Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that’s likely been on your plate since childhood. Despite its wide availability and affordability, this veg is truly a special superfood because it provides a wide variety of health benefits for nearly every part of your body.
Not only are vegetables like broccoli part of a nutritious, well-rounded diet, but broccoli contains many vitamins, minerals and other substances that can affect your heart, blood sugar, digestion and even cognitive function. In particular, broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C — which in and of itself provides several health perks.
Use fresh or frozen broccoli as a part of any meal to easily add a burst of nutrition to your plate.
One cup of chopped broccoli is equal to a single serving. According to the USDA, 1 cup of raw chopped broccoli contains:
- Calories: 31
- Total fat: 0.3 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 30 mg
- Total carbs: 6 g
- Dietary fiber: 2.4 g
- Sugar: 1.5 g
- Added sugar: 0 g
- Protein: 2.6 g
- Total fat: One cup of chopped broccoli has 0.3 grams of total fat, which includes 0.1 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.02 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0.1 grams of saturated fat and 0 grams of trans fat.
- Carbohydrates: One cup of chopped broccoli has 6 grams of carbs, which includes 2.4 grams of fiber and 1.5 grams of naturally occurring sugars.
- Protein: One cup of chopped broccoli has 2.6 grams of protein.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
- Vitamin C: 90% of your Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 77% DV
- Folate (B9): 14% DV
- Vitamin B5: 10% DV
- Vitamin B6: 9% DV
- Manganese: 8% DV
- Riboflavin (B2): 8% DV
- Potassium: 6% DV
- Phosphorus: 5% DV
- Magnesium: 5% DV
- Vitamin E: 5% DV
- Copper: 5% DV
- Thiamin (B1): 5% DV
- Iron: 4% DV
- Selenium: 4% DV
- Niacin (B3): 4% DV
- Choline: 3% DV
- Calcium: 3% DV
- Zinc: 3% DV
- Vitamin A: 3% DV
The Health Benefits of Broccoli
Broccoli’s health benefits are vast: This cruciferous vegetable may help to protect your skin, boost your absorption of iron and protect your heart. Here are the major perks you might expect from finishing your broccoli.
1. Broccoli Might Improve Your Skin Health
One of the most notable health benefits of broccoli is that just a 1-cup serving provides almost your entire daily value of vitamin C.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which means it protects your cells from the damage caused by free radicals that are formed during digestion or by exposure to environmental factors like cigarette smoke or air pollution, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It also ensures the proper functioning of your immune system and is needed for the creation of collagen, a structural protein that helps wounds heal and keeps your skin tout.
In fact, vitamin C improved the perception of skin health and actual skin health — including roughness, wrinkling and elasticity — in a March 2015 review in the journal Nutrition Research. The results are promising, but more research is needed to determine exactly how vitamin C affects skin appearance.
It’s important to get enough of this antioxidant through food like broccoli: Your skin’s levels of vitamin C naturally decrease as you age, per the Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute.
2. Broccoli Is Linked to Lower Rates of Cancer
Although studies in humans have shown mixed results, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli contain substances that might help inhibit the development of cancer.
The substances are known as glucosinolates, chemicals that contain sulfur, per the National Cancer Institute. These chemicals give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite and strong aroma; and during food preparation, chewing and digestion, they’re broken down to form compounds such as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates.
Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit cancer development in several organs in rodents. Lab and animal studies have shown that these compounds might help prevent cancer in various ways, per the NIH, including:
- Protecting cells from DNA damage
- Inactivating carcinogens
- Having antiviral and antibacterial effects
- Having anti-inflammatory effects
- Inducing cell death
- Inhibiting tumor blood vessel formation
Studies in humans have also examined cruciferous vegetables and their link to prostate cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer, but results have been mixed.
More generally, there is probable evidence that foods high in fiber like broccoli decrease the risk of colon cancer and that a diet high in non-starchy vegetables and fruits decreases the risk of mouth, lung, stomach and colon cancers, per the American Institute for Cancer Research. Some limited evidence suggests that foods with vitamin C such as broccoli may lower the risk of lung cancer in those who smoke and colon cancer.
3. Broccoli Boosts Your Body’s Absorption of Iron
The vitamin C in broccoli also improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods — and as a bonus, it can be easily incorporated into any meal.
“When you think of vitamin C, you tend to think of citrus fruits and orange juice, but that’s not something you’d usually have at dinner,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, a clinical professor at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast Spot On! “Broccoli offers a nice opportunity to have another vitamin C-rich food to help with that absorption of iron later in the day.”
Iron plays an important role in creating hemoglobin, a chemical that carries oxygen in your red blood cells, per Harvard Health Publishing. It also helps create myoglobin, a protein found in muscle cells, which activates specific enzymes and makes amino acids, collagen, hormones and neurotransmitters.
4. Broccoli Protects Your Heart
Eating more fruits and vegetables like broccoli is one good way to make your diet more heart-healthy, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In particular, every extra 10 grams of daily cruciferous vegetable intake was associated with 0.8 percent lower common carotid artery intima-media thickness (CCA-IMT), a measure of atherosclerosis, in an April 2018 study of older women in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of substances like fats and cholesterol in your artery walls that can restrict blood flow and lead to a blood clot.
Broccoli is also a good source of fiber, with 2.4 grams per serving. Eating more fiber intake can significantly lower the risk and death from heart disease, per a December 2017 review in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. This may be due to dietary fibers’ effects on lowering total blood cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol.
More specifically, eating 25 to 29 grams of fiber a day was associated with a 15 to 30 percent lower risk of all-cause and heart-related mortality in a February 2019 meta-analysis published in The Lancet.
Broccoli can help you reach your daily recommended goal of 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat, per the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Most people, however, eat less than 20 grams of fiber per day, note the researchers in The Lancet study.
