Broccoli is one of the most popular green vegetables in the world. In addition to being tasty and versatile, it is on most lists of the world’s healthiest foods. Its impressive array of nutrients is directly linked to a list of dozens of important health benefits, ranging from helping prevent cancer to improving eye health and fertility.
What Is Broccoli?
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that has been cultivated since the 6th century B.C. It was originally grown throughout the Mediterranean and parts of Asia, and later spread to North America. It has not always had its familiar emerald green color or tree-like shape: it was originally a wild cabbage called Brassica Oleracea that was carefully bred into a number of different plants. The descendants of that plant are all among our healthiest foods, and include kohlrabi, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.
The broccoli that we are most familiar with grows in formations known as heads, and the small florets that are broken off of the stems are immature broccoli flower buds that would have matured into yellow flowers if they had not been harvested. Other varieties of broccoli do not grow into head shapes: these go by other names, including rapini and broccoli rabe. In addition to being available in different shapes, broccoli is also available in a variety of colors, ranging from a purplish hue to a dark green.
1. Broccoli is Loaded With Vitamins and Minerals, and is a Great Source of Fiber, and Protein Too
There’s a reason why so many health organizations have included broccoli on their list of foods that should be eaten several times per week. This green vegetable contains high levels of fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients. It is available year round, easy to cook and inexpensive. One cup of steamed broccoli contains:
Calories – 55
Protein – 4 grams
Fiber – 5 grams
Vitamin K – 100 mcg (276% of RDV)
Vitamin C – 101 mg (168% of RDV)
Vitamin A – 120 mg (48% of RDV)
Folate – 168 mcg (42% of RDV)
Vitamin B6 – 0.4 mg (16% of RDV)
Manganese – 0.4 mg (16% of RDV)
Potassium – 457 mg (14% of RDV)
Phosphorus – 105 mg (10% of RDV)
Magnesium – 33 mg (8% of RDV)
Calcium – 62 mg (6% of RDV)
The nutrients found in broccoli both protect against fight damage caused by oxidative stress and leading to numerous serious health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and more. Its other benefits help to heal the body and slow aging, lower blood pressure and help us maintain a healthy weight.
2. Broccoli Helps with Weight Management
When it comes to losing weight, broccoli is a food that should be on your daily menu. Though it contains very few calories, it provides a big nutritional boost, delivering protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals. This is important when you’re cutting down on your food intake. At the same time, broccoli is a highly dense food that helps you feel full longer. Its high fiber helps keep your belly full and your digestive system regular while controlling your blood sugar. This keeps you from giving in to unhealthy cravings. Including broccoli in a healthy meal can help keep you from overeating because it fills you up quickly.
Bottom Line: If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, broccoli is a fat-free, low calorie option that provides excellent nutrition.
3. Broccoli Contains a Compound that Helps Lower Diabetes Risk
Broccoli is a potent weapon in the fight against diabetes that may go farther than simply slowing the digestive process and helping to balance blood sugar. Studies have shown that a compound called sulforaphane found in broccoli cuts the presence and activity levels of dozens of genes that have been linked to a high risk of type 2 diabetes. Tests of this compound found that when it was given to obese individuals over a 12-week period, their fasting glucose levels dropped by 10 percent.
Bottom Line: People who are pre-diabetic may be able to offset their risk by adding more broccoli to their diet.
4. Broccoli Is a Powerful Tool in the War Against Cancer
Of all the highly touted benefits that broccoli offers, the one that people are most excited about, and which is talked about and studied the most, is its ability to help prevent cancer cells from forming. The vegetable’s powers are so well known that the American Cancer Society has recommended that people eat a serving of it and other cruciferous vegetables several times a week. The vegetable gets its cancer-fighting abilities from the many antioxidants and enzymes that it contains. These provide comprehensive cancer-fighting actions, helping to neutralize carcinogens in the environment and the bloodstream, removing toxins, and repairing and protecting against the damage of oxidative stress. Studies have shown that broccoli contains compounds that actually slow or stop the growth of malignant tumors. It has been found to ward off specific types of cancer, including prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical and estrogen-related cancers, and lung cancers.
