The Health Benefits of Broccoli

Whether you’re an aficionado of this crown jewel of the brassica family or a novice to this cruciferous vegetable, there are many reasons to add broccoli to your diet. This powerhouse of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals offers an impressive list of health benefits – it protects against cancer, boosts the immune system and even reduces the risk of heart disease.

The magic of this nutrient-dense vegetable lies in its specialized health-promoting compounds, particularly glucoraphanin and glucosinolates. These chemicals are absorbed in our digestive tract and converted to the powerful cancer-fighting substance sulforaphane. Research suggests that just three servings of broccoli per week may cut our cancer risk by 60 percent.

As a dietary staple, broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C (contains twice as much as oranges), calcium and selenium. It also provides important dietary fiber, which aids in digestion and absorption of other nutrients.

Its phytochemicals lutein and zeaxanthin (which our bodies convert into vitamin A) help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. This powerhouse veggie also contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound called indole-3-carbinol, which helps reduce blood pressure.

The sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts stimulates a network of enzymes that help detoxify the body, preventing damage to cells by inhibiting the production of free radicals and suppressing inflammatory responses. In a study of individuals exposed to air pollutants, eating a cup of broccoli sprout tea reduced the levels of benzene and acrolein in their urine.

In addition to being an effective chemopreventive food, broccoli is high in the essential mineral manganese and folate. This may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, which are associated with a reduction in the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Broccoli is a great source of vitamin K, which supports bone density and normal cell growth. It also provides a range of other important vitamins and minerals, including potassium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium and zinc.

For the best health benefits, eat both the florets and stems of the broccoli plant. The stems are especially nutrient-dense and contain the same nutrients as the florets, plus calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C. For best results, grow broccoli in cool weather and rich soil that receives 6 hours of sunlight a day. Avoid overeating broccoli, as it can cause bloating and gas for those with certain gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). When cooking broccoli, steaming, sauteing or roasting are the best methods for preserving its vitamins and minerals. Avoid boiling as this destroys its natural enzymatic properties. Try adding broccoli to salads, soups and stews or pair it with a protein like chicken, beef or fish. For a tasty side dish, mix it with garlic and olive oil and then bake in the oven or saute until tender. It also makes a tasty addition to pasta dishes.