What are the health benefits of broccoli?

Broccoli has a reputation as a superfood. It is low in calories but provides a wealth of nutrients and antioxidants that support many aspects of human health.

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, alongside kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, collard greens, rutabaga, and turnips.

In this post, learn more about nutritional content of broccoli, several possible health benefits, and some tips for cooking and serving it.

Broccoli
Antioxidants in broccoli can help decrease cancer risk.

A rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is broccoli. Antioxidants can help prevent different conditions from developing.

During natural processes like metabolism, the body creates molecules called free radicals, and environmental stresses contribute to these. Free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, are toxic in large amounts. They can cause damage to cells that can contribute to cancer and other conditions.

A lot of them can be removed by the body, but dietary antioxidants can help. Read more here about antioxidants.

The parts below address in more detail the common health benefits of broccoli.

Lowering the cancer risk

A number of antioxidants are present in cruciferous vegetables, which can help avoid the form of cell damage that leads to cancer.

One of these is sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound that gives a bitter bite to cruciferous vegetables.

Some studies also proposed that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli can play a role in “green chemoprevention,” where either the whole plant or extracts from it are used by individuals to help prevent cancer.

Indole-3-carbinol also contains cruciferous vegetables. Analysis from 2019 shows that this substance could have significant antitumor properties.

Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, cabbage, arugula, broccolini, daikon, kohlrabi, and watercress may all have similar properties.

Enhancing bone protection

In order to make healthy bones, calcium and collagen work together. In the bones and teeth, about 99 percent of the body’s calcium is present. In order to produce collagen, the body also requires vitamin C. In broccoli, both are present.

Vitamin K plays a part in blood coagulation, but it has also been suggested by certain researchers to help prevent or treat osteoporosis. People with low levels of vitamin K may be more likely to suffer bone formation issues. It can help to keep your bones safe by having enough vitamin K from your diet.

A cup of broccoli weighing about 76 grams (g) provides 3 percent to 3.5 percent of a person’s daily need for calcium, 45-54 percent of their daily need for vitamin C, and 64-86 percent of their daily need for vitamin K, depending on their age and sex, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Strengthening Immune Health

An antioxidant that has a host of benefits is vitamin C.

It helps the immune system and can help reduce cancer, cataracts, anemia, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). It can also help reduce the effects of the common cold in supplement form and shorten the time a cold lasts.

Enhancing skin health

Vitamin C enables collagen to be produced by the body, which is the primary support system for body cells and organs, including the skin. Vitamin C can also help avoid skin damage as an antioxidant, including wrinkling due to ageing.

Studies have shown that vitamin C can play a role in skin conditions such as shingles and skin cancer prevention or treatment.

Aiding digestion

Dietary fiber can help to encourage regularity, stop constipation, preserve a balanced digestive tract, and reduce the risk of colon cancer.

A screening trial showed in 2015 that those who eat the highest levels of fiber were less likely than those who ate little fiber to develop colorectal cancer.

A 76 g cup of broccoli offers 5.4 percent to 7.1 percent of the daily fiber allowance of a person.

Reducing inflammation

Inflammation may occur while the immune system is under attack.

Inflammation may be a symptom of a passing infection, but with chronic autoimmune diseases including arthritis and type 1 diabetes, it can also occur. High inflammation levels can also occur in people with metabolic syndrome.

According to a 2014 study, broccoli may have anti-inflammatory impact. Scientists observed that in laboratory studies, the antioxidant activity of sulforaphane in broccoli helped decrease inflammatory markers. They concluded, therefore, that the nutrients in broccoli could help combat inflammation.

In a 2018 report, for 10 weeks, 40 otherwise stable individuals with obesity ate 30 g of broccoli sprouts per day. The participants had slightly lower levels of inflammation at the end of the study period.

Reducing diabetes risk

Eating broccoli may help individuals with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels, studies from 2017 indicated. This is because it includes sulforaphane.

One 2018 review has showed that persons who consume a high fiber diet are less likely than people who eat little fiber to develop type 2 diabetes. In people with diabetes, fiber can also help decrease blood sugar levels.

Protecting cardiovascular health

In broccoli, the fiber, potassium, and antioxidants can help prevent CVD.

A 2018 population analysis found that there was a reduced chance of atherosclerosis in older women whose diets were high in cruciferous vegetables. This is a condition affecting the arteries that can lead to a stroke or heart attack. This advantage may be due to the antioxidant content, especially sulforaphane, of cruciferous vegetables.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that potassium intake be increased and less sodium is added to food. This relaxes the blood vessels and decreases the risk of elevated blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular problems such as atherosclerosis and others.

