One vegetable you will always find in my house is broccoli. Whether it is cooked and flavored, or eaten raw in a salad, I can count on my family to gobble it up every time. And we are not alone—broccoli is one of the most consumed vegetables in the United States. Part of what makes broccoli so popular is its year-round availability, its versatility, and its impressive nutrient content.
With plant-based nutrients such as glucosinolates, antioxidants including vitamin C, beta carotene, flavonoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin E, along with vitamin K, chromium, manganese, zinc, and folate, broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse. These nutrients allow broccoli to play an important role in liver detoxification, heart health, healthy digestion, and eye and skin health.
One of the unique benefits of the glucosinolate nutrients in broccoli is their ability to support balanced detoxification.Broccoli helps to slow down phase I detoxification, which can sometimes result in toxic byproducts that have no way out of the body, while revving up stage II so that toxins can be safely removed from the body.
Broccoli is great for your heart in a variety of ways. Glucosinolates are transformed in the body into chemicals that help to tamp down inflammation, antioxidants can help prevent damage to blood vessels, fiber helps support healthy cholesterol levels, and folate and vitamin B6 help regulate levels of homocysteine (a metabolic byproduct implicated in heart disease). Altogether, broccoli plays at least four important roles in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Your digestive tract will thank you for eating broccoli too! Broccoli’s fiber content keeps things moving and feeds the healthy bacteria we rely on for good health. In addition, sulforaphane, one of the transformation products of glucosinolates, helps protect the lining of the stomach from the ulcer-inducing bacteria H. pylori. Levels of sulforaphane are especially high after eating broccoli sprouts, so sprout up for your stomach!
Two lesser known effects of broccoli are on the eyes and skin. Lutein and zeaxanthin in broccoli help keep the macula and lens of the eye healthy, and while researchers are not quite sure how, broccoli also seems to help prevent sun damage to skin.
Conventionally grown broccoli has consistently tested positive for some concerning pesticide residues. In 2014, USDA-conducted tests found broccoli to have traces of 40 different pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and growth regulators. The residue most concerning for human health is DCPA, an herbicide that has been classified as a possible carcinogen and has been shown to decrease immune system function. But what may be worse are the residues of neonicotinoid pesticides that have been shown to kill bees and may affect the developing human nervous system. The best way to avoid pesticide residues is to buy organic!
This Italian immigrant has a pungent grassy flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but broccoli can be prepared in diverse ways to tickle the taste buds of just about everyone.To retain maximum nutrients, try lightly steaming broccoli until it is bright green and still slightly crunchy. If that sounds a bit too bland for your taste, add broccoli to stir-fry, try grilled spears, or thinly slice broccoli to include in salads. I recommend roasting broccoli florets with butter or olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices. The crispy, caramelized areas add an enticing texture, while the roasting helps minimize the bitter notes. If the bitterness of broccoli has you turning up your nose, try balancing that flavor with a squeeze of sour lemon, some umami from cheese or nutritional yeast, or a drizzle of honey for sweetness.
Too often broccoli stems end up in the trash, but they are absolutely edible and delicious! Reduce food waste and use the stems—peeled and thinly sliced they make a wonderfully crunchy addition to coleslaw, and stems spiralized into noodles make a healthy and tasty alternative to pasta. Cooked stems also add great texture when included in soups and stir-frys. And don’t forget about broccoli sprouts! They add a powerful nutritional punch to salads and sandwiches with a crunchy, earthy flavor. Between the delicious taste and the amazing health benefits, broccoli should always have a place in your shopping basket. And now may be a good time to thank your mom for always urging you to eat your broccoli!