Bottom Line: The high levels of isiothiocyantes and other phytochemicals found in broccoli help to protect our bodies against the risk of several deadly cancers.
5. Broccoli is a Heart-Healthy Food
There are numerous reasons why broccoli should be included on the meal plan of anybody interested in improving their heart health. The vegetable is high in fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood, making it particularly effective at carrying plaque out of the body and preventing it from forming in the arteries. It contains high levels of sulforaphane, which lowers blood pressure, and lutein which helps to maintain the health of the arteries that bring blood to and from the heart. Additionally, broccoli contains several compounds and minerals, including potassium, magnesium and calcium, that fight inflammation and counter the effects of oxidative stress, and high levels of vitamin K which helps to prevent the formation of blood clots.
Bottom Line: Broccoli helps keep your heart healthy by strengthening arteries, fighting inflammation, and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
6. Broccoli Supports a Healthy Digestive System
Broccoli supports our gut health both by providing high quantities of soluble fiber which assists in keeping us regular, and by encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in our gut. For every 10 calories of broccoli that you eat, you get a full gram of dietary fiber, which not only fights constipation and diarrhea, but also helps to sweep out harmful toxins and plaque from our system. Broccoli also contains glucosinolates, which are phytonutrients that stop bad bacteria from growing in our stomach’s lining. A healthier digestive environment has been directly linked to a more robust immune system, as well as a lowered risk of intestinal cancers. One study found that when broccoli sprouts were eaten every day for a two-month period, the levels of harmful organisms found in the stomach had been cut by 40 percent.
Bottom Line: Adding broccoli to your diet helps to regulate bowel movements while lowering cholesterol and removing harmful bacteria. It is an essential for encouraging gut health.
7. Broccoli Helps Support Vision and Eye Health
Broccoli contains important carotenoids that directly contribute to eye health. These two compounds are known as lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are found in the macula of the eye and ward off macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts. Lutein also helps our eyes to absorb harmful blue light and UV rays.
Bottom Line: Broccoli is a potent source of valuable antioxidants that fight oxidative stress in the eyes brought on by aging and harmful UV rays. Adding this cruciferous vegetable to your diet will help protect against cataracts and macular degeneration.
8. Broccoli Helps to Fight the Pain Caused by Inflammation
Inflammation is a source of much of the pain that we experience, and particularly of the pain caused by osteoarthritis. Broccoli contains sulforaphane, an anti-inflammatory compound that blocks the molecule that causes inflammation, reducing pain and stiffness and allowing greater mobility. Inflammation can also lead to a number of other serious conditions, including cancer, heart disease and other cellular damage.
Bottom Line:Broccoli contains anti-inflammatory components that can shut down inflammatory responses that bring pain, cellular injury, and disease.
9. Want to Detox Your System? Eat More Broccoli!
Eating more broccoli has been proven to be one of the easiest ways to remove carcinogens from the system. Broccoli contains high levels of isiothiocyanates that activate a process in which toxins are released and then bond with nutrients that carry them out of the body.
Bottom Line: Broccoli contains compounds that specifically trigger a detoxification process that carries harmful substances out of the body.
Tips for Buying and Using Broccoli
Broccoli is available year round at your local grocery store or produce market. When shopping for broccoli, look at the florets to make sure that they are a rich, dark green color with no yellow or brown edges. The clusters at the end of each stalk should be firm and should no signs of flowering, and the leaves that are on the stalks should not be wilted. Broccoli can be kept in the refrigerator for as long as ten days if they are not exposed to moisture. They keep best when stored in air-tight plastic bags, and in order to maintain their nutritional content the florets should not be cut off off the stalks until you are ready to eat them.
To prepare broccoli, rinse it off and cut the florets off into bite sized pieces. The best way to eat broccoli from a nutritional standpoint is to steam it, as boiling it does lead to lower levels of its nutrients. Broccoli can also be eaten raw, roasted, or stir fried. It can be eaten as a side dish, in a salad, or made into soup.