Almost 5% of a person’s daily need for potassium is given by a cup of broccoli.

One 2017 review found that individuals who eat the most fiber have a lower risk of CVD and lower blood lipid (fat) levels than those who eat little fiber.

Which foods can help with high blood pressure prevention? Found out here.

Nutrition

According to the USDA, the table below lists the quantity of each nutrient in one cup of broccoli, weighing about 76 g.

It also indicates, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, how much an adult requires for each nutrient. According to sex and age, needs differ.

NutrientAmount in 1 cup broccoli (76g)Daily adult requirement
Energy (calories)24.31,800–3,000
Carbohydrate (g)4.78 g, including 1 g of sugar130
Fiber (g)1.8225.2–33.6
Calcium (milligrams [mg])351,000–1,200
Phosphorus (mg)50.9700
Potassium (mg)2304.700
Vitamin C (mg)40.575–90
Folate (micrograms [mcg])49.4400
Vitamin A (mcg)6.08700–900
Beta-carotene (mcg)70.7No data
Lutein and zeaxanthin (mcg)566 mcgNo data
Vitamin E (mg)0.1115
Vitamin K (mcg)77.590–120

Various B vitamins, calcium, copper, selenium, and a number of antioxidants are often found in broccoli.

Read about some other foods that are high in antioxidants here.

Dietary tips

People should try to pick pieces that are tight and firm to the touch and dark green in color when purchasing broccoli. Avoid limp pieces, turning yellow, or wilting pieces.

Fresh, young broccoli should not taste fibrous, woody, or sulfurous. If an individual stores it at room temperature or for a long time, broccoli may become woody or fibrous.

Store unwashed broccoli in loose or perforated bags in the refrigerator’s crisp drawer. Just before consuming it, people can just wash broccoli, since wet broccoli will grow mold and become limp.

Broccoli is a great source of vitamin K, but this may conflict with the use of blood-thinning medications like warfarin for some people (Coumadin). People taking these medications should not unexpectedly increase their consumption of foods high in vitamin K, such as broccoli.

Some individuals may also have an allergic response to the substances present in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. They can seek medical attention if a person develops hives, swelling, or trouble breathing after eating broccoli. It can be life threatening if anaphylaxis occurs.

Some vegetables also contain traces of pesticides, but broccoli features on the 2019 list of 15 “clean” vegetables from the Environmental Working Group. This ensures that there’s a low chance of contamination.

Sources

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  • Appendix 7. Nutritional goals for age-sex groups based on dietary reference intakes and Dietary Guidelines recommendations. (2015).
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  • A primer on potassium. (2018).
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  • Axelsson, A. S., et al. (2017). Sulforaphane reduces hepatic glucose production and improves glucose control in patients with type 2 diabetes.
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  • Blekkenhorst, L. C., et al. (2018). Cruciferous and total vegetable intakes are inversely associated with subclinical atherosclerosis in older adult women.
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  • Broccoli, raw. (2019).
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  • Clean Fifteen: EWG’s shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce. (2019).
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  • Folate: Fact sheet for health professionals. (2019). 
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  • Fusaro, M., et al. (2017). Vitamin K and bone.
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  • Hwang, J.-H., & Lim, S.-B. (2014). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of broccoli florets in LPS-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells. 
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  • Kunzmann, A. T., et al. (2015). Dietary fiber intake and risk of colorectal cancer and incident and recurrent adenoma in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial.
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  • Lee, Y.-R., et al. (2019). Reactivation of PTEN tumor suppressor for cancer treatment through inhibition of a MYC-WWP1 inhibitory pathway [Abstract]. 
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  • López-Chillón, M. T., et al. (2018). Effects of long-term consumption of broccoli sprouts on inflammatory markers in overweight subjects [Abstract].
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  • McRae, M. P. (2017). Dietary fiber is beneficial for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: An umbrella review of meta-analyses.
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  • McRae, M. P. (2018). Dietary fiber and type 2 diabetes mellitus: An umbrella review of meta-analyses. 
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  • Mokhtari, R. B., et al. (2018). The role of sulforaphane in cancer chemoprevention and health benefits: A mini-review. 
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  • Osteoporosis overview. (2018).
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  • Skypala, I. J. (2019). Food-induced anaphylaxis: Role of hidden allergens and cofactors.
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  • Vitamin C: Fact sheet for health professionals. (2019).
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  • Wang, K., et al. (2018). Role of vitamin C in skin diseases.
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