What is so great about broccoli? Many kids cringe at the sight of these fabulous little “trees”; George H. W. Bush made national headlines with his declaration for his disdain of it. However, its reputation still remains as one of the healthiest vegetables on earth.
Why is this veggie so healthy? Let us take a look at what is in it and what the research shows.
Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables that also includes kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, rutabaga, and turnips.
Broccoli ranks among the top 20 foods when assessed by the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) score that measures vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.
So what does it provide in terms of nutrients? One cup of cooked broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 288 mg of potassium, 43 mg of calcium, 81 mg of vitamin C, 92 mcg of vitamin K plus folate, magnesium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and 1,277 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin (members of the carotene family)
To make it even better, the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocate and protection nonprofit research organization included broccoli on a list of twelve foods least contaminated with pesticides.
Broccoli has the potential of being a cancer fighter. It is rich in anticancer phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. They work against cancer by neutralizing carcinogens and reduce their toxic effects by stimulating the release of compounds that speed up carcinogen removal from the body. Studies have reported that these photochemicals help prevent lung, esophageal, gastrointestinal and breast cancers.
Broccoli contains other cancer fighting substances, one of which is indoles, namely indole-3-carbonol. This particular one increases the ratio of the “good” benign estrogen metabolites to the potentially harmful ones that have carcinogenic properties. So broccoli can play a major role in breast cancer in women and men.
Another well studied phytochemical in broccoli is sulforaphane. This compound activates and induces phase-2 enzymes that fight carcinogens. Phase-2 enzymes may reduce the risk of prostate, melanoma and pancreatic cancers.
Sulphoraphane can also inhibit an enzyme (called histone deacetylase (HDAC) known to be involved in cancer cell progression. One study of 66,940 women found that those who had the highest inake of another cancer fighter, flavonoid quercetin (also in broccoli) had a 25% reduced risk of ovarian cancer when compared with those consuming the least.
The antioxidants (vitamin C, beta carotene), potassium and folate in broccoli also help protect against cardiovascular disease.
Since broccoli and its cousin, Brussels sprouts, are often named as people’s least favorite vegetables, try these ways to incorporate it into your diet.
- Sauté chopped broccoli drizzled with olive oil, cracked black pepper and minced garlic. Steaming is not ideal since covering it in cooking causes retention of sulfurous-smelling compounds, which offends some tastes.
- I sauté florets with butter and anchovy paste (you cannot taste the anchovies- promise).
- Chop raw broccoli and add to your next wrap
- Top your flatbread or pizza with chopped broccoli before roasting
- Make your own pesto or pasta sauce and add broccoli.
- Raw florets can be added to salads or dipped in plain yogurt or ranch dip.