Low in calories and rich in nutrients, there’s a lot to love about broccoli. Even so it remains a vegetable that people seem to love or hate.
Broccoli actually began life as a type of wild cabbage.
Wild cabbage originated along the northern and western coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, where it became a domesticated food crop thousands of years ago. Over time, the wild cabbage was eventually bred into distinctly different varieties
We know these as the cruciferous vegetable family which includes cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, and brussels sprouts. All of these veggies contain compounds that are linked to improving health and well-being.
Just one cup of broccoli provides over 100% of your daily need for vitamin C and vitamin K, and is also a good source of vitamin A, folate and potassium.
Broccoli, in particular, is a good source of vitamin C and folate (naturally occurring folic acid). It also contains vitamins A, K, calcium, fibre, beta-carotene and other antioxidants (notably indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane).
So what can all these good things do for you?
Eating foods with a natural fibre like broccoli can prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract and lower the risk of colon cancer. Adequate fibre promotes regularity, which is crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool. Recent studies have shown that dietary fibre may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation.
Likewise, because the gut is so connected to other body systems high fibre intakes are associated with significantly lower risks of developing a range of diseases including heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Broccoli contributes to your daily need for bone-building calcium, providing 43mg in one cup. But that’s not all.
Poor vitamin K intake is linked with a high risk of bone fracture. But just one cup of chopped broccoli provides 92mcg of vitamin K, well over 100% of your daily need. Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K daily, improves bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
In a recent study, scientists found that the sulphurous compounds in broccoli could help prevent or slow the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis.
Getting adequate levels of the antioxidant vitamin C can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin texture.
Many people automatically think of citrus fruit when they think of vitamin C, but broccoli provides 81 mg – more than your minimum daily requirement – in just one cup.
Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the main support system of the skin. Vitamin A and vitamin E are also crucial for healthy looking skin – broccoli provides both.
Eating more non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, is associated with a reduced risk of some cancers (including mouth, throat and stomach cancers), according to evidence on cancer prevention by the World Cancer Research Fund.
But it is possible that some of the other compounds in broccoli may have anti-cancer benefits
For instance, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are rich in sulforaphane, the sulphur-containing compound thought to gives them a slight bitterness that you either love or hate, is also what gives them their cancer-fighting power.
Studies have shown that sulforaphane inhibits the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful component of cancer treatment in the future and promising results are being seen in studies into melanoma, oesophageal, prostate and pancreatic cancers.
Eating cruciferous vegetables has also been associated with a lower risk of lung and colon cancer.
Another important vitamin in broccoli is folate which has been shown to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. Likewise diindolylmethane (DIM), which is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, which has been shown in the lab to combat even the most aggressive breast cancer cells.
In one small study of 81 people with diabetes, those in a group that ate 10g a day of enriched broccoli sprouts powder for four weeks saw a reduction in their levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood), both of which can cause cardiovascular disease.
In a 2008 study researchers applied sulforaphane to human blood vessels incubated with sugar. They found that sulforaphane appeared to prevent the damage to small blood vessels caused by high blood sugar (which can happen if you have diabetes). However, it is unclear from this study whether sulforaphane would protect a person with diabetes from damage.
The vitamin K in broccoli may have some role to play in this respect. People with type-2 diabetes may be low in a type of vitamin K called phylloquinone, or vitamin K1.
K1 is found in abundance in green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, kale, beet greens, cabbage and spinach. Increasing your intake can reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
Glucosinolates found in broccoli are another type of sulphur-containing compound, most highly concentrated in the stalks, that significantly enhance detoxification processes in the body. A recent study found that broccoli sprout juice could help clear man-made pollutants, known to cause cancer, from the body.
Other evidence shows that the detoxifying qualities of broccoli can reduce the build-up of excess estrogen which can lead to breast cancer, fibroids and endometriosis.
In addition, indole-3-carbinol, the breakdown product of another glucosinolate in broccoli, glucobrassicin, has been shown to reduce the growth rate of cancer cells, increase the ability of the liver to detoxify toxic compounds, and decrease growth of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is linked to the development of cervical cancer
Broccoli is probably one of the most abused vegetables, and is too often overcooked and left nutritionally bereft. Don’t let your broccoli become that limp over cooked thing that we too often see on our plates at home and in schools and work canteens! If you want to get more into your diet keep it simple and fresh:
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