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Broccoli Nutrition: Battle Cancer, Osteoporosis & Weight Gain

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Broccoli nutrition - Dr. Axe

Is broccoli the healthiest vegetable? It’s certainly at the top of the list. Ask any nutritionist, medical doctor, neuropath or nutrition researcher for his or her personal list of the most nutrient-dense foods, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are sure to show up on all of them.

It’s no wonder, considering the fact that broccoli is vegetable royalty — loaded with antioxidants, fiber, and numerous vitamins and minerals.

What are some proven broccoli benefits? It’s hard to know where to start.

What Is Broccoli?

Broccoli is technically an edible green plant in the cabbage family, which is part of the larger plant family called Brassica oleracea. Because it’s closely tied to cabbage and has many of the same nutrition benefits, the word broccoli comes from the Italian plural of broccolo, which means “the flowering crest of a cabbage.”

What are the benefits of broccoli? As a member of the brassica family of cruciferous vegetables — the same family that includes other greens like bok choy, cabbage, kale and Swiss chard — it’s an excellent source of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates that fight free radical damage.

In addition to isothiocyanates, this veggie also contains sulforaphanes and indolestwo types of strong antioxidants and stimulators of detoxifying enzymes that protect cells and the structure of DNA. It also packs glucosinolates, carotenoids, chlorophyll, vitamins E and K, essential minerals, phenolic compounds, and more.

Types of Broccoli

While green broccoli is by far the most commonly found type, this vegetable actually comes in many colors, ranging from deep sage to purplish-green. Some research suggests the darker and more colorful the veggies are, the higher the antioxidant capacity.

Many different types of broccoli are grown and eaten throughout the world today. Some examples of the many species in existence include:

  • Calabrese, an heirloom variety that is very popular in the U.S.
  • Tenderstem broccoli, also called broccolini, which is a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli — broccolini is more mild, sweet and earthy
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Rapini, also called broccoli rabe in the U.S.
  • Beneforté, which is a rare variety of crossbred broccoli containing two to three times more glucoraphanin compounds than standard varieties
  • Belstar, a hybrid variety
  • Bimi
  • Destiny
  • DiCicco
  • Green goliath
  • Green magic
  • Purple sprouting

What It Tastes Like

Broccoli has a taste that is often described as grassy, earthy and mildly bitter. It’s not as bitter as many dark leafy greens but not sweet like many red and orange veggies.

If you prefer a milder, sweeter taste, broccolini is a good choice. If you want something more sour and sharp-tasting, broccoli rabe is your best option.

History and Facts

Broccoli was first cultivated as an edible crop in the northern Mediterranean region starting in about the sixth century B.C. As far back as the Roman Empire, it’s been considered a uniquely valuable food when it comes promoting health and longevity.

This now common vegetable was first brought to England in the mid-18th century and then was introduced to the United States by Italian immigrants, but it didn’t actually become widely known until the 1920s, which is surprising if you consider how popular it is today.

Although it might be considered a newer vegetable, broccoli nutrition is now praised around the world, and it’s eaten as part of nearly every cuisine there is, from Indian and Japanese to American and French. Today, the largest producers of broccoli are China, India, Italy, Mexico, France, Poland and the U.S.Broccoli nutrition facts - Dr. Axe

Related: Broccoli Seed Oil: The Next ‘It’ Oil for Anti-Aging?

Top 7 Health Benefits of Broccoli Nutrition

Why is broccoli healthy for your body? Research links broccoli nutrition and cruciferous vegetable consumption with loads of health benefits. Some of the many demonstrated broccoli benefits include:

1. Helps Fight Cancer

Why is broccoli a superfood when it comes to cancer prevention?

As you just learned, it is one of the best sources of isothiocyanate compounds that fight cancer by lowering oxidative stress, protecting cells mitochondrial function, neutralizing carcinogens and battling toxins. They do this by reducing the poisonous effects of toxins from a poor diet, environmental exposure, heavy metals and the aging process.

Isothiocyanates work by stimulating the release of special “carcinogen killer chemicals” that speed up the removal of toxins from the body. Many studies show that high-antioxidant foods like cruciferous veggies inhibit cancerous tumor growth and stop DNA damage from occurring, so they’re known to significantly lower the risk of colon cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and other cancers.

In addition to offering high levels of isothiocyanates, broccoli nutrition is also valuable for cancer prevention because of high levels of a phytochemical called sulforaphane. This disease-preventing compound increases the activation of enzymes known as phase 2 enzymes that powerfully fight carcinogens in the body.

In fact, sulforaphane is the most potent inducer of phase 2 enzymes of any known phytochemical and helps reduce the risk of some of the deadliest forms of cancer, including prostate cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables are linked with a reduced risk of breast and cervical cancers, which makes them especially important for women. This is due to their effects on estrogen within the body.

They increase the ratio of good estrogen metabolites (the kind that are not benign and not linked with cancer growth) but reduce the kind that’s potentially harmful. Men also naturally have lower levels of estrogen present in their bodies so broccoli helps prevent estrogen-related cancer for men, too.

The American Cancer Society recommends eating cruciferous vegetables several times a week for the best protection. Broccoli consumption improves the body’s ability to fight cancer in a variety of ways, including providing antioxidants, regulating enzymes, and controlling apoptosis and cell cycles.

2. Maintains Strong Bones

Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are essential for healthy bones, nails and teeth. High levels of vitamin K and iron are vital for maintaining bone mineral density (in addition to having many other benefits like promoting blood health and boosting your energy levels).

Some even say that vitamin K builds bones better than calcium, and just one cup of broccoli provides over 270 percent of your daily vitamin K needs. There’s evidence in human intervention studies that vitamin K and vitamin D work together to positively impact bone metabolism and that a vitamin K deficiency or vitamin D deficiency increases risks for bone-related diseases.

Vitamin K also positively affects calcium balance, a key mineral in bone metabolism.

Calcium found in this vegetable is also crucial for preventing calcium deficiency plus building and maintaining strong teeth and bones — especially into older age when people become more susceptible to bone breaks, fractures and bone density loss.

If your body doesn’t get enough calcium, it steals it from your bones to help keep a steady amount in your blood, so including more broccoli in your diet is a natural osteoporosis treatment and prevention method.

3. Maintains Heart Health

Why should you eat broccoli if you’re concerned about protecting your heart? Broccoli nutrition benefits heart health in multiple ways, such as by preventing heart attacks and strokes and keeping arteries clear, in addition to correcting high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Epidemiological studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition readily show that higher fruit and vegetable intake, especially cruciferous veggie intake, is correlated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The high-fiber content of broccoli is excellent for lowering cholesterol naturally and fast.

It prevents cholesterol from entering your bloodstream by binding to it and removing it from the body.

Sulforaphane can also significantly improve high blood pressure levels as well as kidney function, while the compound called lutein present in this vegetable can prevent thickening of the arteries and plaque buildup that can lead to cardiac arrest.

Is broccoli anti inflammatory? Yes, it packs high levels of minerals important for reduced inflammation, fighting free radical damage and protecting cardiovascular health.

These include calcium, potassium and magnesium. For example, it’s well-known that calcium plays some pivotal roles in keeping bones healthy and strong, but it also helps your blood to clot and keeps your muscles and nerves working properly.

4. Increases Gut and Digestive Health

In addition to promoting heart health, high-fiber foods also keep the digestive system flushed and healthy. Does broccoli make you poop? It can certainly help.

Eating whole foods as part of a high-fiber diet promotes regular bowel movements, better gut and colon health, a more alkaline digestive tract (which boosts immunity), and prevention of constipation, IBS and other digestive disorders.

Isothiocyanate sulforaphane compounds abundant in broccoli also powerfully fight against harmful bacteria within the gut and prevent oxidation that can lead to cancer within the digestive organs.

Studies conducted by the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at Tokyo University of Science found that when mice are fed diets high in broccoli, they experience reduced gastric bacterial colonization, lower expression of tumor growth and inflammation, and higher antioxidant activity that increases immunity. Broccoli further supports the body’s natural detoxification processes due to its phytonutrients glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian and glucobrassicin that aid in liver function.

5. Maintains Eye Health and Vision

A lesser-known benefit of broccoli nutrition is how it saves your eyes from age-related disorders. It positively impacts eye health thanks to high levels of the carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin, which are crucial for eye health and maintaining good vision into old age.

They help protect night vision and stop UV damage from occurring within the eyes’ retina and cornea. A diet high in foods that provide antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin A is a natural way to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in older adults.

6. Promotes Healthy Skin

Want to maintain healthy, youthful-looking skin even into older age? Thanks to its sulforaphane that helps repair skin damage, broccoli nutrition benefits the look, feel and health of skin.

Its high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C prevent collagen breakdown, skin cancer, UV damage, wrinkles and skin inflammation. Plus, a derivative of vitamin A found in broccoli, beta-carotene, is essential for immune functioning and has been shown to help fight cancer, including skin cancer.

7. Helps with Weight Loss

Why is broccoli good for dieters? Because it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on Earth.

One cup of the cooked veggie has just over 50 calories but a good dose of fiber, protein and detoxifying phytochemicals.

Is broccoli a carb? As a complex carbohydrate high in fiber, it is a great choice for supporting balanced blood sugar levels, ongoing energy and helping you to feel full.

Want to know a secret to losing weight fast? Including more high-volume, low-calorie, high-nutrient foods in your meals.

Broccoli is high in volume due to having a high water content, so it takes up room in your stomach and squashes cravings or overeating without adding lots of calories to meals at all.

Related: Mustard Greens Nutrition, Health Benefits & Recipes

Broccoli Nutrition Facts

Apart from its demonstrated cancer-fighting abilities, broccoli is considered a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to supplying high levels of vitamins and minerals. As you can see below, it is a naturally high source of dietary fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins K, A, C, and more.

According to a 2018 study published in the journal Molecules, broccoli florets have higher concentrations of amino acids, glucoraphanin and neoglucobrassicin compared to other parts of the plant, whereas broccoli leaves are higher in carotenoids, chlorophylls, vitamins E and K, phenolic content, and antioxidant activity.

One cup of cooked broccoli nutrition has about:

  • 55 calories
  • 11 grams carbohydrates
  • 4 grams protein
  • 5 grams fiber
  • 100 micrograms vitamin K (276 percent DV)
  • 101 milligrams vitamin C (168 percent DV)
  • 120 milligrams vitamin A (48 percent DV)
  • 168 micrograms folate (42 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams vitamin B6 (16 percent)
  • 0.4 milligrams manganese (16 percent)
  • 457 milligrams potassium (14 percent DV)
  • 105 milligrams phosphorus (10 percent DV)
  • 33 milligrams magnesium (8 percent DV)
  • 62 milligrams calcium (6 percent DV)

How to Select and Store

It’s important to buy organic broccoli whenever possible — considering that the Environmental Working Group lists it as one of the most chemically sprayed veggies there is year after year. While you can always look for broccoli that’s raw and fresh at farmers markets and grocery stores, buying frozen, organic broccoli is a good option too and can save you some money.

When selecting this veggie, look for buds that are bright, tight and compact. Yellowish or brown buds and a limp look mean that the vegetable is going bad.

In order for this vegetable to maintain its high nutrient content you want to consume fresh broccoli as soon as you can, ideally within two to three days after it’s picked. That’s because the phytonutrients found in broccoli are partially lost during post-harvest storage.

To keep broccoli fresh, store it in the refrigerator wrapped loosely in damp paper towels, or submerge the stem portions in a pitcher filled with ice water. Do not store it in a sealed container or plastic bag since it requires air circulation.

You can also freeze chopped broccoli for several months if you won’t have time to finish it while fresh.

How to Use and Cook Broccoli

Which part of broccoli is the healthiest to eat?

The broccoli head or tree-like florets are the most popular parts to eat, but the entire stalk is edible and packed with nutrients. Many health experts recommend eating the stalks, since they can be considered a high-fiber food, along with eating the leafy greens attached to the stalks that hold high levels of nutrients.

How much broccoli should you eat per day?

Having just one to two cups per day is a great addition to your diet, since this is enough to provide many key nutrients. More than this may cause gas and an upset stomach in some people.

Is broccoli better cooked or raw?

This vegetable is perfectly edible raw or cooked, although it has the potential to cause stomachaches more so when it’s uncooked compared to when it’s cooked. Its nutrients can be delicate to high-heat cooking, so it’s best to cook it at low temperatures and for short periods of time whenever possible.

Do not wash this veggie until just before you prepare it, and then gently rinse it and trim the tough portion of the stem.

How should you cook broccoli?

This common veggie can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, stir-fried, puréed and more.

High-heating cooking can cause it to lose some of its delicate nutrients. Try sticking with a low cooking temperature and shorter cooking time.

It can easily burn and become water-logged when it’s overcooked — and we all know how unappetizing that can be. Some easy ways to cook broccoli until it’s just soft and its flavor enhanced are to:

  • sauté it with some olive oil on the stove for less than 10 minutes
  • quickly blanch it in some boiling water for several minutes
  • roast it for about 20 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit

You can also quickly steam broccoli in minutes by adding it to a large covered pot with a few tablespoons of water and letting it steam for four to five minutes or until tender. This is a great way to preserve a high level of nutrients.

Broccoli Recipes

How can you use broccoli at home in healthy recipes?

Take advantage of all that broccoli nutrition has to offer by:

  • making roasted broccoli with some lemon and garlic
  • adding some to whole grain pasta or grain dishes
  • blending it into pesto and other sauces
  • topping a salad with either raw or cooked broccoli
  • adding “broccoli slaw” to sandwiches or tacos

Broccoli goes well with lots of different flavors and types of cuisines, and it can be eaten with breakfast, lunch or dinner. Flavors that pair well with it include olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, onion, lemon, parsley, ginger, curry and other spices.

It’s also beneficial to eat broccoli with some sort of healthy fat like olive or coconut oil, since certain vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they’re digested and absorbed or transported in the body only with fat. These include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

Here are some examples of simple, healthy broccoli recipes:

Other recipe ideas include making broccoli cheese soup with aged cheddar and coconut milk, grilled chicken topped with broccoli rabe, egg and broccoli casserole, or beef and broccoli stir-fry.

Precautions and Side Effects

Is it OK to eat broccoli every day?

Some people are concerned about eating high volumes of cruciferous vegetables and the effect on thyroid health. Luckily, there isn’t much to worry about there.

According to the research, it would take a large amount of cruciferous vegetables to cause any type of hypothyroidism. It also appears to be a risk primarily for people who have an existing iodine deficiency.

If you have a thyroid issue, consume cruciferous vegetables that have been cooked and keep them to about one to two servings daily. Otherwise, most people can greatly benefit from eating plenty of cruciferous veggies to their hearts’ content.

Broccoli also has potential to cause allergic reactions and interactions with certain medications, including warfarin. Overall, cruciferous plants are considered to be very safe in humans, with the exception of allergies.

Individuals treated with warfarin should consult their physicians before adding lots of cruciferous veggies to their diets.

Why is broccoli not good for you if you have IBS or sensitivity to FODMAP foods? Veggies like broccoli and cauliflower can be difficult for some people to digest because of the types of carbohydrates they contain, called FODMAPS.

These may cause gassiness and bloating due to undigested carbohydrates that are metabolized by intestinal bacterial, which produces digestive symptoms. If you experience gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea and/or constipation when eating broccoli, you may want to try first cutting back on how much you consume, then potentially avoiding it all together, especially when raw.

Final Thoughts

  • Broccoli is an edible plant in the Brassica cabbage family. It’s related to vegetables including cauliflower, green and purple cabbage, kale, Swiss chard, and Brussels sprouts.
  • This veggie is very nutrient-dense and an excellent source of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates, sulforaphanes and indoles. It also provides vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin K, magnesium and potassium.
  • Benefits of eating it include help with cancer prevention, heart health, weight management, eye and skin health, gut and digestive support, healthy bones and teeth, and slowed effects of aging.
  • This common vegetable can be eaten raw or cooked, and the whole plant (buds and stem) are edible. It can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, stir-fried, puréed and more.

Read Next: Broccoli Sprouts: One of Nature’s Top Cancer-Fighting Foods

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