Broccoli is an edible green plant in the cabbage family (family Brassicaceae, genus Brassica) whose large flowering head and stalk is eaten as a vegetable. The word broccoli comes from the Italian plural of broccolo, which means “the flowering crest of a cabbage”, and is the diminutive form of brocco, meaning “small nail” or “sprout”.
Species – Brassica oleracea
Cultivar group – Italica
Origin – Italy, more than 2,000 years ago
Broccoli is classified in the Italica cultivar group of the species Brassica oleracea. Broccoli has large flower heads, usually dark green in color, arranged in a tree-like structure branching out from a thick stalk which is usually light green. The mass of flower heads is surrounded by leaves. Broccoli resembles cauliflower, which is a different cultivar group of the same Brassica species. In 2017, China and India combined produced 73% of the world’s broccoli and cauliflower crops.
Broccoli resulted from breeding of cultivated Brassica crops in the northern Mediterranean starting in about the sixth century BC. Broccoli has its origins in primitive cultivars grown in the Roman Empire. It is eaten raw or cooked. Broccoli is a particularly rich in source of vitamin C and vitamin K. Contents of its characteristic sulfur containing glucosinolate compounds, isothiocyanates and sulforaphane, are diminished by boiling, but are better preserved by steaming, microwaving or stir-frying.
Rapini, sometimes called “broccoli raab” among other names, forms similar but smaller heads, and is actually a type of turnip (Brassica rapa)
Contains Potent Antioxidants that Offer Health-Protective Effects
The antioxidant content of broccoli may be one of its boons for human health. Antioxidants are molecules that inhibit or neutralize cell damage caused by free radicals. This can lead to reduced inflammation and overall health-protective effect. Broccoli has high levels of glucoraphanin, a compound that is converted into a potent antioxidant called sulforaphane during digestion.
Test-tube and animal studies indicate that sulforaphane may offer multiple health benefits, including reduced blood sugar, cholesterol levels, oxidative stress and chonic disease development. However, more research is needed to understand its role in humans.
Broccoli also contains measurable amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may prevent oxidative stress and cellular damage in your eyes.
Health Benefits of Broccoli
Broccoli is a rich source of vitamins, mineral, and antioxidants. Antioxidants can help prevent the development of various conditions. The body molecules called free radicals during natural processes such as metabolism, and environmental stresses add to these. Free radicals or reactive oxygen species, are toxic in large amounts. They can cause cell damage that lead to cancer and other conditions.
The body can eliminate many of them, but dietaty antioxidants can help.
Promotes Healthy Digestion and Reduced Constipation
Broccoli is rich in fiber and antioxidants – both which may support healthy bowel function and digestive health. Bowel regularity and a strong community of healthy bacteria within your colon are two vital components to digestive health. Eating fiber – and antioxidant-rich foods like broccoli may play a role in maintaining healthy gut function.
A study in mice on a broccoli diet found reduced levels of inflammation in the colon, as well as favorable changes in gut bacteria. A recent human study indicated that people who ate broccoli were able to defecate more easily than individuals in the control group.
Though, these results are promising, more human research is needed to better understand how broccoli affects digestive health. Eating broccoli may support bowel regularity and healthy gut bacteria.
Reducing the Risk of Cancer
Cruciferous vegetables contain a range of antioxidants, which may help prevent the type of cell damage that leads to cancer. One of these is sulforaphane, which is a sulfur-containing compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite.
Some scientists have suggested that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli may play a role in “green chemoprevention,” in which people use either the whole plant or extracts from it to help prevent cancer.
Cruciferous vegetable also contain indole-3-carbinol. Research from 2019 suggests that this compound may have powerful antitumor properties
Cauliflower, Brussels, sprouts, kale, turnips, cabbage, arugula, broccolini, daikon, kohirabi, and watercress may all have similar properties.
Improving Bone Health
Calcium and collagen work together to make strong bones. Over 99% of the body’s calcium is present in the bones and teeth. The body also needs vitamin C to produce collagen. Both are present in broccoli.
