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Broccoli: the Unsung Superfood with Major Health Benefits

Kristin Ciccone Gole
Apr 2, 2020

It would be hard to overstate how good for you broccoli is. Just how good? “It’s easily one of my favorite vegetables, especially from a nutrition perspective,” says Freshly’s Director of Nutrition, Brooke Scheller, Doctor of Clinical Nutrition. Packed with fiber, iron, vitamin C and D, even protein, it packs a nutritionally-dense punch. And as a cruciferous vegetable, you can eat it both cooked or raw to reap a ton of broccoli health benefits. Here's everything you need to know: 

Broccoli Nutrition Facts

Broccoli is nutrient-dense and versatile, making it a star vegetable and superfood. Just check out these stats: 

A 100g serving of raw broccoli contains

Calories: 34

Protein: 2.7g

Fiber: 2g

Calcium: 41mg

Iron: 0.73mg

Vitamin C: 89.2mg

Broccoli Vitamin Content

Vitamin C: Broccoli is a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C with 89mg per serving. Scheller notes that while we think fruits, like oranges, are our best sources of vitamin C, one uncooked cup of broccoli provides over 100% of the recommended daily value. According to the National Institute of Health, Vitamin C may help with all kinds of disease prevention including cancer, cardiovascular disease, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Vitamin C is also a warrior against viruses like the common cold.

B vitamins like folate may play a key part in preventing or helping multiple different conditions from cancer to depression, and broccoli is a great way to incorporate naturally occurring folates into your diet. Folates are especially important if you are or plan to become pregnant as they can help prevent certain birth defects. That’s because folates are what helps the body make DNA and other genetic material, according to the National Institute of Health. 

Vitamin K is found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, and may be key in preventing osteoporosis. Women who eat adequate Vitamin K have even proven less likely to break a hip according to a study done at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Your body needs fat to absorb vitamin K, according to Scheller, so when cooking broccoli, add some olive oil, full-fat yogurt dip, or even cheese to help with the vitamin absorption.  An important disclaimer: if you are on blood thinners, broccoli and other vegetables high in vitamin K may interact with your medication, so speak to your doctor. 

Calcium and Vitamin D: While broccoli does not have Vitamin D, it is a great source of calcium, which goes hand in hand with Vitamin D. Vitamin D and Calcium helps to keep bones strong and can help to prevent osteoporosis.

Broccoli Fiber Content 

Broccoli contains 2 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams, so a healthy serving gets you well on your way to the recommended daily dose of 25 to 35 grams per day. Fiber is great for your digestive system, and can help you to feel full and satisfied, which is perfect for those trying to lose or maintain their weight (or just avoid at-home over-snacking).  

Broccoli Iron Content

One cup of broccoli contains .73 milligrams of iron, an important mineral that carries oxygen through the blood and keeps you energized. Women can sometimes become iron-deficient during their child-bearing years, or iron can become low during or after a sickness or blood loss. While broccoli does have some iron, leafier greens like spinach contain more iron per serving.

Health Benefits of Broccoli

Now that we know broccoli is a superfood full of vitamins and minerals and fiber and all kinds of green goodness, let’s talk about how broccoli is going to help us feel better day to day. Scheller explains  that “broccoli is rich in many phytochemicals — compounds found in food that has specific functional benefits.” 

Broccoli contains a type of phytochemicals called sulforaphanes. Sulforaphanes have been shown to support the brain, the cardiovascular system, the gut, and have even been found to have anti-cancer effects. Sulforaphanes also help to stimulate our body’s natural detoxification pathways, so it’s a great vegetable to include if you’ve been overindulging. 

Broccoli and disease prevention

While broccoli has not been proven to cure or prevent chronic disease, there are promising studies that suggest it may help reduce cell damage caused by common chronic diseases like cancer. For example, a high intake of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lowered risk of lung and colorectal cancer in some studies. 

Broccoli and weight loss

Broccoli is low in calories, with only 34 calories per serving. The combination of fiber and low calories makes it an ideal food to eat while trying to maintain or lose weight. It can bulk up a meal instead of a high-calorie carb and still keep you satisfied. 

Broccoli and skin health

According to Scheller, broccoli can actually help with your skin’s appearance. “Since broccoli helps with your digestion, you may see improvements in some skin conditions like eczema and acne, which often root from internal imbalances in the gut,” said Scheller. The Université Libre de Bruxelles, a private research university in Brussels, has found a promising connection between the sulforaphanes in broccoli and skin health, particularly when it comes to sun damage.  

Broccoli and mental clarity

The vitamin K and folates in broccoli may help improve your mental clarity. Broccoli (and other vegetables in the Brassica family) have also been found to have neuroprotective properties due to their antioxidants, which means they may be a promising source of alternative medicine for the prevention or treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Scheller also mentioned that because of broccoli’s overall impact on digestion and detoxification, it may have waterfall benefits like sharper thinking and less brain fog. 


How to prep your broccoli for maximum health benefits

There are a few ways that you can help maximize broccoli’s health benefits, according to Scheller. Researchers have found that the phytonutrients in broccoli increase when it has been chopped. These phytonutrients stay at their peak when broccoli is consumed raw or lightly steamed

Overall, the more you heat any food, the less nutrient dense it becomes, so eat broccoli raw as a snack to reap the most benefits. But broccoli is such a nutrient powerhouse, that even cooked it provides more health benefits than most other foods. 

Can I eat broccoli every day?

The short answer is, yes! The only downside to eating too much broccoli may be excess gas or bloating due to its high fiber content. Other than that, to reap the health benefits eat it any day of the week. 

Wondering how? Broccoli can get a bad rap because as it cooks, it lets off a sulfurous smell. Pair that with the fact that it looks like trees, and you might feel your appetite dwindling. Yet, when cooked well, it’s a delicious addition to your meal. Oil or butter, salt and garlic all pair well with broccoli’s slightly bitter taste. Broccoli stands up nicely to higher temperatures. Roast your broccoli in the oven with oil and balsamic vinegar for a caramelized finish.  

As a side Broccoli can be a hearty side dish to any number of proteins. Scheller likes to replace traditional rice with broccoli rice. Instead of boiling it like regular rice, just sauté it. At Freshly, we pair it with our Sicilian Style Chicken Parm to substitute for more traditional carb-based sides like pasta or rice.  

In stir-fry Broccoli and white or brown rice is a classic combo in asian dishes, and it can add some real substance to a stir fry. In a teriyaki or a curry, broccoli takes on additional flavor, and withholds its crispness to give your rice dish a crunchy texture. 

With eggs We like to include leftover broccoli in a frittata, which is basically a fancier way of saying omelette. Chop up your broccoli and heat it in a pan with onions and garlic, add whisked eggs and top with some parmesan cheese.

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Broccoli: the Unsung Superfood with Major Health Benefits