10 Science-Backed Benefits of Broccoli for Good Health
Broccoli is technically known as Brassica oleracea, and is part of the cruciferous family of plants. It is closely related to kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage, and certainly tops the list of superfoods. Cruciferous vegetables are often known in the world of nutrition as “super vegetables” as their list of health benefits is long. For example, broccoli offers essential vitamins C and K, along with key minerals like iron and potassium (among many others). It is also relatively high in protein, compared to other veggies.
A superfood is usually defined by the amount of nutrients it contains relative to its caloric content, and broccoli is quite low in calories, coming in at just 31 per cup (1). While you can enjoy broccoli either raw or cooked, most health experts recommend lightly steaming it to maximize the benefits you’ll receive, and raw broccoli can actually cause digestive upset in some individuals.
Broccoli is mainly made up of carbohydrates, but its carb count is actually pretty low due to the fact that the bulk of its carbs come from fiber that is not digested (but does help immensely to promote healthy bowel function and digestion).
Without further ado, let’s dig into the top 10 health benefits of broccoli…
Broccoli is High in Unique and Health Promoting Plant Compounds
Aside from its impressive vitamin and mineral content (which we’ll touch on more in a moment), broccoli is also high health promoting plant compounds. For example, indole-3 carbinol is thought to protect against certain types of cancer (1). Kaemferol is an antioxidant that might also protect against cancer, along with cardiovascular disease and allergies (2). Quercetin can lower blood pressure (3), and a variety of carotenoids found in broccoli are known to support proper eye function (4).
Broccoli Helps to Prevent Cancer
One of broccoli’s perhaps best known benefits is its ability to protect against certain types of cancers, largely due to its high antioxidant content and sulfur-containing compounds. In fact, all cruciferous vegetables are linked especially to prevention of colorectal, prostate, breast, lung, pancreatic and gastric cancers. Isothiocyanates are a special type of plant compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous veggies that have the ability to decrease inflammation and oxidative damage and stimulate our immune system, all of which help to prevent cancer and/or slow its development (5).
Interestingly, studies that have looked at broccoli supplements suggest that they might not be as effective as eating broccoli as a whole food for cancer prevention (6).
Broccoli Can Work to Lower Cholesterol Levels
Studies show that substances in broccoli can bind with bile acids in the digestive tract and help to escort them out of the body, so that they are not reabsorbed into the blood stream (7). Bile acids are formed in the liver and stored in the gall bladder, ready to be released when we eat fat. They then get reabsorbed in the gut, but upon passing through and exiting the body, cholesterol functions as it should to make new bile acids, therefore lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Broccoli Supports Eye Health
Broccoli is known to support healthy eye function for two reasons. One, it contains beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is especially important for eye health. Second, broccoli contains the two plant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, which are also known to support healthy vision and decreased degeneration related with aging (8).
Broccoli Contains some of Almost Every Vitamin and Mineral We Need
While not all in large amounts, broccoli is pretty incredible in that it contains such a myriad of nutrients that we get a percentage of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for nearly all important vitamins and minerals. In higher amounts, broccoli provides vitamins A, C and Folate along with minerals iron, potassium and manganese. It also contains many others in smaller amounts, and each offer their own specific and important health benefits.
Broccoli Supports Healthy Detoxification Pathways
Our detoxification system works in two stages, phase 1 and phase 2 detox (this is a complex process that we won’t explain here), but both have specific and important roles in our body being able to properly detoxify. Unlike most other foods, broccoli can actually support both of these crucial detox phases, mainly due to Isothiocyanates (ICTs), a sulfur containing chemicals found in broccoli. These can alter the production and activity of enzymes in phases 1 and 2 detoxification, overall promoting healthy cell detox activity in the body.
Broccoli is Highly Anti-Inflammatory
While acute inflammation in response to injury or infection is totally normal and necessary, chronic (long-term), systemic (internal) inflammation is highly problematic. Also thanks to ICTs (the compounds made from glucosinolates found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables mentioned above), broccoli is a highly anti-inflammatory food. These compounds have the ability to actually switch off certain genetic reactions that can stimulate our body’s inflammation response. More studies are needed, but experts speculate that daily consumption of broccoli could seriously decrease disease-promoting inflammation.
Also, broccoli is a vegetable that contains anti-inflammatory, omega 3 fatty acids. Lack of omega 3’s in the diet are thought to be a major cause of inflammation and autoimmune disease (9), and broccoli is a good plant source of these fats. While broccoli shouldn’t be your sole source of omega 3 fatty acids (better sources are wild, fatty fish like salmon), but it is an excellent food to add alongside animal sources and/or supplementation.
Broccoli Supports Healthy Digestion
Broccoli is very high in fiber, offering 1 gram of fiber per 10 calories! Fiber is essential for healthy digestive function (like constipation prevention), not to mention for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, diverticular disease and type II diabetes (10). In fact, just 100 calories worth of broccoli will give you 40% of the DV (daily value) for fiber.
Thanks (again) to those ICTs, broccoli can help protect stomach lining health and integrity by preventing bacterial growth, such as H.pylori.
Broccoli Promotes Heart Health
While more studies are needed, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are being recognized more and more for their role in cardiovascular health, largely due to their anti-inflammatory compounds. Sulforaphane is one of the sulfur-containing compounds of broccoli that might be able to help regulate and lower blood sugar levels, which can protect against heart disease. Another reason that broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are helpful in this area is for their cholesterol-lowering effects, as discussed earlier.
Last but certainly not least, broccoli contains B-complex vitamins, which are important for overall heart health and function.
Broccoli Helps to Heal Sun-Damaged Skin
The skin is our biggest organ and plays a huge role in detoxification. The glucoraphanin found in broccoli is thought to support the detox pathways that are responsible for fighting sun damage to over-exposed skin.
The list of broccoli’s health benefits really is quite impressive! Remember that if eaten raw, some people could experience digestive upset or other unpleasant symptoms, so opt for enjoying broccoli lightly steamed or sautéed with a healthy oil, such as olive or coconut oil. Broccoli is delicious as part of a stir-fry, steamed along with other veggies, or roasted in the oven. Check out our more complete overview of broccoli, here.