Vitamin K has a role in blood coagulation, but some experts have also suggested that it may help prevent or treat osteoporosis. People with low vitamin K levels may be more likely to experience problems with bone formation. Getting enough vitamin K from the diet may help keep the bones healthy.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) a cup of broccoli weighing around 76 grams (g) contains 3% to 3.5% of a person’s daily need for calcium, 45-54% of their daily need for vitamin C, and 64-86% of their daily need for vitamin K, depending on their age and sex.
Boosting Immune Health
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that provides a range of benefits. It supports the immune system and may help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), catarcts, and anemia. In supplement form it, it may also help reduce the symptoms of the common cold and shorten the time a cold lasts.
Improving Skin Health
Vitamin C helps the body produce collagen, which may help support immune system for body cells and organs, including the skin. As an antioxidant, vitamin C can also help prevent skin damage. Including wrinkling due to aging.
Studies have shown that vitamin C may play a role in preventing or treating skin conditions such as shingles and skin cancer
Dietary fiber can help promote regularity, prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer. In 2015, a screening trial found that people who consumed the highest levels of fiber were less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those ate little fiber.
A 76 g cup of broccoli provides 5.4% to 7.1% of an individual’s daily requirement for fiber.
When the immune system is under attack, inflammation can occur. Inflammation can be a sign of a passing infection, but it can also occur with chronic autoimmune conditions such as arthritis and type 1 diabetes. People with metabolic syndrome may also have high levels of inflammation.
Broccoli may have anti-inflammatory effects, according to a 2014 study. Scientists found that the antioxidant effect of sulforaphane in broccoli helped reduce inflammation markers in laboratory tests. They therefore concluded that the nutrients in broccoli could help fight inflammation
In a 2018 study, 40 otherwise healthy people with overweight consumed 30 g of broccoli sprouts per day for 10 weeks. At the end of the study period, the participants had significantly lower levels of inflammation.
Antioxidants and Fiber may Aid Blood Sugar Control
Eating broccoli may support better blood sugar control in people with diabetes. One human study showed significantly decreased insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes who consumed broccoli sprout daily for one month.
Interestingly, an animal study revealed decreased blood sugar in addition to reduced pancreatic cell damage in diabetic rats fed broccoli extract. Broccoli is also a good source of fiber. Some research indicates that higher intake of dietary fiber is associated with lower blood sugar and improved diabetic control
Reducing the Risk of Diabetes
Research from 2017 suggested that eating broccoli may help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. This is due to its sulforaphane content. Also, one 2018 review found that people who consume a high fiber diet are less likely to have type 2 diabetes than those who eat little fiber. Fiber may also help reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Protecting Cardiovascular Health
The fiber, potassium, and antioxidants in broccoli may help prevent CVD. A 2018 population study demonstrated that older women whose diets were rich in cruciferous vegetables had a lower risk of atherosclerosis. This is a condition affecting the arteries that can result in a heart attack or stroke. This benefits may be due to the antioxidant content of cruciferous vegetables, and particularly sulforaphane.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend increasing the intake of potassium while adding less sodium to food. This relaxes the blood vessels and lowers the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular problems.
A cup of broccoli provides almost 5% of a person’s daily need for potassium.
One 2017 review found that people who eat the most fiber have a lower risk of CVD and lower levels of blood lipids (fat) than those who consume little.
Packed with Vitamins, Minerals and Bioactive Compounds
One of broccoli’s biggest advantages is it’s nutrient content. It’s loaded with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other bioactive compounds.
One cup (91 grams) of raw broccoli packs (1):
. Carbs: 6 grams
. Protein: 2.6 grams
. Fat: 0.3 grams
. Fiber: 2.4 grams
. Vitamin C: 135% of the RDI
. Vitamin A: 11% of th RDI
. Vitamin K: 116% of the RDI
. Vitamin B9: (Folate): 14% of the RDI
. Potassium: 8% of the RDI
. Phophorus: 6% of the RDI
. Selenium: 3% of the RDI
Broccoli can be eaten cooked or raw – both are perfectly healthy but provide different nutrient profiles. Different cooking methods, such as boiling, microwaving, stir-frying and steaming, alter the vegetable’s nutrient composition, particularly reducing vitamin C, as well as soluble protein and sugar. Steaming appears to have the fewest negative effects.