Although you’d never guess it, broccoli has its origins in the wild mustard plant. It was bred by farmers over time to be the crunchy, green vegetable we know today.
Broccoli dates to the Roman Empire, where it grew in the Mediterranean region. U.S. farmers didn’t start to grow it until the 1920s. Today, if you’re like the average American, you eat nearly 6 pounds of the stuff each year. How much you like its cabbage-like flavor may depend at least in part on your genes. Some people are born hyper-sensitive to bitter tastes like that of broccoli.
Broccoli frequently earns a top spot on “superfoods” lists. This is because it is a powerhouse of nutrients and it delivers a lot of health benefits.
What Are Some of Broccoli’s Health Benefits?
1. It is Rich in Vitamins, Minerals and Bioactive Compounds
One of broccoli’s biggest advantages is its nutrient content. It’s loaded with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other bioactive compounds.
Broccoli can be eaten cooked or raw and both are perfectly healthy but provide different nutrient profiles.
Different cooking methods, such as boiling, microwaving, stir-frying and steaming, alter the vegetable’s nutrient composition, particularly reducing vitamin C, as well as soluble protein and sugar. Steaming appears to have the fewest negative effects (1).
2. It is A Powerful Antioxidant
Broccoli contains antioxidants that can help the body in a variety of ways. Broccoli is deeply concentrated with vitamin C, making it great for immunity. Other than this, broccoli also contains flavonoids which help recycle the vitamin C efficiently. It is also enriched with carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which may prevent oxidative stress and cellular damage in your eyes (4).
Broccoli has high levels of glucoraphanin, a compound that is converted into a potent antioxidant called sulforaphane during digestion (5).
3. It Reduces Allergic Reaction and Inflammation
Research has shown the ability of kaempferol to lessen the impact of allergy-related and inflammatory substances on our body (6, 7). Broccoli even has significant amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, which are also known as anti-inflammatory. Along with this, broccoli can also help people suffering from arthritis as broccoli contains sulforaphane, a chemical that blocks the enzymes that can cause joint destruction and hence lead to inflammation.
4. It Prevents Cancer
Broccoli shares cancer fighting and immune boosting properties with other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage (8). Broccoli contains properties that depletes estrogens which usually cause cancer in the body. Research shows that broccoli is extremely suitable for preventing breast and uterus cancer.
5. It Lowers Cholesterol Levels
Like many whole foods, broccoli is packed with soluble fiber that draws cholesterol out of your body. This is because the fiber in broccoli helps bind with bile acids in the digestive tract. This makes excreting cholesterol out of our body easy.
Eating broccoli may support better blood sugar control in people with diabetes. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, it may be related to broccoli’s antioxidant content. Evidence showed significantly decreased insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes who consumed broccoli sprouts daily for one month (9).
6. It Promotes Heart Health
The anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane, one of the isothiocyanates (ITCs) in broccoli, may be able to prevent (or even reverse) some of the damage to blood vessel linings that can be caused by inflammation due to chronic blood sugar problems. Broccoli is great for heart health as it contains fibers, fatty acids and vitamins that help regulate blood pressure in the body. This also helps in reducing bad cholesterol, hence leading to a healthy heart. Broccoli helps protect blood vessels from damage as well.
One study noticed significantly reduced triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol, as well as increased “good” HDL cholesterol levels in people who were treated with a powdered broccoli sprout supplement (12).
Some research also supports the notion that specific antioxidants in broccoli may reduce your overall risk of heart attack (13).
A study in mice fed broccoli sprouts revealed a potentially protective effect against cell death and oxidative stress in heart tissue following a cardiac arrest (14).
Additionally, higher intake of fiber-rich foods like broccoli is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease (15).
7. It is A Good Diet Aid
Broccoli is a good carb and is high in fiber, which aids in digestion, prevents constipation, maintains low blood sugar, and curbs overeating. Along with this, broccoli is also great for weight loss because it is rich in fiber. It is an ideal green vegetable to include in your salads and completing your five coloured vegetables everyday. In addition to this, broccoli also contains proteins, making it suitable for vegetarians that are otherwise not able to complete their protein requirement.
A study in mice on a broccoli diet found reduced levels of inflammation in the colon, as well as favorable changes in gut bacteria (16).
A recent human study indicated that people who ate broccoli were able to defecate more easily than individuals in the control group (17).
Though these results are promising, more human research is needed to better understand how broccoli affects digestive health.
8. It Supports Brain Functions
Some of the nutrients and bioactive compounds in broccoli may slow mental decline and support healthy brain and nervous tissue function.
A study in older adults revealed that one serving per day of dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, may help resist mental decline associated with aging (18).
Additionally, an animal study showed that mice treated with kaempferol had lowered incidence of brain injury and reduced inflammation of neural tissue following a stroke-like event (19).
Sulforaphane is another potent bioactive compound present in broccoli with the potential to support brain function after an event of reduced oxygenation to the brain.
Most current research evaluating the effect of bioactive compounds found in broccoli on brain health are restricted to animal studies. More research is needed to determine how these compounds support neurological function in humans.
9. It is Anti-Aging
Since broccoli is enriched with vitamin C, which has numerous antioxidant properties, it is great for anti-ageing. This is because antioxidants help fight the free radicals responsible for ageing. These free radicals often damage the skin. Eating broccoli regularly helps in reducing fine lines, wrinkles, skin issues like acne and even pigmentation.
Research shows that sulforaphane, a key bioactive compound in broccoli, may have the capacity to slow the biochemical process of aging by increasing the expression of antioxidant genes (22).
10. It Keeps Your Mouth Healthy
Broccoli contains a wide array of nutrients, some of which are known to support oral health and prevent dental diseases.
