Popeye might want to consider switching to broccoli. British scientists recently unveiled a new breed of the vegetable that experts say packs a big nutritional punch.
The new broccoli was specially grown to contain two to three times the normal amount of glucoraphanin, a nutrient believed to help ward off heart disease.
"Vegetables are a medicine cabinet already," said Richard Mithen, who led the team of scientists at the Institute for Food Research in Norwich, England, that developed the broccoli. "When you eat this broccoli you get a reduction in cholesterol in your blood stream," he told Associated Press Television.
Glucoraphanin works by breaking fat down in the body, preventing it from clogging the arteries. It is only found in broccoli in significant amounts.
To create the vegetable, sold as "super broccoli," Mithen and colleagues cross-bred a traditional British broccoli with a wild, bitter Sicilian variety that has no flowery head and a big dose of glucoraphanin. After 14 years, the enhanced hybrid was produced, which has been granted a patent by European authorities. No genetic modification was used.
It's been on sale as Beneforte in select stores in California and Texas for the last year, and it hit British shelves this month. Later this fall, the broccoli will be rolled out across the United States.
The super vegetable is part of an increasing tendency among producers to inject extra nutrients into foods, ranging from calcium-enriched orange juice to fortified sugary cereals and milk with added omega 3 fatty acids.
In Britain, the broccoli is sold as part of a line of vegetables that includes mushrooms with extra vitamin D and tomatoes and potatoes with added selenium.
Not enough data exists to know if it's possible to overdose on glucoraphanin, but vitamin D and selenium in very high quantities can be toxic.
Mithen and colleagues are conducting human trials comparing the heart health of people eating the super broccoli to those who eat regular broccoli or no broccoli. They plan to submit the data to the European Food Safety Agency next year so they can say in advertisements that the broccoli has proven health benefits.
But, "eating this new broccoli is not going to counteract your bad habits," said Glenys Jones, a nutritionist at Britain's Medical Research Council.