The Health Benefits of Broccoli


What is broccoli?

Broccoli, a cruciferous vegetable, goes by the scientific name, Brassica oleracea. In the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and brussel sprouts, broccoli is an edible green plant with a large flowering head.1

Like most other vegetables, broccoli is comprised mostly of water. It is 90% water, making it low in calories, 7% carbohydrates, 3% protein, almost 0% fat, and packed with tons of nutrients.

Originating in Italy over 2000 years ago, broccoli was a sought-after and valued crop in Roman times. This cruciferous vegetable falls into the super-food category when it comes to nutrient density. It is high in vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, fiber, manganese, potassium, iron, antioxidants, and healthy plant compounds, such as sulforaphane which is known for its anti-cancerous effects.1

1 cup of raw broccoli contains 2.3 grams of fiber. 2.3 grams of fiber is 5-10% of the recommended daily amount. Fiber is important for digestion, helps maintain blood glucose levels keeping the risk of diabetes down, and prevents a variety of other chronic diseases.2

Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant, promoting good immunity and healthy skin. Vitamin K1, on the other hand, plays a vital role in blood clotting and keeping the skeletal system in tip-top shape. Half a cup of broccoli contains more than 100% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K and vitamin C.2

Folate, potassium, and iron are also found in relatively large quantities in broccoli. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, promotes cell and tissue growth making it a particularly important for pregnant women. Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels, and iron plays a crucial role in oxygen transportation via red blood cells.2

Broccoli further contains plant compounds and antioxidants that have cholesterol-lowering and cancer preventative properties. Cancer is a disease where there is a growth of abnormal cells in the body. Many cruciferous vegetables contain plant compounds such as isothiocyanates, in the form of sulforaphane, and indole-3-carbinol, that reduce oxidative stress. High levels of oxidative stress can result in tissue damage which may lead to cancerous cell growth. Due to the high concentration of sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables, eating these vegetables may lower your cancer risk.2

Similar compounds in broccoli help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and cholesterol quality. Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol isn’t dangerous, it is healthy and necessary for healthy cell functioning and signaling.3,4 It is also necessary for the creation of bile acids. Bile acids aid in the digestion of fats. However, sometimes bile acids are reused and recycled instead of synthesized from scratch from cholesterol, which could lead to the elevation of blood cholesterol levels. As we mentioned, cholesterol IS healthy. However, it can be an issue if you are in a state of inflammation (e.g. if you have a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, have high C-reactive protein blood levels, or if you suffer from autoimmune conditions), and/or if your cholesterol profile consists of a high number of small particle size LDL particles, since it turns out that the only time LDL could be “bad”, or putting you at “high risk” for atherosclerosis, is when the particle size is small and there are a high number of these small particles (this can be determined with an NMR blood test).5 This is where broccoli comes in. Compounds in broccoli help to excrete bile acids. This allows cholesterol to be used for the creation of new bile acids, which in turn, lowers blood cholesterol levels.2

So, what is the best way to eat broccoli?

Raw broccoli provides substantially more of every nutrient than any cooking method. However, cooking is centuries old, and some scientists believe it has contributed to our resilience as a species.6

For cooking, steaming is best. The best way to retain the nutrient concentrations is to steam for 5 minutes. If steamed for longer than 5 minutes, there can be a loss in vitamin and mineral levels. Stir-frying in oil or fat can further help preserve fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin B, and antioxidants. However, try to avoid high temperatures as these tend to increase the loss of nutrient density. Another beneficial aspect of cooking is that, by heating up vegetables, we can extract nutrients found in the cell walls. Due to our digestive system, some of these beneficial extracted nutrients are not available to us in raw vegetable form. Cooked broccoli further contains high levels of antioxidants.7

So, what is the best way to eat broccoli? Try both ways occasionally. Raw and cooked offer different concentrations of different nutrients, all of which are important for a healthy and balanced diet.8

What about broccoli sprouts?

Broccoli sprouts fall into the same plant and vegetable family as broccoli. They are a cruciferous vegetable. However, broccoli sprouts contain high concentrations of the cancer-fighting compound, sulforaphane. Sulforaphane not only helps protect the body from cancer, but it also helps lower cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart disease, prevents and aids in improving diabetes, decreases inflammation throughout the body, and helps with immune system function. Numerous studies have shown a correlation between sulforaphane and these benefits.9

As always, there is an optimal way to eat broccoli sprouts to release the most sulforaphane. The goal is to heat the sprouts high enough so that the epithelial protein in the vegetable dissolves, but not too high that the heat destroys the enzyme that makes sulforaphane. The best method to cook broccoli sprouts is for 10 minutes at 70 degrees Celsius. This can be accomplished boiling water. Measure the temperature using a thermometer. Once the temperature reaches 70 degrees Celsius, add the sprouts and let it sit for 10 minutes. This method will release the most sulforaphane from the vegetable, allowing you to reap the most benefits.10

Make sure to include a variety of foods, including broccoli and broccoli sprouts, in your diet. A variety will ensure you are consuming the most of the recommended daily nutrient values. A good way to do this is to eat a diet like the Paleo Diet, which is high in quality protein, healthy fats, and a  variety of vegetables. To get you started on your journey, here are a few of our favorite broccoli recipes:

  1. BREAKFAST: “Broccoli Basil Scramble
  2. LUNCH: “Broccoli Salad
  3. DINNER: “Roasted Broccoli

Work toward a healthy and balanced lifestyle, starting today!

Still curious? Want to learn more about health and nutrition?

Go VIP (it’s free!) and receive exclusive content from the HealthSnap team about nutrition and health & fitness in general.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *