Broccoli has large flower heads, usually dark green in color, arranged in a tree-like structure on branches sprouting from a thick, edible stalk. It closely resembles the cauliflower, which is the same species as broccoli, but a different cultivar, though broccoli is green rather than white like cauliflower.
Native to the Mediterranean region, broccoli was cultivated in Italy in ancient Roman times and was introduced to England and America in the 1700s. The word broccoli comes from the Italian plural of broccolo, meaning “the flowering crest of a cabbage”, and the Latin brachium, meaning “arm” or “branch”.
There are three main types of broccoli: Calabrese broccoli, which is the most common variety with large green heads and thick stalks, sprouting broccoli, which has smaller flowering heads with many thinner stalks, and Romanesco broccoli, which has numerous small cone-shaped heads arranged in spirals, and is yellow-green in color. White and purple varieties are also available in some areas.
Broccoli Nutrition Facts
Broccoli has long been touted as one of the healthiest vegetables because of its nutritional content and benefits. This superfood is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin K. It’s also a good source of vitamin A, folate, potassium, and manganese.
Moreover, broccoli contains high amounts of fiber and sulforaphane, a natural compound that has been shown to have anti-aging and anticancer properties.
According to the USDA Nutrient Database, one cup (91 grams) of raw broccoli contains:
- 31 calories
- 2.6 g of protein
- 6 g of carbohydrate
- 2.4 g of dietary fiber
- 567 IU of vitamin A
- 0.2 mg of vitamin B6
- 81.2 mg of vitamin C
- 92.5 mcg of vitamin K
- 57.3 mcg of folate
- 288 mg of potassium
- 0.2 of manganese
Broccoli is such a versatile vegetable. It can be eaten raw in a salad or cooked in a variety of ways, such as boiling, steaming, roasting, sautéing or stir-frying.
Both raw and cooked broccoli are nutritious, but provide different nutritional profiles. Cooking may enhance the antioxidant activity of broccoli, but it may reduce its heat-sensitive nutrients, such as vitamin C and sulforaphane.
When cooking broccoli, it is best to steam it as this appears to offer the greatest retention of nutrients, compared with other cooking methods .
Health Benefits of Broccoli
1. Helps protect against cancer
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli contain a group of substances known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals that gives cruciferous vegetables their distinctively strong taste and smell.
These chemicals have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs, including the breast, colon, prostate, and lung . However, more studies are needed to determine the relationship between cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention.
2. Treats type 2 diabetes
Broccoli is rich in fiber and research indicates that higher intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower blood sugar and improved diabetic control .
A new study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine showed that sulforaphane inhibits hepatic glucose production and improves glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes .
3. Reduces bad cholesterol
The high-fiber content in broccoli can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by binding to bile acids in your small intestine, causing them to be excreted from the body.
In addition, higher intake of fiber-rich foods like broccoli is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease .
4. Supports heart health
Broccoli can also support heart health by helping to keep blood vessels strong. Also, the sulforaphane in broccoli has an anti-inflammatory effect, which may prevent damage to blood vessel linings caused by chronic blood sugar problems.
5. Enhances brain function
Broccoli is rich in vitamin K, which has been associated with improved cognitive function and brain power.
Broccoli also contains compounds called glucosinolates, which the body breaks down into compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates may help fight oxidative stress and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases .
6. Improves gut health
In a study, published in the Journal of Functional Foods, researchers from the Penn State University suggest that broccoli may also help promote a healthy gut.
In this study, the researchers examined the effects of broccoli on genetically modified mice with digestive disorders similar to colitis. The team found that the mice who ate a diet supplemented with broccoli were able to better handle their digestive intolerances, compared to those who indulged in their regular diet .
7. Fights inflammation
Broccoli may slow down the damage to joints associated with osteoarthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
A 2013 study at the University of East Anglia found that broccoli’s sulforaphane may help people suffering from arthritis because this chemical blocks the enzymes that cause joint destruction by stopping a key molecule known to cause inflammation .
8. Helps slow down aging process
A new research shows that sulforaphane may have the capacity to slow the biochemical process of aging by increasing the expression of antioxidant genes . But, more human research is needed to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between dietary intake of broccoli and its effect on the aging process.
9. Maintains bone health
Broccoli contains high levels of vitamin K, which is needed for proper bone formation. It supports bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
10. Boosts immune system
Broccoli is a nutrient-packed powerhouse to support your immune system. It is rich in vitamin C, which is essential for fighting against flu or a cold.
The veggie is also high in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Together, these nutrients help the immune system to function at its best.
11. Supports a healthy pregnancy
Broccoli is a good source of folate, which is essential for the development of fetal brain and spinal cord. Regular consumption of this vegetable can help ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes.
Moreover, a study on mice shows that eating broccoli sprouts during pregnancy protects against brain injury in the newborn rat following placental insufficiency .
12. Aids in weight loss
Broccoli is an excellent choice for weight loss because it’s high in fiber and low in calories. Fiber can help reduce appetite and contribute to satiety, and thus prevent you from overeating.
A study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that eating high-fiber, low glycemic load vegetables – like broccoli – were associated with greater weight loss, compared with eating lower fiber, higher glycemic vegetables .
13. Improves skin health
Broccoli is rich in vitamin C, which plays a vital role in the formation of collagen for the skin. The antioxidant vitamin C can also help to prevent skin damage caused by sunlight, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture.
A report from the Johns Hopkins scientists reveals that slathering on an extract of broccoli sprouts can reduce skin redness caused by UV rays and protect against UV damage .
14. Supports liver health
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can cause malfunction of the liver and lead to liver cancer.
A 2016 study from the University of Illinois found that regular consumption of broccoli may prevent the development of fatty liver and reduce the risk of liver cancer .
15. Prevents anemia
Broccoli is rich in iron and folate, which are essential in the prevention of anemia. They prevent anemia by increasing the red blood cells and hemoglobin level in the blood.
Selection and Storage
How to choose broccoli
When buying whole broccoli, look for firm, tight heads with dark green or purplish (not yellowing) florets. The stalks should be light green and fresh-looking with no browning or yellowing.
How to store broccoli
Broccoli should be stored unwashed in a plastic bag or a plastic container in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 2 weeks when stored properly.
Remove broccoli pieces as needed and reseal the bag or container. Return any leftover broccoli to the refrigerator as quickly as possible to retain freshness.