These little 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 little 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 the 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
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 while promoting 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; namely 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 impede 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.1
Another important vitamin that broccoli contains, folate, has been shown 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 of protection is currently unknown, researchers believe that folate's protective effects have something to do with its role in DNA and RNA production and the prevention of unwanted mutations. There is no evidence that folate in supplement form provides the same anti-cancer benefits.
Recent developments on broccoli and cancer
Could broccoli hold the key to head and neck cancer prevention?
A new study suggests that broccoli sprout extract could also be protective against head and neck cancer.
Eat your broccoli to protect against liver cancer
Previous studies have hailed broccoli's protective effects against breast, prostate and colon cancer. But now, a new study adds liver cancer to the list.
Improving bone health
Poor vitamin K intake is linked with a high risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of chopped broccoli provides 92 micrograms of vitamin K, well over 100% of your daily need. Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K daily, improves bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.7
Broccoli also contributes to your daily need for calcium, providing 43 milligrams in one cup.
The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form (in fresh produce as opposed to supplement form) 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 of 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 Database6, 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% 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 ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which measures vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.
To earn 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. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
If you have enjoyed reading about the potential health benefits of broccoli, take a look at our collection of articles about other fruits and vegetables.
Alternatively, read our article about the top 10 healthy foods for your daily diet.