Detox-y Broccoli Dishes

Rachel Tepper Paley
June 19, 2014

Photo credit: Eising Studio/StockFood

It seems each day brings another scientific study telling you to eat this, not that—and the reverse three days later—but a new study published in the journal “Cancer Prevention Research” has officially caught our attention.

Researchers found that subjects who each day slurped down a drink made with broccoli sprouts—two to three-day-old broccoli seedlings—were more likely than the placebo group to, ahem, filter out high levels of the harmful chemicals benzene and acrolein. (Benzene is associated with pollution, and both benzene and acrolein can be found in cigarette smoke.)

But these weren’t run-of-the-mill subjects. The clinical trial examined about 300 Chinese adults who lived in a rural farming community in Jiangsu Province, which has very high levels of pollution.

"Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem," said Johns Hopkins University professor John Groopman, one of the study’s co-authors, according to a press release. “[We] need to translate our basic science into strategies to protect individuals from these exposures. This study supports the development of food-based strategies as part of this overall prevention effort.”

The researchers still have lingering questions—what’s the recommended dose of broccoli sprouts? How frequently should subjects drink it? Is the drink’s effectiveness long-lasting?—but the current findings are encouraging.

Keep in mind that broccoli sprouts have a greater concentration of the active ingredient—glucoraphanin, which when chewed or swallowed conjures a compound called sulforaphane that actives pollutant-fighting enzymes—than mature broccoli (the stuff you’re used to seeing at the grocery store) contains. When mature broccoli is cooked, the amount of glucoraphanin goes down even further.

But that doesn’t mean you should chuck your steamed broccoli out the window.

"Any amount of broccoli that you eat is probably a good thing," another co-author, Johns Hopkins senior scientist Patricia A. Egner told us. "We just don’t know what that threshold level is… it’s too early to say that a tiny bit won’t work just as well."

Our advice: Get your hands on some broccoli sprouts (they’re available online here and here) and plunk them atop a hearty salad. Or pick up some florets of the mature stuff at your local grocery store. At the very least you’ll be getting your daily dose of Vitamin C, but it’s possible you’ll get a whole lot more.

Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Photo credit: Food52

Broccoli, lemon and Parmesan soup. Rich chicken stock is a luxurious base for this cheesy soup spiked with lemon.

Photo credit: Everyday Food

White bean and broccoli salad. Velvety yogurt brings together earthy cannellini beans, broccoli and celery, while red-wine vinegar and orange sections offer bursts of sweet acidity.

Photo credit: Everyday Food

Crustless broccoli-cheddar quiches. Who needs crust? Silky eggs swirled with Cheddar get a nice crunch from flecks of chopped broccoli.

Photo credit: Everyday Food

Broccoli-Pecorino tart. Hardy broccoli baked until crisp makes an excellent foil for light, flaky puff pastry. Shaved Pecorino adds a layer of decadence.

Photo credit: Food52

Linguine with sausage and broccoli. A simple midweek pasta dinner gets jazzed up with spicy-and-sweet Italian sausage and broccoli draped in butter. 

Photo credit: Everyday Food

Broccoli calzones. Broccoli folded into a mixture of milky ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella makes for an oozy calzone filling when it’s baked until golden. In this calzone, the sauce is on the side—and it works.

Go ahead, get your broccoli on.