Broccoli

What's New and Beneficial About Broccoli

WHFoods Recommendations

Studies have shown that even kids like broccoli and one way to ensure that they enjoy it is to cook it properly by using our Quick Steaming method. Overcooked broccoli becomes soft and mushy, and along with this loss in texture comes a loss in flavor and nutrients. Begin by cutting broccoli florets into quarters and let sit for several minutes before cooking to enhance its health-promoting benefits. Steam for 4 minutes. See the Nutrient-Rich Way of Cooking Broccoli below.

You'll want to include broccoli as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis if you want to receive the fantastic health benefits provided by the cruciferous vegetable family. We include broccoli on all seven days in our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan! At a minimum, we recommend 3/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis. This amount is equivalent to approximately 5 cups per week. A more optimal intake amount would be 1-1/2 cups per day, or about 10 cups per week. Our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan provides you with 12 cups of broccoli for the week - exceeding our optimal recommended intake level for all cruciferous vegetables combined!

Broccoli, chopped, cooked
1.00 cup
(156.00 grams)
Calories: 55
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin K245%

 vitamin C135%

 chromium53%

 folate42%

 pantothenic acid19%

 fiber18%

 vitamin B618%

 vitamin E15%

 phosphorus15%

 choline15%

 vitamin B215%

 manganese13%

 vitamin A13%

 copper11%

 potassium10%

 magnesium8%

 vitamin B18%

 omega-3 fats8%

 protein7%

 zinc6%

 iron6%

 calcium6%

 selenium5%

 vitamin B35%

Health Benefits

It's no coincidence that more than 300 research studies on broccoli have converged in one unique area of health science—the development of cancer—and its relationship to three metabolic problems in the body. Those three problems are (1) chronic inflammation (2) oxidative stress, and (3) inadequate detoxification. While these types of problems have yet to become part of the public health spotlight, they are essential to understanding broccoli's unique health benefits. Over the past 10 years, research has made it clear that our risk of cancer in several different organ systems is related to the combination of these three problems.

The Cancer/Inflammation/Oxidative Stress/Detox Connection

In health science research, there is a growing body of evidence relating cancer risk to a series of environmental, dietary, and body system factors. Understanding this set of factors can be very helpful in making sense of broccoli and its health benefits.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Broccoli

When threatened with dangerous levels of potential toxins, or dangerous numbers of overly-reactive, oxygen-containing molecules, signals are sent within our body to our inflammatory system, directing it to "kick in" and help protect our body from potential damage. One key signaling device is a molecule called Nf-kappaB. When faced with the type of dangers described above, the NF-kappaB signaling system is used to "rev up" our inflammatory response and increase production of inflammatory components (for example, IL-6, IL-1beta, TNF-alpha, iNOS and COX-2). This process works beautifully in temporary, short-term circumstances when healing from injury is required. When it continues indefinitely at a constant pace, however, it can put us at risk for serious health problems, including the development of cancer.

Isothiocyanates (ITCs) in Broccoli

Research studies have made it clear that the NF-kappaB signaling system that is used to "rev up" our inflammatory response can be significantly suppressed by isothiocyanates (ITCs). ITCs—the compounds made from glucosinolates found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables—actually help to shut down the genetic machinery used to produce NF-kappaB and other components of the inflammatory system. These anti-inflammatory benefits of ITCs have been clearly demonstrated in lab and animal studies. However, it can sometimes be tricky to translate the results of these lab and animal studies in practical take-away recommendations for everyday eating.

The primary anti-inflammatory ITC provided by broccoli is sulforaphane. This ITC can be directly produced from broccoli's glucoraphanin content. Numerous anti-inflammatory mechanisms for sulforaphane are well known, including inactivation of the NF-kappa B pathway. In this context, it is interesting to note that the predominance of sulforaphane in broccoli is limited to the heading version of this vegetable. Also widely enjoyed worldwide is "non-heading" broccoli, often called sprouting broccoli, broccoli raab, broccoli rabe, or rapini. In these non-heading varieties of broccoli, iberin is the most common ITC, and it is derived from glucoiberin, which is one of the more common glucosinolates in non-heading broccoli). Yet another anti-inflammatory compound present in both heading and non-heading varieties of broccoli is glucobrassicin. (And in this case the corresponding ITC derived from glucobrassicin is indole-3-carbinol.)

