The vegetable, sold under the brand name Beneforte, contains boosted levels of a plant compound believed to protect against heart disease and cancer. Scientists who tested it on volunteers saw metabolic changes.
Tiny energy generators in cells called mitochondria, which become less efficient with age, were given a new lease of life and had their performance improved.
Eating the broccoli helped reverse mitochondrial malfunctions that contribute to problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
Beneforte was created using conventional breeding techniques by crossing conventional broccoli with a wild Italian variety that has naturally high levels of glucoraphanin.
It contains two to three times more of the compound than ordinary broccoli and much higher levels than other cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
The findings underlined the health benefits of eating cruciferous vegetables in general, although Beneforte showed the most striking effect, said the team led by Professor Richard Mithen from the Institute of Food Research.
Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition the researchers conclude: “A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables effectively retunes our metabolism.
“In this manner, cruciferous vegetables may be able to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases associated with ageing.”
The scientists recruited 48 volunteers who were split into three groups and ate 400g a week of either Beneforte, standard broccoli, or peas for three months. Blood tests showed clear signs of improved metabolism in the high-glucoraphanin Beneforte group.
The Beneforte group also had reduced levels of compounds linked to inflammation in their blood.
“Although this is a pilot study, we think it is significant because it shows in humans a measurable effect on our metabolism, which is central to our overall health and could explain the diverse range of beneficial effects many observational dietary studies have shown previously,” said Prof Mithen.
Nutritionist Dr Gail Rees, from the University of Plymouth, said: “This is an exciting study that demonstrates how eating broccoli benefits our metabolism.
“It is of huge scientific interest as we are now starting to unravel exactly which components of fruit and vegetables are responsible for good health and what the specific effects are.
Beneforte was developed at the Institute of Food Research and John Innes Centre, both based in Norwich.