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Gai-Lan: A Healthy Vegetable with Wige-Ranging Benefits

Chinese broccoli, or gai-lan, is a nutritious green leafy vegetable and a member of the Brassica family of vegetables. Also known by its botanical name Brassica var alboglabra, gai-lan broccoli is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, especially in stir-fries or steamed and served with oyster sauce. Potential health benefits of gai-lan broccoli include protection against cancer, cardiovascular benefits, asthma relief, and improved eye health.

Health Benefits of Gai-Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

Like Common Broccoli, Gai-Lan Provides Cancer-Fighting ITCs

All common Brassica vegetables contain at least some glucosinolates. While these compounds themselves have limited activity in the human body, they can be converted into highly active mustard oils called isothiocyanates (ITCs). In laboratory studies, these mustard oils have been found to induce Phase II enzymes, detoxifying enzymes that facilitate the removal of carcinogens from the body, and to stimulate apoptosis (self-destruction) in cancer cells.

Even though gai-lan does not provide quite as much isothiocyanates as some stronger-tasting Brassica vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, or Chinese mustard), it is still a pretty good source of these cancer-fighting compounds. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 1998, gai-lan provides more than three times as much isothiocyanates as bok choy, and significantly more isothiocyanates than cauliflower or Chinese flowering cabbage (choy sum).

Gai-Lan's Benefits for the Cardiovascular System

Gai-Lan greens and stalks are packed with vitamin K, with one ounce of cooked gai-lan providing almost a third of the Daily Value for vitamin K (according to USDA's nutrition facts data). Recent scientific studies suggests that a consumption of foods rich in vitamin K may offer significant cardiovascular benefits due the ability of this powerful vitamin to direct calcium into the bone tissue, rather than the arteries.

But vitamin K is hardly the only cardioprotective vitamin found in gai-lan – this Chinese broccoli variety also provides tons of vitamin C. A study published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine found that in the study participants with elevated CRP levels, supplementation with vitamin C reduced the average CRP by 25%. High CRP levels (plasma C-reactive protein levels) are considered one of the best predictors of cardiovascular disease.

Health Benefits for Asthma Sufferers?

Even though gai-lan broccoli is not included in's list of the best foods for asthma sufferers, some people with asthma might be able to reap extra health benefits by eating gai-lan broccoli due to its high concentration of folate.

A study published in the June 2009 edition of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology discovered that people with the lowest plasma levels of folate were 40% more likely to suffer from wheezing than people who had the highest serum folate levels. The association between high folate levels and a reduced risk of wheezing was found to be dose-dependent, meaning that the higher the folate levels, the lower the risk of wheezing.

Gai-Lan Broccoli is a Good Source of Carotenoids

Just like regular broccoli, gai-lan is loaded with carotenoids (pre-cursors to vitamin A). Carotenoids and vitamin A play several important roles in the human body, but their perhaps best-known health benefits relate to their eye health protecting properties. A study published in the November 1994 edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the study participants who were in the highest quintile of carotenoid intake had a 43% lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration of the eye. Carotenoids have also been shown to help prevent cataracts, impaired night vision, and retinitis pigmentosa.