Broccoli is scientifically known as brassica oleracea, and is part of the cruciferous vegetable family (along with kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts and more). For most people, broccoli is an ultimate superfood, as it provides key nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, potassium and iron (among many others).
While broccoli can be eaten raw, studies have shown that lightly cooking it will allow you to reap the greatest health benefits, not to mention it is more palatable when cooked (easier to eat). Broccoli contains about 90% water, and the rest comes from carbs and protein (although more carbs), with barely any fat content. Broccoli is also quite low in calories, with one cup providing just 30 calories (1).
This same one cup of broccoli provides almost 10% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for fiber, which is of utmost important to supporting and maintaining optimal digestive function. While it shouldn’t be considered a primary protein source, broccoli does offer about 3 grams of protein per one cup serving, which is relatively high when compared to other, commonly consumed veggies.
Read on to learn why broccoli is definitely considered superfood, how to incorporate it into your diet, and how to prepare it to that even your kids will be asking for seconds.
Broccoli is one of the superfoods highest in health-promoting plant compounds and antioxidants such as sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, which have both been extensively studied for their role in cancer prevention (1), carotenoids such as beta carotene and lutein, which have been linked to eye health and vision support (2), and quercetin, an antioxidant that is known to lower blood pressure (3). Believe it or not, these are just some of the many beneficial plant compounds found in broccoli that give it its super superfood status.
Another major health benefit of broccoli that has been extensively studied is its unique ability to prevent certain types of cancer (along with other cruciferous veggies). The cruciferous family has specifically been linked to cancer prevention in the cases of colorectal, lung, prostate, pancreatic, breast and gastric cancers (4). The plant compound isothiocyanates are the component of broccoli most closely linked to its cancer protective properties, as these have been shown to reduce oxidative damage, cool chronic inflammation, and strengthen the immune system (5). Interestingly, the main isothiocyanate responsible for cancer prevention (sulforaphane) is found in much higher doses in young broccoli sprouts than in whole, matured broccoli (6).
Largely due to the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, broccoli has been shown to reduce the rate of eye disorders commonly related to ageing (7). As mentioned before, broccoli is high in beta carotene, which is the carotenoid that is converted into vitamin A by the body. Blindness and other vision dysfunctions have been related to vitamin A deficiency, so broccoli could also support eye health in this way.
Fortunately the myth of dietary cholesterol being caused by a diet high in fat (and cured by a low-fat diet model) has largely been debunked, but high blood cholesterol levels can be harmful (and remember, cutting down on refined carbs and sugars is key). Cholesterol helps to form bile acids in the body which are essential in fat digestion, and certain compounds found in broccoli have been shown to bind with bile acids in the digestive system, aiding in their excretion from the body instead of being reabsorbed in the blood stream. This can result in a lower total blood cholesterol level, therefore helping to lower your risk of heart disease (8).
The word “inflammation” has become somewhat of a buzzword, but for good reason. Inflammation is linked to many chronic and degenerative conditions (cancer being one of them), and eating anti-inflammatory foods is essential for health and disease prevention. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables have been shown to help “shut-off” certain inflammatory processes in the body, therefore working to calm systemic inflammation. Interestingly, broccoli actually provides some amount of anti-inflammatory, omega 3 fatty acids, as well (9).
Under the following categories, there are many delicious recipes you can follow to cook your broccoli. While raw is also an option (on top of salads, etc), many people find broccoli a bit hard to digest that way, so check out some of these tasty ideas:
Sauteeing broccoli can be an easy way to add flavor and texture. Heat a bit of healthy cooking oil/fat to your sautee pan (coconut oil, grass fed butter or ghee give broccoli a great taste), and then add your chopped broccoli. You can also cook alongside garlic, onion and any other veggies you want. Add spices of your choice, or simply enjoy it with salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great and simple side dish to just about anything!
Steaming broccoli is the method that provides the greatest nutritional value. You will probably want to spice it up a bit, whether than be with just salt and pepper, or adding any other spices you enjoy. Perhaps try a combination of roasted or sautéed garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and eat alongside a beef, fish or chicken main dish.
