Aug. 14, 2014

Most readers know me as a photographer, but my training is actually biochemistry.  I'm interested in food and nutrition, and I've decided to write about them.

Here's a quick little article about one of my favorite vegetables:  Broccoli.

In This Article:

Why Eat Broccoli

The Taste of Broccoli

How to Cook Broccoli

So You're At Your Mother-In-Law's Place

Ok, Back To Broccoli


Why Eat Broccoli

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable.  Cruciferous vegetables are good for you. 

Scientists are still finding reasons why, even today. 

For starters, these vegetables provide some cancer-suppressing compounds, such as quercetin, sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol, and others.  (Please read the disclaimer.)   It's been shown again and again that people who don't get enough vegetables are more susceptible to cancer and other forms of disease.  I also wonder how many gastric ulcers are from a diet high in junk and low in vegetables.  Sulforaphane from broccoli has been found to inhibit H. pylori, the nasty little bacteria that give so many people a hard time. (See also my article on ACV vs. Proton Pump Inhibitors.)  Take the broccoli out of your diet, and it may well encourage their growth.

Another benefit of broccoli is that it has fiber.   Oh, sure:  whole-wheat has fiber, too.  Unfortunately, whole wheat also has something called "wheat germ agglutinin" (WGA), which may be one reason people are having so many digestive problems today.   WGA is actually pretty nasty stuff.  Some people may be extra-susceptible to it.  It doesn't help that we're also eating heavily-processed foods with all kinds of additives.

Broccoli offers fiber without WGA.

It also offers vitamins such as folate... in their safer, naturally-occurring forms. 

You see, the synthetic or "fortified" versions of some of these vitamins have a tendency to be not quite right.  There are real, biochemical reasons for that. 

Vitamin D is a classic example.  The Vitamin D you get from the sun is naturally sulfate-conjugated and thus water soluble.  The Vitamin D you get in "fortified" foods is cholecalciferol (a.k.a. "Vitamin D3", a.k.a. toxiferol).  This stuff is actually quite dangerous if you take too much of it.  Yes, cholecalciferol is indeed a rat poison.  It can kill rats, cats, dogs... even you, if you take too much of it.  

Broccoli doesn't have vitamin D sulfate (you get that from sunlight), but it does offer natural forms of other vitamins.  Mainly I'm thinking of folate (actually, "tetrahydrofolate").  This is slightly different from the folic acid that's put into fortified foods.  They don't necessarily have the same biological effects, because folic acid is not naturally-occurring.

Whenever we take something that's not naturally-occurring-- or isn't a significant part of our biochemistry-- there's always the possibility of unforeseen consequences.  Swapping our natural vitamins for synthetic analogs can be a dangerous exercise.

Bottom line:  I think most of us would be better off if we'd eat some broccoli instead of processed foods.  (Disclaimer, again.)

The Taste of Broccoli

Some broccoli definitely tastes bitter.  It could just be that it's old.  Or maybe it was grown in a hot climate.   

Home-grown broccoli can be delicious, if you do it right.  The frozen stuff usually isn't bad, though. 

One thing about broccoli is that it's an acquired taste.  Also, our tolerance for slightly bitter foods has a tendency to increase with age.  (I used to hate coffee, but now I like my decaf.)  Even at its best, broccoli does have that "cruciferous vegetable" taste, although it's not as severe as Brussels sprouts.

If you're still not a broccoli aficionado, try eating it with something else that tastes good.  Such as, pizza. 

In case you were wondering:  35mm all-manual camera with Kodak 400 film.

How To Cook Broccoli

The best way I've found is to steam it.   This also cuts down on some of the bitter taste that broccoli can have.

The first thing you'll need is one of these.   I know there are slightly cheaper ones, but they're junk.  That one is better, and it's only about ten bucks.  I would get two just to be sure... these things are useful!

There's also this one for a couple dollars more.  I haven't tried this brand, but its makers claim it's more durable than the typical ones.

Whatever you do, don't cook broccoli in aluminum.  No aluminum foil, no aluminum pots, no anodized aluminum.  In the next section I'll tell you why. 

OK, so now you've got your steamer.  Place it into a stainless-steel saucepan that's maybe eight or nine inches in diameter.  (That would be about a three-quart.)  Add water until it's just up to the base of the fold-up steamer.

Load it with broccoli florets and bring the water to a boil.  Steam the broccoli for five to eight minutes.  The broccoli should be soft enough that a fork will go into it easily.   If it starts to lose its green color, you cooked it too long. 