Omega-3s in Broccoli

Lack of omega-3 fat is dietary problem that can cause over-activation of the inflammatory system. The reason is simple: many key anti-inflammatory messaging molecules (like PGH3, TXA3, PGI3, and LTE5) are made from omega-3 fats. While we are not accustomed to thinking about non-fatty vegetables as sources of omega-3 fats, it would probably be a good idea for us to change our thinking in this area. While there are limited amounts of omega-3s in low-fat vegetables like broccoli, it is equally true that their levels of omega-3s can still play an important role in balancing our inflammatory system activity. In 100 calories' worth of broccoli (about 2 cups) there are approximately 400 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA). That amount of ALA falls into the same general ballpark as the amount provided by one soft gel capsule of flax oil. While we would not want to depend on broccoli as our sole source of dietary omega-3s, we still get important anti-inflammatory benefits from the omega-3s it provides.

Other Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Broccoli

Broccoli is a rich source of one particular phytonutrient (a flavonol) called kaempferol. Especially inside of our digestive tract, kaempferol has the ability to lessen the impact of allergy-related substances (by lowering the immune system's production of IgE-antibodies). By lessening the impact of allergy-related substances, the kaempferol in broccoli can help lower our risk of chronic inflammation.

Broccoli's Antioxidant Benefits

Vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients all contribute to the antioxidant benefits provided by our food. Broccoli is a premiere example of a vegetable providing all three types of antioxidants. In the vitamin category, among all 100 of our WHFoods, broccoli represents our 3rd best source of vitamin C,10th best source of vitamin E, and 16th best source of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). It also serves as our top source of chromium, a very good source of manganese, and a good source of selenium and zinc. But it is the phytonutrient category in which broccoli's antioxidant benefits stand out. Concentrated in broccoli are flavonoids like kaempferol and quercetin. Also concentrated are the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. All three of these carotenoids function as key antioxidants. In the case of lutein and beta-carotene, broccoli has been shown not only to provide significant amounts of these antioxidants but to significantly increase their blood levels when consumed in the amount of 2-3 cups per day.

Of special interest in this antioxidant area are broccoli sprouts. In the U.S., broccoli sprouts are not consumed nearly as often as mung bean, alfalfa, or pea sprouts. However, in other countries broccoli sprouts are more widely consumed, and they show up as concentrated sources of broccoli antioxidants. Broccoli sprouts also contain concentrated amounts of glucosinolates and have become especially interesting to researchers in this regard.

Consumption of Broccoli Can Improve Detoxification

Many toxins that pose a risk to our cells must be detoxified in our body by a two-step process. The isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from the glucosinolates in broccoli have repeatedly been shown to improve our detoxification ability. The bulk of the research on broccoli intake and detoxification has focused on a component of this process called Phase 2. Phase 2 of detoxification is the component of the detox process in which activated toxic substances get hooked together with nutrients or nutrient components to allow excretion from the body. Importantly, the glucosinolates in broccoli (and their isothiocyanate derivatives) are known to activate Phase 2 detox activity in our cells. (This activation is typically mediated through a pathway called Nrf2.) Because broccoli components can activate Phase 2 detoxification, they can help us prepare potentially toxic substances for elimination from our body. This enhancement of Phase 2 detoxification appears to occur with commonly consumed amounts of broccoli falling in the 1-2 cups per day range.

Broccoli and Cancer Prevention

The unique combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pro-detoxification components in broccoli make it a unique food in terms of cancer prevention. Connections between cancer development and oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and inadequate detoxification are so well-documented in the research that any food improving all three of these metabolic problems would be highly likely to lower our risk of cancer. In the case of broccoli, the research is strongest in showing decreased risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer. We expect that risk reduction for other types will also eventually be shown to take place from regular consumption of broccoli.

How Much Broccoli Is Needed for Cancer Prevention?

