Indole-3-Carbinol Foods

By: Marlene Affeld ~

kale-852033_640As more and more medical research studies are published on the health promoting, cancer-fighting benefits of Indole-3-Carbinol foods, many people ask just what is Indole-3-Carbinol and which foods are the richest sources of the micronutrient?

What Is Indole-3-Carbinol?

Indole-3-Carbinol, commonly abbreviated to I3C, is a disease-fighting nutrient in food (known as a phytochemical) that may decrease the risk of developing a diverse array of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, hypertension, diabetes and several forms of cancer. According to research studies conducted by Stanford Medicine, Indoles are in a special class of phytochemicals associated with preventing cancer.

For decades, scientists have recognized sulfur-rich cruciferous vegetables as one of the world’s healthiest food sources providing important nutrients, anti-cancer properties and fiber. In research labs and hospitals all around the world, scientists and doctors are studying the way our diet impacts our health and Indole-3-Carbinol foods are garnering a lot of attention.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Indole-3-Carbinol foods are primarily made up of “good for us” veggies. Cruciferous vegetables such as watercress, kale, white, red and purple cabbage, mustard greens, radishes, collard greens, parsley, horseradish, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach, cauliflower, turnips, arugula, rutabagas, Bok Choy, wild harvested green leafy herbs, and broccoli are natural, nutrient-rich sources of Insole-3-Carbinol. In 1997, one research study noted that broccoli sprouts have a higher concentration of I3C than mature broccoli and that broccoli typically contains more I3C than other cruciferous vegetables. Subsequent studies seem to show that eating small amounts of broccoli sprouts daily, may offer more health promoting benefits that consuming larger amounts of mature cruciferous vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables are also considered an excellent source of essential nutrients; rich in vitamin C, carotenoids, fiber, folate, and important minerals like calcium.

Mounting evidence supports the age-old premise that “we are what we eat.” Research studies and clinical trials lead to discovering how our diets can lead to or prevent a host of different diseases. The studies on I3C target cancer prevention and eradication. According to research published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, “Mounting preclinical and clinical evidence indicates that indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a key bio-active food component in cruciferous vegetables, has multiple anticarcinogenic and antitumorigenic properties.”

Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. Glucosinolates break down into isothiocyanates and indoles when the veggies are chewed or chopped. Cruciferous vegetables retain the greatest amount of nutrients when eaten raw. Cooking reduces some of the benefits as the heating process destroys some anti-cancer compounds.

Fortunately, for those of us who do not eat enough raw cruciferous vegetables, I3C is also available as a dietary supplement.

Over the past decade, a great deal of focus has been placed on researching the cancer preventive properties of I3C. Cancer develops when abnormal cells multiply and grow in an uncontrolled manner. Under normal circumstances, cells go through a programmed process of cell death known as apoptosis. Cancer occurs when this natural cell death process is interrupted and cancer cells grow and spread by avoiding apoptosis.

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Research studies have also demonstrated that Indole-3-Carbinol foods support hormonal balance by promoting healthier estrogen metabolism while helping prevent cellular damage, thereby boosting the body’s immune system. 

In the acidic environment of the stomach, I3C is changed into powerful derivative compounds that neutralize free radicals, encourage proper detoxification and help support healthy cell cycle regulation. DIM (diindolemethane) is one of the best-known I3C derivatives. DIM and its precursor, Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C) demonstrates unique cancer-fighting benefits in the prevention and treatment of malignancies. DIM and I3C have been found to alter estrogen metabolism in both men and women, protecting the body against hormone-dependent cancers such as those of the prostate, breast and cervix.

The medical community cautions that while cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli are excellent foods to include in our daily diets, the results of studies of Indole-3-Carbinol foods such as broccoli should not be taken out of context and cannot be considered by themselves. The anti-cancer benefits of a single food cannot be considered independently but rather should be considered as part of the overall dietary picture. Scientists are still uncertain if the phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables are beneficial on their own or if they are only beneficial when working together and in the right quantities with the beta-carotene, folate, vitamin C and other compounds found in veggies.

Because cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts are high in fiber, adding large amount of these veggies may cause gas and bloating and should be avoided by persons with chronic diarrhea or other gastrointestinal medical issues.

Nutritional experts advise that a balanced diet should include five or more servings a day of vegetables, fruits as well as a variety of other foods from plant sources such as seeds, nuts, whole grain cereals and beans. A varied diet is likely to prove more healthful than eating large amounts of one food. 

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