Broccoli ‘super soup’ for type 2 diabetes

It’s not all a marketing frenzy – there are many emerging plant-based innovations backed by genuine science. One such is SmarterNaturally, an innovation born from research into the bioactive advantages of broccoli.

Imagine eating a bowl of soup once a week that could help bring down your blood sugar levels and so reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This may sound like wishful thinking or the latest fad, but for UK company, Smarter Food, this is already a reality for its customers.

The secret is the star ingredient of its packet vegetable soup: a special type of broccoli first discovered growing wild in Sicily by the company’s lead scientist, Prof Richard Mithen.

After years of research and plant breeding, it has developed a new strain of broccoli called GRextra, which it grows and processes into soup in Scotland.

Cruciferous vegetables – the part of the brassica family that includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage – naturally contain a compound called glucoraphanin. Once this chemical reaches the gut, it is converted into an active form called sulforaphane which has been seen to reverse the slowdown in metabolism associated with ageing.

Smarter Food, which sells its products under the brand SmarterNaturally, was spun out from the Quadram Institute, the Norwich-based food and health research centre and is part government-funded through grants from UK Research and Innovation, along with venture capital funding.

The soup’s benefits are based on Mithen’s research on glucoraphanin. “There is a really large and growing body of published data, which is all peer-reviewed, published science around glucoraphanin and sulforaphane” says the CE, Laura Knight. “We’ve created a food product that delivers a really high quantity of this compound.”

The company’s trials have shown that eating just one bowl of the soup a week can help lower elevated blood glucose levels, and maintain these lower levels over time. This is a particular help for people with high blood sugar levels, a key risk factor for developing diabetes.

So what does the soup actually taste like?

Sold in packs of 4x40g sachets to be mixed with 250-300ml of hot water, and consumed just once a week, SmarterNaturally’s SuperSoup consists of 50% freeze dried broccoli along with chicory root fibre, potato starch, sunflower oil and flavourings.

One sachet contains a very high dose of glucoraphanin, equivalent to around five heads of broccoli. The soup also delivers 107 kcal, 0.8g fat, 7.9g carbs, 7g protein and 19.6g of fibre.

The bright green soup has a thicker consistency than one would expect from a packet, and has a mild vegetable taste, like a mixture of broccoli and cauliflower. It may not be the culinary highlight of the week for most, but would not be hard to include in people’s diets.

After raising £1.5m since launch, the SmarterNaturally team hope to raise a further £500,000 by the end of May, to increase their product range, and scale up output.

The company is developing more soup flavours, with the same key ingredients and same associated health benefits, which they are planning to launch by the end of the year, while a smoothie is also in development.

SmarterNaturally has been selling its vegetable soup at a small scale in the UK for nearly a year. Available as a subscription from the company’s website, it costs £5 a portion, and £20 a month.

SmarterNaturally’s broccoli and soup.
SmarterNaturally’s broccoli and soup. 

With one sachet per week being sufficient to get the full range of health benefits, SuperSoup is an easy and reasonably affordable option for ageing consumers wanting to look after themselves.

The product is premium priced compared to regular soup options, but not compared to dietary supplements that often have to be taken every day. 

Knight won’t reveal the number of soup subscribers but says: “We’re extremely pleased with where we are.”

Dozens of those customers have shared their views on the soup, giving the company an average score of 4.4 stars out of five on Trustpilot. While several describe it as “very tasty” and “delicious”, there are others who call it “bland” or “just about tolerable” after the addition of condiments such as pepper or Worcestershire sauce.

While SmarterNaturally aims to sell its soup through food retailers, it says the subscription model has helped them and their customers track the health effects of a weekly bowl of soup.

It has also made financial sense for a startup, which did not initially have the cashflow to permit large-scale production.

Wide health benefits

SmarterNaturally has a patent for glucoraphanin for blood sugar support as clinical data indicates that just one portion a week can help to reduce high blood glucose within the normal range and maintain it. 

However, looking at the science, the most amount of data is actually on glucoraphanin for cancer prevention – specifically prostate cancer and breast cancer. But this is of course a sensitive topic, and not one that SmarterNaturally takes lightly. 

“With any functional food, we’re always nervous talking about cancer,” says SmarterNaturally’s head of clinical research, Steve Morrison. “So despite the fact that a lot of the research is there, we shy away from focusing too much on this. It’s hard enough to treat these cancers with drugs. So if you’re looking for a territory that is slightly more comfortable in functional foods, blood sugar really is the obvious answer.” 

Knight adds: “Saying that, we have been approached by people who have got a cancer diagnosis and who have found us by doing their own research into glucoraphanin. We are also in contact with some cancer charities who are interested in the science. But communicating in that space is hugely challenging, it’s a very sensitive area, and not one that we are proposing trying to target particularly.” 

Other benefits which may be associated with a high glucoraphanin diet include cholesterol & heart health, skin, bone & joint health, brain & mental health, cell health & immunity and energy & metabolism. There is also some promising research on glucoraphanin for athletic performance.

According to Knight, consuming SuperSoup on a weekly basis is “like taking your car for a service. You’re not getting a new car, but getting a boost of this compound into your body helps to retune the metabolism so that it behaves more effectively”. 

SmarterNaturally’s freeze dried broccoli can be incorporated into a wide range of products – it started with an instant soup simply because that is what was used in clinical trials and because soup is often considered a healthy food.

Now, the company is preparing to launch pouches of powdered broccoli which consumers can add to a range of recipes from risottos to sauces – something which it hopes will appeal to younger consumers too. The powder pouches will be launched in April 2024, along with a range of recipes developed by a celebrity chef.

Source: The Guardian,