Recent studies have also provided us with a much better idea about the amount of broccoli that we need to lower our cancer risk. At the lower end of the spectrum, it looks like an average of 1/2 cup of broccoli per day—only 22 calories' worth of broccoli - is enough to provide some measurable benefits. Few people have broccoli on a daily basis. But a 2-cup serving twice a week would still meet this minimum average amount. It's important to remember how little this amount actually in within the context of one week's food. A person eating 2,000 calories per day would be consuming 14,000 calories per week. A 2-cup serving of broccoli twice a week would provide about 178 calories—only 1% of the total weekly calories! At the higher end of the spectrum, studies show that more broccoli might be needed to accomplish other cancer-preventing tasks. For example, one study showed significantly higher urinary excretion of potential carcinogens from well-done, grilled meats given daily consumption of broccoli in the range of 9 ounces (250 grams) per day. That gram amount corresponds to approximately 1.6 cups of broccoli on a daily basis. We've also seen a study showing that "generous" amounts of broccoli can help optimize levels of antioxidants in the blood, especially beta-carotene and lutein. (Optimal antioxidant levels can help lower the risk of oxidative stress in healthy cells, which also helps lower their risk of becoming cancerous.) In this study, the term "generous" was used to describe consumption of broccoli in the amount of 3 cups daily. Once again, that amount would not be ridiculously high in terms of calories—3 cups would provide about 132 calories, or 6-7% of a 2,000-calorie diet. But it might be a greater amount that many people would want to consume on a regular basis. At WHFoods, our minimum recommendation for cruciferous vegetables is 3/4 cup per day, and our outstanding intake level is 1.5 cups per day. Of course, these recommendations are for intake of all cruciferous vegetables combined, and not only broccoli.

For us, the bottom line here is not to treat broccoli like garnish. In recipes like our Asian-Flavored Broccoli with Tofu or 5-Minute Broccoli with Feta Cheese and Kalamata Olives recipes, we use 1 pound of broccoli to provide two servings. That's approximately 1.5 cups of broccoli per serving. There is no reason to shy away from 2-3 cup servings of broccoli when enjoying this cruciferous vegetable, especially if you want to optimize its cancer-preventing benefits. But make sure you're not simply "decorating" your plate with single broccoli stalk and floret.

Broccoli and Digestive Support

The digestive support provided by broccoli falls into two basic categories: fiber support, and ITC (isothiocyanate) support. At approximately 1 gram of dietary fiber for every 10 calories, you don't have to eat much broccoli to get a large amount of your daily requirement! For 100 calories—only 5% of a 2,000-calorie diet—you get about 10 grams of fiber, or 40% of the Daily Value (DV). And, 250 calories of broccoli (about 12% of a 2,000-calorie diet) will give you the full daily requirement for this important nutrient! Few components of food support our digestive system as well as fiber. The speed that food travels through us, the consistency of food as it moves through our intestine, and bacterial populations in our intestine are all supported as well as regulated by dietary fiber.

Alongside of broccoli's dietary fibers are its glucosinolates. These phytonutrients are converted by our bodies into isothiocyanates (ITCs). ITCs—and particularly sulforaphane—help protect the health of our stomach lining by helping prevent bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori or too much clinging by this bacterium to our stomach wall. Broccoli sprouts appear to have especially strong stomach support properties in this regard.

Broccoli and Cardiovascular Support

Recent studies continue to show intake of broccoli as being able to lower levels of LDL-cholesterol in our bloodstream. In fact, one recent study showed a drop of LDL-cholesterol by about 2.5% after intake of 1/3 cup of broccoli per day for 3 months. That's a fairly quick drop and a fairly small amount of broccoli—especially since our minimum daily recommendation at WHFoods for cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli) is 3/4 cup. This basic relationship between broccoli intake and LDL reduction holds true for both raw and steamed broccoli. However, recent studies also show a stronger link between intake of steamed broccoli and LDL-cholesterol reduction than between LDL reduction and intake of raw broccoli.

Yet, owing to the new transition in thinking about the role of LDL reduction for our health, the implication of this benefit isn't clear. The reason for this is that current research on diet and cardiovascular disease is undergoing an unusual kind of transition when it comes to looking at LDL cholesterol. For example, one medical study has found that individuals with high LDL-cholesterol levels tend to live as long—and sometimes longer—than individuals with average or low LDL levels. In this general context, it is also worth pointing out that for the years 2015-2020, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture) have eliminated a previous recommendation to restrict dietary cholesterol intake to a level of 300 milligrams per day. This change in the recommendations is the result of a changing medical perspective on the role of blood cholesterol (including LDL-cholesterol) as a factor in cardiovascular disease.

