Eating one of the less popular vegetables can help asthmatics breathe easier, researchers have discovered.
They say eating up to two cups of lightly steamed broccoli a day can help clear the airways, prevent deterioration in the condition and even reduce or reverse lung damage.
Read more: Winter Wellness: B is for Broccoli
Other vegetables with the same effect include kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and bok choy. All belong to the cruciferous family of plants that have sepals, flowers and leaves in a cross-like pattern.
"Laboratory tests have shown that consumption of broccoli changes the formation of the airway and may make clear breathing easier for those who suffer from asthma and allergies," said University of Melbourne honours student Nadia Mazarakis.
"Blockages in the airway were removed almost entirely. Using broccoli to treat asthma may also help for people who don't respond to traditional treatment."
Ms Mazarakis led the study with supervisors Dr Tom Karagiannis and Dr Simon Royce.
The university did not reveal how the study was carried out, but said the research was still in the "experimental phase" and during an asthma attack or severe breathing issues normal medical advice must be followed.
The medical director for the Asthma Foundation of New Zealand, Kyle Perrin, did not want to comment on the research without knowing how it was done.
Parents have long struggled to get children to eat broccoli but Herald columnist and 2011 MasterChef winner Nadia Lim believes presentation is the best way to solve the problem.
"It's really important that it's not overcooked -- it needs to be crisp," she said.
She polled her followers on Facebook a while ago, asking how parents introduced broccoli into their children's diets, and found referring to the vegetable as "little trees" was effective. Ms Lim also recommended serving with yoghurt or avocado dip.
5+ A Day representative Jessica Davidson said the key was to be persistent because it could take up to 12 attempts before children liked a taste.
The good news...
Researchers at the University of Melbourne say eating up to two cups a day of broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and bok choy can:
• Help clear the airways
• Prevent deterioration of asthma
• Reduce or reverse lung damage
Clever mum sneaks greens into meals
Broccoli could help Lea Chapman, 6, who has asthma. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Sarah Chapman gets her daughter to eat broccoli by covering it in cheese.
And if the vegetable can help prevent 6-year-old Lea's asthma, she's all for it.
The Devonport mother is looking for new ways to add broccoli to her meals. "If I cook things like cauliflower bakes I'll use broccoli and cauliflower," she said.
"When I do things like pasta and stir-fry I could just add it in there."
Mrs Chapman said asthma had been in her family for generations.
"This winter I've already had to keep her home from school or stop her from playing sports."
She said Lea took medication but had never been told that eating vegetables could make a difference.
"I don't give her dairy. I tend to avoid giving her yoghurt and icecream and too many milk products."
Mrs Chapman also gives Lea fruit high in vitamin C.
"I guess with medication it's the fence at the end of the cliff," she said.
"Although [Lea] responds well to traditional medication, it's quite good that there's something else that could stop her getting to that point."
- Jessica Tyson