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Health Benefits of Broccoli

Is broccoli healthy? All about America’s favorite green vegetable

Read more about the health benefits of broccoli.

By: Megan Holdaway, RDN

  • Tuesday, February 11, 2020
  • 3 Minute Read   

When it comes to popularity, broccoli ranks in the top 10 of all vegetables sold in the United States. Broccoli is low in calories, rich in nutrients and versatile in the ways it can be prepared and consumed. 

History of Broccoli

Broccoli belongs to a family of plants called cruciferous vegetables, and its close relatives include brussels sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage. Broccoli gets its name from the Italian word “broccolo,” which means “flowering crest of a cabbage.” Broccoli was developed from wild cabbage during Roman times and has been an important food to Italians ever since. Though introduced during the colonial period in the United States, broccoli did not gain popularity until southern Italian immigrants brought it with them in the 1920s.

Nutritional Benefits

Broccoli has a strong nutritional profile. Just 1 cup of cooked broccoli is loaded with essential nutrients: 

  • Vitamin C: Broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange. Vitamin C builds collagen, which forms body tissue and bone and helps heal cuts and wounds. It is a powerful antioxidant and protects the body from damage by free radicals.
  • Vitamin K: Vitamin K is essential for the functioning of many proteins involved in blood clotting.
  • Fiber: Broccoli is a high-fiber vegetable. Diets high in fiber promote digestive health and can also help lower cholesterol.
  • Potassium: Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that is essential for the function of nerves and heart contraction.

Broccoli is also a good source of folate, beta-carotene, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and zinc. In addition to these nutrients, researchers are studying several chemical compounds in broccoli for their impact on overall health and disease risk. Specifically, the link between sulforaphane and a reduced risk of heart attack and cancer development is being explored, though more research is needed.

Cooking and Storage Tips

Cooking methods can impact the nutrient content and health benefits of broccoli. Boiling can leach up to 90% of the valuable nutrients from broccoli, while steaming, roasting, stir-frying and microwaving tend to preserve the nutrients.

For a new way to enjoy broccoli, try roasting it. Place fresh broccoli on a metal sheet lined with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and some Parmesan cheese. Roast the broccoli at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. It will have a deliciously nutty taste.

To keep broccoli fresh and crisp, store it in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator, unwashed in a perforated bag, and try to use it within a few days.

So is broccoli healthy? Yes, it is a nourishing food that can enhance health when included as part of a healthy eating pattern.

Conzatti A, Froes FC, Schweigert P, Perry ID, Souza CG. Clinical and molecular evidence of the consumption of broccoli, glucoraphanin and sulforaphane in humans. Nutr Hosp. 2014;31(2):559-569.
The Packer. Top 20 fruits and vegetables sold in the US. Produce Marketing Association website. https://www.pma.com/content/articles/2017/05/top-20-fruits-and-vegetables-sold-in-the-us. Published May 12, 2017. Accessed November 26, 2019.
Tortorella SM, Royce SG, Licciardi PV, Karagiannis TC. Dietary sulforaphane in cancer chemoprevention: the role of epigenetic regulating and HDAC inhibition. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2015;22(16):1382-1424.  

Megan Holdaway, RDN

Megan Holdaway, RDN

Megan Holdaway is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the Nutrition Science Program Manager at Dairy Council of California.

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