Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the Brassica genus of plants. It’s a type of flower and has a thick, central stalk with grayish-green leaves and green florets (there are some purple varieties). It is versatile and easy to find in most grocery stores.
Broccoli is considered to be one of the most nutritious vegetables and, when cooked properly, it can really be a delicious addition to any meal plan.
Nutritional Facts: The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one cup (91g) of raw, chopped broccoli.
- Calories: 31
- Fat: 0.3g
- Sodium: 30mg
- Carbohydrates: 6g
- Fiber: 2.4g
- Sugars: 1.5g
- Protein: 2.5g
Carbs: One cup of raw, chopped broccoli contains only 31 calories, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and very little sugar (1.5 grams). More than a third of the carbohydrates found in broccoli come from fiber (2.4 grams), making it a filling, heart-healthy food choice. The glycemic index (GI) for broccoli is 10. The glycemic index is an estimate of how a food affects your blood sugar levels. Broccoli is a low GI food, which means that it has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels.
Fat: Broccoli has only a trace amount of fat and is cholesterol-free. It does, however, contain a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Consuming two cups of broccoli delivers nearly 0.5 grams of this anti-inflammatory fatty acid.
Protein: For a vegetable, broccoli has a significant amount of protein, 2.5 grams per one-cup serving. But you still should include other protein sources in your diet to meet your daily needs.
Vitamins and Minerals: Broccoli is bursting with vitamins and minerals. It’s an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C, providing over 81mg, or about 135% of your daily needs. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K, important in bone health and wound healing. You’ll consume 116% of your daily recommended intake in a one-cup serving of broccoli. It’s also a very good source of the B vitamin folate, and a good source of vitamin A, manganese, potassium and other B vitamins. Minerals in broccoli include manganese, potassium, and phosphorus.
Weight Loss: At only 31 calories a cup, broccoli is a popular addition to the plates of those looking to lose weight. It’s high in fiber, with one cup providing about 9% of the recommended daily value. Fiber, the indigestible part of carbohydrate, can help to reduce cholesterol, promote bowel health, regulate blood sugars, and aid in weight loss. Eating foods that are high in fiber helps you to feel full longer after eating.
Improved Diabetes Management and Prevention: Studies have shown that eating a fiber-rich diet is associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. According to one study of 99,826 women, those with the highest fiber intake had the lowest risk of diabetes. Study authors attribute this health benefit to the fact that foods with fiber take more time to consume and provide greater satiety.
Other studies have shown that broccoli sprouts may improve insulin resistance in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Better Heart Health: Numerous studies have linked a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables to better heart health, including a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, ischemic heart, cerebrovascular disease, and stroke. In these studies, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower were the most common vegetables grouped as cruciferous vegetables. This may be one of many reasons that the American Heart Association includes broccoli in their healthy eating pattern that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Reduced Risk of Cancer: Some studies suggest that eating higher amounts of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including prostate, lung, and breast cancer. In addition, diets that are higher in fiber are associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer.
Cell Protection: Broccoli is also one of the foods with high levels of antioxidant phytonutrients on a per calorie basis. Antioxidants help to fight off free radicals that cause cell damage that can result in inflammation and disease.
Allergies: Broccoli food allergies are very rare, but isolated cases have been reported. There have been reports of food-pollen syndrome if you have hay fever due to mugwort pollen. Broccoli, cabbage, and related vegetables have proteins similar to those in mugwort pollen and can cause a reaction when you eat them. You may feel a tingling on your lips and tongue. In extremely rare cases, this can progress to a swollen throat or anaphylaxis.
Adverse Effects: Broccoli is high in vitamin K and eating large quantities or making sudden changes in the amount eaten can interfere with the effectiveness and safety of Coumadin (warfarin) and reduce its blood-thinning effect. While on Coumadin (warfarin), Vitamin K intake needs to be consistent. Discuss with a registered dietitian nutritionist or your healthcare provider for more information.
Varieties: There are many varieties of broccoli although your local grocery store isn’t likely to carry all of them. Most markets stock Calabrese broccoli, destiny broccoli, and belstar broccoli. These are the types of broccoli with thick stalks and bright green florets. Broccolini is becoming more popular. This variety has longer, thinner stalks and tall, narrow florets.
Broccoli raab (rapini) can also be found in many markets, although it looks the least like broccoli. This variety is bright green and leafy and is technically a member of the turnip family. You are least likely to find varieties like Romanesco broccoli, which has pointy florets and a greenish-yellowish color.
In Season: Fresh broccoli is available year-round, although it is in season from October through April. If there is no fresh broccoli at your market, most supermarkets sell frozen broccoli that can be just as nutritious as fresh broccoli.
To choose the best broccoli, look for tight, deep green florets and a firm stalk. Avoid broccoli with a soft or bendable stalk or yellowish-florets.
Storage and Food Safety: To store broccoli, place it in the refrigerator for up to 2–3 days. Remove from the produce bag to allow ventilation. Keep the vegetable dry until you are ready to cook with it. You can freeze broccoli, but most cooks blanch or steam it first. Only cook for 2–3 minutes then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking process. Store in air-tight bags in the freezer for up to a year.
People often wonder if they can eat all of the vegetable, including thick stalk. Broccoli heads, or the florets at the top, and the attached stem are the edible parts of the plant. Just be sure to cut off the bottom one to two inches, which can be tough and woody.
Some people get concerned about the smell of broccoli and wonder if the smell indicates that the broccoli has gone bad. However, that is not the case. Broccoli contains a group of substances known as glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing chemicals. These substances give broccoli its pungent smell. Placing a piece of bread into the bottom of the pot when cooking is said to help absorb odors.
How to Prepare: Broccoli can be eaten raw, as crudité or slaw, or can be prepared using a variety of cooking methods. Steam, sauté, or roast it to compliment your main meal or use the stems to make soup. Avoid overcooking, as it will not only make it less visually appealing but will reduce the availability of vitamins and minerals. You can maintain a beautiful green hue by blanching your broccoli first—this will not only enhance the color of broccoli but will help to soften the stems. Blanching broccoli can also help to reduce bitterness.
Blanching is a cooking technique in which food is briefly immersed in salted boiling water (about 30 seconds) and then rapidly cooled in ice water.
You can eat broccoli round the clock: Get a veggie dose in the morning by adding broccoli to egg dishes or use as a base or side dish for a low-carb dinner.