While we remain highly confident about the cardiovascular benefits of broccoli, we suspect that the reasons for these health benefits are going to start pointing less and less to cholesterol management and more and more to better control of inflammation and decreased oxidative stress within our blood vessels. We also suspect that the phytonutrients in broccoli will become increasingly important in our understanding of broccoli intake and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and that these phytonutrients will become better understood in their role as modifiers of cell signaling and communications related to our cardiovascular health.

The B-complex vitamins in broccoli can also make a major contribution to our cardiovascular health. Especially with respect to excessive formation of homocysteine—an event which raises our risk of atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart attack—B-complex vitamin deficiency intake can pose a major risk. Three B vitamins especially important for lowering our risk of hyperhomocysteinemia (excessive formation of homocysteine) are vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. (And as mentioned earlier in this article, daily intake of 1.66 cups of steamed broccoli over a very short 10-day period has been shown to raise blood folate levels in a small group study of cigarette smokers.) By making an important contribution to our B6 and folate intake, broccoli can help us lower our risk of excessive homocysteine formation and cardiovascular problems that are related to excess homocysteine.

Other Health Benefits Provided by Broccoli

Three other areas of health benefits are important to mention when considering broccoli and its unique combination of nutrients. The first area is eye health. Two carotenoids found in significant concentrations in broccoli—lutein and zeaxanthin—play an especially important role in the health of the eye. In fact, no tissue in the body is more concentrated with lutein than the area in the outer portion of the retina (called the peripheral retina). Similarly, in the macula near the central portion of the retina, zeaxanthin is uniquely concentrated. Risk of problems involving the macula of the eye (for example, macular degeneration) and problems involving the lens area of the eye (for example, cataracts) have both been show to lessen with intake of foods (including broccoli) that provide significant amounts of the lutein and zeaxanthin carotenonids.

A second area in which broccoli may show benefit is diabetes risk. While we still lack large-scale human studies in this area, the metabolic impact of broccoli glucosinolates overlaps substantially with the metabolic changes needed to lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Insofar as oxidative stress is a known risk factor for development of type 2 diabetes, the antioxidant benefits of broccoli are also highly likely to be involved in this potential health benefit.

A third area of increasing research interest involves the metabolism of vitamin D. Broccoli is not a source of this vitamin, but it is an excellent source of vitamin K and also of vitamin A (in one of its precursor forms, beta-carotene). Many individuals have large vitamin D deficiencies that cannot be remedied through diet alone, and these deficiencies require sizable amounts of vitamin D to be provided through dietary supplementation. When large supplemental doses of vitamin D are needed to offset deficiency, ample supplies of vitamin K and vitamin A appear to help keep our vitamin D metabolism in the proper balance. Assuring adequate intake of vitamins K and A alongside of vitamin D supplementation may turn out to be important in achieving optimal vitamin D supplementation results and avoiding potential problems related to supplementation. Broccoli may turn out to play a particularly helpful role in balancing this set of events by providing its unusually strong combination of both vitamin A and vitamin K. As mentioned earlier in this article, broccoli is our 16th best source of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) at WHFoods. It is also our 9th best source of vitamin K.

Description

All cruciferous vegetables provide integrated nourishment across a wide variety of nutritional categories and provide broad support across a wide variety of body systems as well. For more on cruciferous vegetables see:

Broccoli is one of the best-known cruciferous vegetables and is enjoyed worldwide in many different kinds of cuisine. While we often refer to broccoli as a cruciferous vegetable, we could just as easily call it a "brassica" vegetable. In the science classification systems, the family of foods called the "cruciferous" family are now generally referred to as the "brassica" family. (In Latin, the family names Cruciferea and Brassicaceae both refer to the same family of plants, and this family includes not only broccoli but also bok choy, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens. You will also hear this plant family being referred to as the mustard family or the Ccabbage family. Among the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli is closely related to cauliflower, and in fact, gets lumped together with cauliflower in many analyses of global imports and exports.

In the U.S., heading varieties of broccoli are by far the most commonly consumed varieties. "Heading" in this context refers to the physical formation of the flowering portion of the broccoli plant in one concentrated area. It's no accident that we refer to the components of the broccoli head as "florets" since these "florets" are actually flowers not yet in bloom. If left to mature further on the stalk, the green floret-based heads of the broccoli would turn into yellow flower blossoms.

Not all broccoli is head-forming, however. Some varieties of this vegetable develop florets throughout the plant at the ends of the shoots. Non-heading broccoli can be referred to by a variety of names including rapini, broccoli raab, broccoli rabe, and sprouting broccoli.

