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Broccoli ‘super soup’ may help keep type 2 diabetes at bay | Food & drink industry


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 Smarter Food says this is already a reality for its customers.

The secret, according to the company, 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 helps to improve the way cells in the body work, and 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 chief executive, Laura Knight. “We’ve created a food product that delivers a really high quantity of this compound.”

Their research has found that each portion of soup, made from GRextra which is freeze-dried raw, contains as much glucoraphanin as people would get from eating five or more heads of raw broccoli.

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.

Other research has also shown that eating glucoraphanin-rich foods, while also making lifestyle changes, could help other age-related diseases, including supporting those who want to reduce their risk of developing cancer, and could also help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

So what does the soup actually taste like? Prepared with 250ml of boiling water and a good stir, 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. Photograph: c/o SmarterNaturally

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.

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A reduction in blood glucose levels does not happen overnight, data suggests it takes about six months of consuming the soup for people to see an effect.

In a bid to help those recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the NHS recently expanded its soup and shake diet programme, which have been shown to help people lose weight.

SmarterNaturally is not part of the NHS scheme, but hopes that by scaling up its production and bringing its special broccoli to more people, it can help others to manage their health.

‘Once a week is very manageable’

Anthony Smith believes he is reaping the benefits of months of eating the soup weekly, and says this, along with changing his lifestyle, means he is no longer prediabetic. The retired teacher was one of the millions of Britons warned by their doctor as being at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The number of people living with diabetes nationally has topped 5m for the first time, according to the latest figures from Diabetes UK, in what the charity has called a “rapidly escalating” crisis. The overwhelming majority (90%) of people with diabetes have type 2, a condition much more likely to develop if they are overweight. About two-thirds of adults in the UK are overweight or obese.

Before a health scare, Smith, from north London, says he would have described himself as obese. He lost weight by overhauling his lifestyle and changing his diet, but was frustrated that this did not bring down his blood glucose levels.

The 61-year-old has been eating SmarterNaturally’s soup every week for about nine months, and he credits this, along with his change in lifestyle, for taking him out of the prediabetic category. “I’ve seen the scientific research [behind the soup] and have a fair amount of faith in it,” Smith says, adding he quite enjoys the taste.

“Once a week is very manageable. I think to fit it in into your lifestyle every day would be difficult.”

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