5. Broccoli is Filled With Antioxidants
Vegetables like broccoli are rich sources of antioxidants, which counteract oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
The extract of broccoli florets was found to exert potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in a June 2014 lab study published in Preventive Nutrition and Food Science. More research is needed in humans, but these effects could help prevent DNA damage that is thought to play a role in several diseases.
“DNA damage leads to mutations which in turn are associated with diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, arteriosclerosis and inflammatory diseases,” note the researchers.
It’s best to get your antioxidants from food, as antioxidant supplements have not been found to lower the chances of developing chronic diseases and may even increase health risks in some cases.
On the other hand, people who eat more vegetables and fruits have lower risks of several diseases, although more research is needed to determine if this is due to the antioxidants in vegetables and fruits, other components in the foods or other factors of individuals’ diets or lifestyle, per the NIH.
6. Broccoli Can Help Digestion and Blood Sugar Control
The fiber found in broccoli is important for your digestive health. A high-fiber diet can normalize bowel movements by increasing the weight, size and softness of your stool, and it can also lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids or small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease), per the Mayo Clinic.
People who have diabetes may also find that fiber, and particularly soluble fiber, helps improve their blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar. A healthy diet with insoluble fiber is also tied to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The vitamin C in broccoli even maintains your production of collagen, which helps to prevent the thinning of your digestive tract lining that can cause gastrointestinal problems, per the Cleveland Clinic.
7. Broccoli May Help Shorten Your Colds
The vitamin C in broccoli plays a role in your immunity – but it may not be in the way you’d expect. There’s no evidence that you’ll prevent the common cold by taking vitamin C, per a July 2018 review published in Medwave. Still, it could help reduce symptoms once you’re already sick.
Vitamin C appeared to decrease the duration of cold symptoms by 8 percent in adults in a January 2013 review of 31 studies published in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
That said, vitamin C works best for your immunity when you consume it regularly. For instance, a higher amount of vitamin C taken at the start of a cold also helped to reduce the duration of the cold and lessen its symptoms in a meta-analysis in the journal BioMed Research International — but the effect was only seen in people who were already regularly taking vitamin C supplements and used therapeutic doses when they started feeling sick.
Although many vitamin C studies use supplements, it’s really best to get your vitamins and minerals through food. This allows you to get other important nutrients as well, per Harvard Medical School.
8. Broccoli May Benefit Your Cognitive Function
Broccoli may just be one of the best foods for your brain. One cup of broccoli provides 77 percent of your daily value of vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone. Eating more foods high in vitamin K like broccoli was associated with better cognition and behavior among older adults in an August 2015 study published in Nutrients.
What’s more, several studies have shown that sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables and especially in broccoli, is tied to lower rates of various brain diseases such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and autism spectrum disorder, per an April 2018 review in the Austin Journal of Cerebrovascular Disease & Stroke. This is at least partly due to its antioxidant effects, note the researchers.
An allergy to broccoli itself is uncommon. However, if you’re allergic to mugwort pollen, you may also have a reaction to broccoli, per the Mayo Clinic. This type of cross-reactivity is known as pollen-food allergy syndrome (also called oral allergy syndrome), and can cause symptoms like tingling or itching in the mouth.
The reaction can also cause life-threatening anaphylaxis. Speak to your doctor or an allergist if you experience food allergy symptoms soon after eating.
Foods like broccoli that contain high levels of vitamin K can reduce the efficacy of blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin), per Consumer Reports. This could trigger a heart attack or stroke in some people who have heart disease.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about when or how to take your medication, and if you’ve just started taking warfarin, maintain a consistent diet and avoid suddenly overloading on greens like broccoli.
If you’re aiming to add more fiber-rich foods to your diet (which is a great idea for your overall health!), it may be best to do so gradually, per Michigan State University. That’s because when you start adding more fiber, you may notice a bit more flatulence like gas and bloating.
To reduce flatulence when you’re eating fiber-rich foods, avoid carbonated drinks that can cause excessive gas or things that might cause you to swallow extra air, like chewing quickly or chewing gum.
Broccoli Preparation and Helpful Tips
Broccoli’s accessibility is one of many fantastic reasons to incorporate it into a healthy diet. “It’s affordable and easy to get, and it’s one of those foods that can go in any meal,” Blake says. Here’s how to buy and cook with broccoli to get the most out of this nutritious green.
Pick out good-quality broccoli. You can tell if raw broccoli is fresh by looking for compact clusters, a deep color and tender branches and stems, per the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Store in the refrigerator and remove the outer leaves and woody stems before cooking or eating.
Consider your cooking methods. Try to cook broccoli with the least amount of water — and for the least amount of time — as possible to retain its high levels of water-soluble vitamin C.
“That might be through stir-frying or steaming your broccoli,” Blake says. “But most importantly, cook it the way you enjoy it. The more you like it, the more you’re going to eat it.”
Don’t be afraid to opt for frozen broccoli. It’s also a healthy addition to your meals and is incredibly easy to cook with. “You don’t necessarily need broccoli to be fresh,” Blake says. “Frozen broccoli is so fabulous because it’s available anywhere and when you get it frozen, it’s already cleaned and ready to cook with.”
Add broccoli to any meal. Broccoli can be a delicious addition to your plate in the morning, afternoon or evening. “Use broccoli in your breakfast omelet or frittata, include it in your lunch salad or roast broccoli for dinner,” Blake says. Roasted broccoli leftovers can make for a great addition to a salad the next day, too.
Another great way to eat broccoli: Enjoy it as a midday snack and dip it in cottage cheese or hummus for a satiating combination of protein and fiber, says Blake.
If you want to use a replacement for broccoli, you can try other cruciferous vegetables such as: