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Paul Talalay and Jed Fahey

Paul Talalay

Paul Talalay and Jed Fahey

Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences
on the virtues of eating more vegetables

For the past 20 years, Paul Talalay and Jed Fahey have explored the hypothesis of chemoprotection, the idea that phytochemicals—plant compounds—can help guard against cellular damage that contributes to cancer and other chronic diseases. Most of their work has focused on sulforaphane, a compound found most abundantly in cruciferous veggies and particularly in sprouted broccoli seeds.

What sort of diet do you recommend?

TALALAY: We try to avoid hype. My general recommendation is no different from what the author Michael Pollan has advised: A diet of mostly plant-based foods, in moderation, is the best protection you can obtain.

Jed Fahey

Surely that diet should include broccoli sprouts? And to derive the maximum benefit suggested by your studies, shouldn’t we also gorge on broccoli sprouts?

TALALAY: Do I tell everybody to eat broccoli sprouts? No, and we can’t say that eating sprouts will guarantee you won’t get cancer or heart disease. But I believe they are protective.

My own belief is that huge quantities are not required. In fact, the protective qualities of the phytochemical aren’t outside the amount that the enthusiastic broccoli eaters are consuming.

FAHEY: Plus, diet is the most sensible way to do this, especially when you look at the issue from a public health perspective. For one thing, there’s no added risk, whereas taking any pharmaceutical to prevent a disease that you may not get does have some associated risk.

From a common-sense perspective, diet is where preventive behavior has to be focused. In the developing world, cancer will account for 70 percent of all deaths by 2030. Aside from encouraging people not to smoke and to minimize their exposure to sunlight, diet is the most effective strategy for curtailing that rate.

So should those countries start growing broccoli sprouts?

FAHEY: The trick is to identify indigenous foods that contain compounds with similar protective activity. An African tree called the Moringa is one example. It’s nutritious and edible, and it turns out that Moringa has a phytochemical closely related to sulforaphane.

Are broccoli sprouts a regular part of your diet?

TALALAY: I’ve gone to a better diet, a more vegetable-rich diet, since starting this research. We eat broccoli sprouts two to three times a week. I enjoy them on a croissant with a little cream cheese.

FAHEY: They’re good in salads. You can mix them with walnuts and dressing and some chicken or cheese.

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