Broccoli is a good source of vitamin C and calcium, two nutrients associated with a decreased risk of periodontal disease. Kaempferol, a flavonoid found in broccoli, may also play a role in preventing periodontitis (23, 24).
Additional research indicates that the sulforaphane found in broccoli may reduce your risk of oral cancers (25).
Some sources claim that eating raw broccoli can help manually remove plaque and whiten your teeth. However, no rigorous scientific data exists to support this.
Ultimately, more human research is needed to better understand broccoli’s role in maintaining a healthy mouth.
11. It Is Good for the Bones
Broccoli contains high levels of both calcium and vitamin K, both of which are important for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis. Along with calcium, broccoli is also full of other nutrients like magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. Because of these properties, broccoli is extremely suitable for children, elderly and lactating mothers.
Evidence also shows that the sulforaphane found in broccoli may aid in preventing osteoarthritis. However, more research is needed to draw any definitive conclusions on its role in humans (26).
12. It is Healthy for Your Skin
Skin care not only includes glow, but also its immunity. Since broccoli is a powerhouse of antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin C and minerals such copper and zinc, broccoli helps in maintaining a healthy skin. This means it also protects the skin from getting infections as well as keeps the natural glow of your skin. Broccoli is full of vitamin K, amino acids and folates, making it ideal for maintaining healthy skin immunity.
Research indicates that bioactive compounds in broccoli may protect against UV radiation damage which leads to skin cancer.
13. It is Helpful During Detox
Since broccoli is rich in fiber, it can help get rid of toxins through the digestive tract. Other than this, broccoli is also full of antioxidants that help in overall detoxification of the body. Broccoli includes special phytonutrients that help in the body’s detox process. This means that the body gets rids of unwanted contaminants. Broccoli also contains isothiocyanates, which help in the detox process at the genetic level.
14. It Helps Keep A Healthy Pregnancy
Your body requires a multitude of vitamins, minerals and protein during pregnancy to support both baby and mother.
Broccoli is a good source of B vitamins like folate.
Folate is an essential nutrient for the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. Regular consumption of folate-rich foods like broccoli can help ensure healthy pregnancy outcomes.
More research is needed to better understand how broccoli and its bioactive compounds may support healthier pregnancy outcomes.
Now that you know how broccoli benefits your health, you may wonder whether you should eat this veggie raw or cook it prior to consumption.
Raw vs. Cooked Broccoli
According to experts, boiling destroys up to 90 percent of the nutrients in this vegetable.
One study found that stir-frying and boiling broccoli decreased the content of vitamin C by 38% and 33%, respectively (31).
The body is also able to more readily absorb sulforaphane from raw broccoli than cooked broccoli (32).
On the other hand, cooking may boost broccoli’s content of carotenoids, which are beneficial antioxidants that help prevent disease and enhance the immune system (33).
Roasting, steaming, microwaving and stir-frying, by contrast, retain much of its nutritional value.
Furthermore, it appears that steaming broccoli for three to four minutes increases sulforaphane formation. Researchers have also found that adding powdered mustard seeds to broccoli during cooking boosts its sulforaphane levels, so you might want to try this trick (34).
Unfortunately, like most vegetables in the cruciferous family, both raw and cooked broccoli may cause excessive gas or bloating in some people.
Broccoli may cause digestive distress, particularly in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (35). This is due to its high fiber and FODMAP content.
All in all, both cooked and raw broccoli offer beneficial nutritional profiles that are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals.
To reap the greatest health benefits, it’s best to eat a variety of raw and cooked broccoli.
What Are The Best Ways to Eat Broccoli?
Here are some ingenious ways to add broccoli to your diet:
The vegetable stock is where storing all your vegetable reject comes in handy. We tend to throw out a number of parts of various vegetables including leaves, stems and roots, which can all be stored instead and used to make a vegetable stock. This stock can be added to soups and noodles to increase the nutrition in these dishes. Add whole broccoli stalks to boiling water, along with stalks and leaves of other vegetables like spring onions, red and white onions, cabbages and cauliflowers and simmer it on low heat to let all the nutrients seep into the water. Filter this water and store it to be used as stock for a number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
Vegetable Stir Fry
Broccoli stalks can be simply stir-fried along with other vegetables like bell peppers, capsicum and broccoli and cauliflower florets. You can add these stir-fried vegetables to your bowl of cooked quinoa, daliya, khichdi, noodles, etc, or simply eat them along with roasted chicken breast. The options are just endless.
Cut the buds from the top of the broccoli stalks, just far enough down to keep them together. Mix them into cold pasta salads or traditional garden salad. Raw broccoli holds up well to salads dressed with light oil dressings, which provide less fat than mayonnaise-based or creamy dressings. Mix broccoli heads with other vegetables such as tomatoes, squash and zucchini for a good mix of vitamins and minerals.
Save the stalks after cutting the buds for pasta salads or garnishes. Julienne the broccoli stalks, cutting them to a size resembling cole slaw shreds. Add shredded carrots, green onions and golden raisins, then top it with a light yogurt-style dressing and seasonings. Serve broccoli slaw as a side dish or in vegetable wraps or pocket sandwiches.
Cut broccoli into small, manageable sizes just below the buds. Add them to a vegetable platter with celery, carrot, pepper and zucchini sticks. Dip them in a light ranch dressing or yogurt-based dip for added flavor.
Cut the tips of the broccoli stalk so that you have just the buds. Sprinkle the buds on baked potato, salad, pasta and any other side dish that can benefit from the added texture and earthy flavor of broccoli buds. Add them as a topping or garnish in bud form to help you gain the health benefits of broccoli without an overwhelmingly strong flavor.
Eating raw and cooked broccoli both has its advantages and disadvantages. For maximum health benefits, incorporate a combination of both raw and cooked broccoli into your diet!