All varieties of broccoli belong to the Brassica genus of plants. Heading varieties of broccoli typically belong to the oleracea species of this genus, and non-heading varieties usually belong to the rapa species. The number of subspecies for broccoli is quite large, and involves dozens of different cultivars.

In terms of color, broccoli varieties can range from deep sage to dark green to purplish green. Popular varieties of broccoli enjoyed in the U.S. include Calabrise and De Cicco, and you can recognize the Italian origins of these varieties in their Italian-sounding names.

History

Much of our knowledge about food plants and food plant biology is tied in with our understanding of cruciferous vegetables. The Cruciferae (Brassicaceae) family of plants is found on virtually all continents and it is particularly diverse and plentiful in the Mediterranean area of Europe, the central and western areas of Asia, and the western half of North America. Some of the more recent aspects of this vegetable's history involve its cultivation in Europe and transport to North America. Within a broader historical context, broccoli started out as a form of wild cabbage, and it took centuries of selective planting and agricultural practice to allow for its evolution into the familiar varieties that we enjoy today.

While broccoli is grown commercially in many states throughout the U.S., about 90% of U.S. production takes place in the state of California. Cultivation of broccoli in California makes use of about 115,000 acres of land throughout the state, and about 1.8 billion pounds of broccoli are produced each year. U.S consumers average about 6.75 pounds of broccoli consumption per year. While this amount may not seem like a large amount, it has increased consistently over recent decades. After California, the next largest U.S. producer of broccoli is Arizona. In terms of U.S. imports, the largest amount of broccoli brought into the country is from Mexico.

How to Select and Store

Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised. They should be uniformly colored, either dark green, sage or purple-green, depending upon variety, and with no yellowing. In addition, they should not have any yellow flowers blossoming through, as this is a sign of over maturity. The stalk and stems should be firm with no slimy spots appearing either there or on the florets. If leaves are attached, they should be vibrant in color and not wilted.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and broccoli is no exception. Repeated research studies show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic broccoli. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells broccoli but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, and Vermont and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown broccoli is very likely to be broccoli that displays the USDA organic logo.

To store, place broccoli in a plastic bag, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. Store in the refrigerator where it will keep for 7 days. Do not wash broccoli before storing because exposure to water encourages spoilage. Partial heads of broccoli should be placed in a well-sealed container or plastic bag and refrigerated.

Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating broccoli. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.

Since some nutrients (for example, vitamin C) can be lost once broccoli has been cut, it is best to use cut broccoli within a couple of days.

Broccoli that has been blanched and then frozen can stay up to a year. Leftover cooked broccoli should be placed in tightly covered container and stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days.

Broccoli that has been blanched and then frozen can stay up to a year. Leftover cooked broccoli should be placed in tightly covered container and stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Broccoli

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare broccoli the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Broccoli and Goitrogens

You may sometimes hear broccoli being described as a food that contains "goitrogens," or as a food that is "goitrogenic." For helpful information in this area—including our WHFoods Recommendations—please see our article What is meant by the term "goitrogen" and what is the connection between goitrogens, food, and health?.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Broccoli, chopped, cooked
1.00 cup
156.00 grams
Calories: 55
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K220.12 mcg24580.6excellent
vitamin C101.24 mg13544.5excellent
chromium18.55 mcg5317.5excellent
folate168.48 mcg4213.9excellent
pantothenic acid0.96 mg196.3very good
fiber5.15 g186.1very good
vitamin B60.31 mg186.0very good
vitamin E2.26 mg (ATE)155.0very good
phosphorus104.52 mg154.9very good
choline62.56 mg154.9very good
vitamin B20.19 mg154.8very good
vitamin A120.74 mcg RAE134.4very good
manganese0.30 mg134.3very good
copper0.10 mg113.7very good
potassium457.08 mg103.2good
vitamin B10.10 mg82.7good
omega-3 fats0.19 g82.6good
magnesium32.76 mg82.6good
protein3.71 g72.4good
zinc0.70 mg62.1good
calcium62.40 mg62.1good
iron1.05 mg61.9good
vitamin B30.86 mg51.8good
selenium2.50 mcg51.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

privacy policy and visitor agreement | who we are | site map | what's new
For education only, consult a healthcare practitioner for any health problems.
© 2001-2018 The George Mateljan Foundation, All Rights Reserved