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 indoles — two 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
- 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.
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:
- Cancer prevention
- Lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Slowed aging
- Better teeth and gum health
- Better bone health
- Prevention of prematurely aged, irritated skin
- Better wound healing
- Better eye health
- Detoxified blood
- Liver protection
- Improved hormonal health and adrenal gland functioning
- Improved fertility
- Increased metabolism and better management of a healthy weight
- Better cognitive function, even into old age
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 studiesshow 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.