Roasting (baking) broccoli in the oven is one of the most savory and delicious way to prepare this vegetable. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and mix together broccoli with any other veggies you’d like, such as sweet potato, brussels sprouts, beets, carrot, etc. It is also good all by itself. Toss your veggie mixture with melted coconut oil, grass fed butter, ghee or olive oil, and add salt, pepper and any other spices you’d like. Bake in a greased baking dish (or line with parchment paper or foil) until desired doneness is achieved, taking out once to stir occasionally. Depending on your oven (and how crunchy/done you want your veggies), you might roast them for 30-50 minutes.
Broccoli casserole is a classic and satisfying dish that most of us love, but the “classic” version definitely isn’t all that healthy. Try making a far healthier (but just as delicious) version using a mixture of broccoli, cauliflower, mushroom and chicken that replaces dairy with creamy coconut milk and even has bacon! Check out the recipe for details.
Let’s face it, getting kids to eat broccoli can be challenging. But, it’s not impossible! Try mixing it into a beef stir fry, making a creamy soup or crustless quiche, chopping it up into small pieces and mixing it into a whole grain pasta or gnocchi dish, or combining it with kid-friendly, bowtie pasta. Check out this parenting site for some great, kid-friendly recipes.
Broccoli allergies are somewhat rare, and it is considered safe for just about everyone. However, consider the following:
Broccoli is considered a goitrogen, which is a substance that can interfere with thyroid hormone production. This really is only a problem is broccoli is eaten raw and in large amounts, as cooking it greatly neutralizes its goitrogenic effects. However, if you have a thyroid condition, discuss with your doctor.
All vegetables high in vitamin K (most dark leafy greens and others, such as broccoli), could interfere with those on blood thinning medications, such as warfarin. Consult with your doctor if necessary.
Broccoli does best in cooler climates, and the top broccoli-producing countries in the world include China, India, Spain and Mexico. In fact, China accounts for over half of the entire world’s broccoli and cauliflower production (10).
Broccoli is 90% water, 7% carbs, almost 3% protein and contains very trace amounts of fat. This superfood offers high levels of vitamin C, Vitamin K, potassium and iron, along with several highly beneficial plant compounds and antioxidants such as beta carotene, lutein, quercetin and much more.
Broccoli has been shown to support healthy blood pressure, eye health (specifically the prevention of age-related macular degeneration), lower total blood cholesterol levels, protect us against certain types of cancer and is highly anti-inflammatory.
You can reap the most nutrient benefits by lightly steaming your broccoli, but it also tastes great roasted or sautéed. Or, you can use it in cooking to make a soup, healthy casserole, or add it into pasta or just about any stir fry dish.
You can, but those with thyroid conditions should cook it due to broccoli’s goitrogenic effects. For others, raw broccoli could create digestive upset, but not for everyone.
Kids don’t always love broccoli, so try mixing it into a beef stir fry, making a creamy broccoli and cheese soup, sneak it into pasta or gnocchi dishes, or make a healthy broccoli casserole. See above for our link to some specific, kid-friendly broccoli recipes.
Generally, broccoli is considered safe for everyone, and allergies are rare (but possible, as with any food), If you are taking a blood thinning medication or have a thyroid condition, you should check with your doctor before including broccoli in your diet.
Many vegetables are part of the cruciferous family, but the most commonly consumed include arugula, cabbage, bok choi, brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens, daikon, radish and turnips.
Broccoli is best stored misted with a bit of water and wrapped in a paper towel. Avoid storing it in an air tight container or plastic bag, as this will not work to extend its shelf life. Be sure not to store broccoli that is wet, as this can reduce shelf life and promote mold growth.
Broccoli actually doesn’t keep for all that long, and will generally have a shelf life of 2-3 days in the refrigerator, if stored as mentioned above. One trick to keep broccoli fresh longer (up to a week) is to submerge the stems in a pitcher of ice water and cover the heads loosely with a plastic bag.
Absolutely, and this is a great way to enjoy seasonal broccoli, all year round. Simply remove the stems and cut/break into small florets, and blanch for 3 minutes (submerge in boiling water, then remove and place immediately into very cold or ice water). Once dried, place in an air tight container or ziplock bag in portion sizes, and use as needed all year long.
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