In the meantime, you could heat up some oil and garlic.  Again, use stainless steel or enamel-ware for this.  No aluminum.  As for the oil, I like to use coconut oil for the active heating phase.  That's because coconut oil is mostly saturated and doesn't peroxidize to any great extent.  Because it's an oil, though, it will still mobilize the good-tasting stuff from the garlic.  (Remember.... fat makes food taste good!)  At the end, when you take it off the heat, add some olive oil.  Or, you could just skip the coconut oil and use olive oil from the start.  It's at least better for you than cooking with the more highly-unsaturated fats like soy or canola.

So You're At Your Mother-In-Law's Place

and she's making broccoli.  Sounds delicious:  she's even heating up some olive oil and fresh garlic in a little saucepan.

Ah, the saucepan.  It's a little one, made of aluminum.  She's had it since 1970, at least.

If you value your health, tell her to stop using that aluminum saucepan.  I know that's her favorite one, but it's leaching aluminum.

Oh, of course:  olive oil and garlic are normally very good for you. 

When cooked in aluminum, though:  not as much.    Tomato sauce is not the only thing that should never be cooked in aluminum. 

Once in the body, aluminum can stay for a long time.  (Longest in the brain, by the way.)

Some people are going to say "but, but... aluminum passivates!"  No, actually it doesn't.  There are special situations where you can form a very thin layer... but generally, no.   And even if you can get one to form, that layer can re-dissolve or be scratched.  Yes, I know about the study where they pre-boiled some water in an aluminum pot and found that it helped... but I wouldn't rely on that.

I did one experiment that even made me stop cooking with aluminum foil.

Even where aluminum doesn't get into your bloodstream, you really don't want it in contact with your intestinal lining.  That's a point that a lot of people miss.  (Just a quick example:  here's a study on mice that shows what I'm talking about.)

Many people are finding they need to have whole sections of their intestine removed.  They were fine, they were fine... they were eating restaurant pancakes and cheap biscuits... yup, they were invincible... and then:  bad news

"Look, we're really sorry, but it has to come out of there."


"It's heavily ulcerated."

Aluminum may not be the only reason, but I'm quite sure it's one of them.   We already get too much of it in our everyday diet.  It's time to start eliminating the sources we can control. 

Some things make aluminum much more readily-absorbed, and much more dangerous.  (Whoops.  Told ya.)  When it does get into the bloodstream, the effects are destructive.   This study talks about an especially creepy outcome.  "White deposits composed of cellular debris..."

Bad effects don't always happen right away.  It can take years.  Your health can endure bad food for quite a while, but then one day it says "Know what?  See ya.

Reasoning this aloud, you try to convince your mother-in-law not to use that little saucepan.  At least not for your oil and garlic.  (She can do whatever she wants to her meals.)

If you ask her once and she cooks your food like that anyway, maybe she just forgot. 

If you tell her twice and she keeps doing it... she's got it in for you.  Get out of there while you can.

Ok, Back to Broccoli

Yep, I know... a little digression there.  Hey, you can't say I didn't warn you.  This is "How To Cook Broccoli, and Other Tales". 

So now that you've got the aluminum taken care of... eat some healthy vegetables.   Sprinkle them with garlic sauteed in oil, heated in your nice stainless-steel cookware.

Broccoli is great on pizza, especially if you pre-steam it before you bake the pizza.

Broccoli goes well with beef and baked potatoes, but it also happens to go great with salmon.  (Speaking of which... Most restaurants' idea of "grilled" salmon is not grilled at all.  It's griddle-fried... don't get me started....)

Fresh or frozen, broccoli may be one of the best vegetables you can eat.  I mentioned the quercetin, sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol.  Actually there are others, too.  They work together to make broccoli a superfood. 

And don't forget:  it has fiber, too. 


There are people who don't think your diet has anything to do with health.  If they want, they're free to eat pound cakes and drink rancid vegetable oil.  Me, I'm going to try to be at least halfway careful about what I eat.  And I think broccoli is on the menu at least a couple times this week.

Broccoli is good for you.  Cook it right, and it's a delicious part of a healthy diet.  

I hope you found this article helpful.  You can help me out by shopping for any of your stuff through the links on this page.  It doesn't cost you any extra, and it helps keep my website going.  Much appreciated!

Have a good one,


P.S. both the 12-quart pasta steamer and the Farberware Stack-'N-Steam do have aluminum, but it's completely enclosed within stainless steel and can't react with your food.

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