- Broccoli originated in Italy, where it was developed from wild cabbage and has existed since about sixth century B.C.
- The Italian name for broccoli is “broccolo,” meaning the flowering top of a cabbage. The word comes from the Latin word “brachium,” which means branch or arm.
- Thomas Jefferson was a fan of broccoli and imported broccoli seeds from Italy, planting them at his home, Monticello, as early as May 1767.
- Another president, George H.W. Bush, was not a fan. He used his distaste for broccoli as a punch line in dozens of speeches. He once said, “I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid, and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” In response, broccoli growers sent 10 tons of the vegetable to the White House.
- In 2013, President Barack Obama announced that broccoli was his favorite food.
- California produces 90 percent of the broccoli grown in the United States.
- Vegetables related to broccoli are broccolini, a mix between broccoli and “gai-lin” (Chinese broccoli), and broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
- The average American eats over 4 lbs. of broccoli a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- The United States is the world’s third largest producer of broccoli. China, the top producer, grows over 8 million tons of the vegetable a year.
Broccoli is a green vegetable that vaguely resembles a miniature tree. It belongs to the plant species known as Brassica oleracea. It’s closely related to cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower, edible plants collectively referred to as cruciferous vegetables.
Broccoli is loaded with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other bioactive compounds.
One cup of raw broccoli has:
- Carbs: 6 grams
- Protein: 2.6 gram
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Fiber: 2.4 grams
- Vitamin C: 135% of the RDI
- Vitamin A: 11% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 116% of the RDI
- Vitamin B9 (Folate): 14% of the RDI
- Potassium: 8% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 6% of the RDI
- Selenium: 3% of the RDI
Broccoli has high levels of glucoraphanin, a compound that is converted into a potent antioxidant called sulforaphane during digestion. Broccoli also contains measurable amounts of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which may prevent oxidative stress and cellular damage in your eyes.
Broccoli contains various bioactive compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation. Kaempferol, a flavonoid in broccoli, has strong anti-inflammatory results. A small human study in tobacco smokers also revealed that eating broccoli led to a significant reduction in markers of inflammation.
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, contain various bioactive compounds that may reduce cell damage caused by chronic diseases and multiple small studies have shown that eating cruciferous vegetables may protect against breast, prostate, stomach, colorectal, kidney and bladder cancers.
Eating broccoli may support better blood sugar control in people with diabetes. This may be related to broccoli’s antioxidant content. One human study showed significantly decreased insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes who consumed broccoli sprouts daily for one month.
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. Elevated “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels are known to be major risk factors for heart disease. Broccoli may play a role in improving these markers. Higher intake of fiber-rich foods like broccoli is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Broccoli is rich in fiber and antioxidants 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.
Some of the nutrients and bioactive compounds in broccoli may slow mental decline and support healthy brain and nervous tissue function. A study in 960 older adults revealed that one serving per day of dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, may help resist mental decline associated with aging. Sulforaphane is another potent bioactive compound present in broccoli with the potential to support brain function after an event of reduced oxygenation to the brain. Research shows that sulforaphane may have the capacity to slow the biochemical process of aging by increasing the expression of antioxidant genes.
Broccoli is loaded with vitamin C. Research indicates that vitamin C plays a role in both the prevention and treatment of various illnesses. A daily intake of 100–200 mg of vitamin C seems to be sufficient to prevent certain infections. A half-cup serving of cooked broccoli has 84% of the RDI for vitamin C.
Broccoli contains calcium which is associated with a decreased risk of periodontal disease. Kaempferol, a flavonoid found in broccoli, may also play a role in preventing periodontitis.
Broccoli is a good source of vitamin K and calcium, two vital nutrients for maintaining strong, healthy bones. It also contains phosphorus, zinc and vitamins A and C, which are also necessary for healthy bones.
Broccoli is also a good source folate which is important during pregnancy to support both mother and baby. Folate is an essential nutrient for the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord.
Research indicates that bioactive compounds in broccoli may protect against UV radiation damage which leads to skin cancer.
How to Buy
Choose broccoli heads with tight, green florets and firm stalks. The broccoli should feel heavy for its size. The cut ends of the stalks should be fresh and moist looking. Avoid broccoli with dried out or browning stem ends or yellowing florets.
The majority of broccoli sold in North America is the standard green variety. But purple and golden varieties can be found at some farmers markets and specialty markets. They taste and cook up just like the green kind.
How to Store
Store broccoli unwashed in in the refrigerator. If bought very fresh (i.e. at a farmers market) broccoli will keep up to 10 days.
How to Cook
Broccoli can be eaten cooked or raw and both ways are 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.
Rinse broccoli just before using it. For most preparations you’ll want to cut off the florets from the stem or stalk. Most people toss the stem, but if you take the time to cut off its tough exterior, the center is crunchy and good.
Raw broccoli works great in salads – although if you want to tame its sharp flavor simply blanch it. Or you can throw a few florets in a salad.
To steam broccoli:
Bring about 1/4 inch of water to a boil in a large frying pan. Add the broccoli florets. Cover and steam until as tender as you like (about 3 minutes for crisp-tender and up to 8 minutes for completely cooked, soft florets).
To roast broccoli:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss broccoli florets with olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread in a single layer in a baking pan and bake until florets are tender and browned on the edges.
To sauté broccoli:
Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add broccoli florets cut into bite-size pieces (you can also include pieces of peeled stalk and the broccoli leaves). Cook, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is bright green and tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of salt and a squirt of lemon juice. Add a clove or two of chopped garlic (added just before the broccoli), a dash of red chili flakes, a teaspoon of grated ginger, or a handful of chopped scallions.