These mini trees are notorious for being pushed off the plates of kids around the world, but broccoli’s reputation as one of the healthiest veggies still rings true.
Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, rutabaga, and turnips. These nutrition powerhouses supply loads of nutrients for few calories.
If you are trying to eat healthier, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli should be at the very top of your grocery list. If you or your kids are not big fans of broccoli, be sure to read how to incorporate more broccoli into your diet section for tips and delicious recipes.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of broccoli and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more broccoli into your diet, and any potential health risks of consuming broccoli.
Possible health benefits of consuming broccoli
Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.
Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like broccoli decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality.
It may also promote a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Eating a high amount of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cancer; particularly lung and colon cancer. Studies have suggested that sulforaphane, the sulfur-containing compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite, is also what gives them their cancer-fighting power.
Researchers have found that sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful part of cancer treatment in the future. Sulforaphane is now being studied for its ability to delay or slow cancer with promising results shown in melanoma, esophageal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.
Other easily recognized cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, and cabbage, as well as the lesser-known arugula, broccolini, daikon, kohlrabi, and watercress.
Another important vitamin that broccoli contains, folate, has been found to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. Adequate intake of dietary folate (in food) has also shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers. Although the mechanism behind the protection is not understood, researchers believe that it may have something to do with folate’s role in DNA and RNA production and the prevention of mutations.
Improving bone health
Poor vitamin K intake is linked with a higher risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of chopped broccoli provides 92 micrograms of vitamin K, well over 100 percent of your daily need. Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K improves bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
Broccoli also contributes to your daily need for calcium, providing 43 milligrams in one cup.
Broccoli is rich in vitamin C.
The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form (in fresh produce as opposed to supplements) can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture.
Many people automatically think of citrus fruit when they think of vitamin C, but did you know that broccoli provides 81 milligrams in just one cup? That is more than what you need in an entire day.
Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the main support system for the skin. Vitamin A and vitamin E are also crucial for healthy looking skin, both of which broccoli provides.
Improved digestion and natural detoxification
Eating foods with a natural fiber like broccoli can prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer. Adequate fiber promotes regularity, which is crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool. Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation.
Protection from chronic disease
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intakes are associated with significantly lower risks of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Increased fiber intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and enhance weight loss for obese individuals.
Nutritional breakdown of broccoli
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of chopped raw broccoli (approximately 91 grams) contains 31 calories, 0 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrate (including 2 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber) and 3 grams of protein.
Just one cup of broccoli provides over 100 percent of your daily need for vitamin C and vitamin K and is also a good source of vitamin A, folate, and potassium.
Broccoli ranks among the top 20 foods in regards to the ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which measures vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.
To earn a high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a small amount of calories.
How to incorporate more broccoli into your diet
Broccoli is famously one of the least favorite vegetables of many, along with its cruciferous cousin, Brussels sprouts. But what if you have just been storing and preparing it wrong?
Fresh, young broccoli should not taste fibrous, woody, or sulfurous. To make sure you get the best tasting broccoli, store the unwashed vegetable in loose or perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Only wash broccoli right before eating, as wet broccoli can develop mold and become limp.
Broccoli left at room temperature becomes fibrous and woody. You may not be able to tell by looking, but the flavor of broccoli continues to diminish the older it gets.
Broccoli can be added to wraps, pasta, pizza, or even made into a soup with onion and garlic.
Quick tips to enjoy more broccoli:
- Keep it simple and sauté chopped broccoli drizzled with olive oil, cracked black pepper, and minced garlic.
- Chop raw broccoli and add to your next wrap.
- Top your flatbread or pizza with chopped broccoli before roasting.
- Make your own pesto or pasta sauce and add broccoli.
Possible health risks of consuming broccoli
If you are taking blood-thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important that you do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. The key to a healthful diet is to eat a variety of foods, rather than to concentrate on individual foods.