Broccoli is a great choice for a weight loss diet because it’s so low in calories, but that’s not the only benefit you’ll gain. It’s packed with essential nutrients and contains fiber, which contributes to satiety. Several micronutrients in broccoli are known to support weight loss, and its phytochemicals show potential for breaking down fats.
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Low-Calorie Broccoli Helps Weight Loss
When you want to lose weight, the first step is cutting out extraneous calories such as unhealthy snacks, sweets and high-calorie beverages. Many people consume portions that are larger than the recommended serving size, so the next step is reducing portions, if necessary. Depending on your eating habits, the first two strategies are easy to implement. Getting all the nutrients you need while cutting down on the amount of food consumed may be a bigger challenge. That’s one area where broccoli can help.
A 1-cup serving of chopped, raw broccoli only has 30 calories, while the same amount of cooked broccoli has 54 calories. In return for so few calories, a cup of raw broccoli provides more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin C and vitamin K. It’s also a good source of folate and vitamin A and provides some vitamin B-6 and potassium as well. You'll get roughly double the nutrients in a cup of cooked broccoli, except for vitamin C, which is only slightly higher than raw broccoli because some is lost during cooking.
Fill Up With Fiber in Broccoli
Foods with low energy density are important components of a weight loss plan because they have few calories per gram of food. As a result, you can consume larger portions of low-energy-dense foods and feel full while you restrict calories. The foods in this category, including broccoli, are high in water and fiber, which create bulk without contributing significant calories. Broccoli is 90 percent water, and a 1-cup serving, cooked, has 5 grams of fiber.
Fiber has other qualities that help you lose weight. As it absorbs water and expands, it makes you feel full and slows down digestion, which makes it easier to eat less. Dietary fiber delays secretion of a hormone that makes you feel hungry -- ghrelin -- and prevents spikes in blood sugar by slowing down absorption of glucose, according to a review in Current Obesity Reports in 2012. Avoiding blood sugar spikes helps prevent excess sugar from being stored as fat. The 5 grams of fiber in a serving of broccoli represent 20 percent of women’s recommended daily intake of 25 grams and 13 percent of the 38 grams of fiber that men need every day.
Nutrients That Support Weight Loss
Several nutrients in broccoli -- vitamin C, calcium and chromium -- may promote weight loss. The body needs vitamin C to synthesize a compound called carnitine, which is essential for metabolizing fats into energy. Less fat is burned during exercise when you’re low in vitamin C, and people who consume a higher amount of vitamin C are more likely to weigh less, according to an article published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2007.
Calcium may reduce the production of new fat cells and stimulate the breakdown of stored fat. It also prevents some dietary fats from being absorbed by binding with them in the intestine. One cup of cooked broccoli supplies 6 percent of the daily value for calcium, based on consuming 2,000 calories daily. Researchers found that people on low-calorie diets that include calcium supplements or dietary calcium from dairy products lost more weight than people consuming a low-calorie, low-calcium diet, according to a study published in Obesity Research in 2004.
Chromium is thought to regulate the activity of insulin. Through this function, it may impact carbohydrate metabolism and may boost weight loss, but more research is needed to verify its role in weight loss. Whether or not it helps you lose weight, chromium is an essential nutrient, and broccoli is one of the best sources. A cup of cooked broccoli has 22 micrograms of chromium, which is about two-thirds of the recommended daily intake.
Role of Phytochemicals in Weight Loss
Broccoli is a good source of sulfur-containing phytochemicals that may prevent cancer. Researchers are beginning to discover that two of these phytochemicals -- sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol -- may help lower body weight. In laboratory mice eating a high-fat diet, the group that consumed indole-3-carbinol gained less weight than mice that didn't get supplements, reported the journal Nutrition in 2011. A new type of indole-based fat-reducing drug significantly reduced visceral fat in lab rats, according to the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry in 2012. Studies using human subjects are needed to see if the same effects occur in people.
Sulforaphane may exert a fat-burning effect by triggering the breakdown of fat cells. When fat cells were incubated with sulforaphane for 24 hours, the phytochemical caused changes in enzymes that subsequently promoted fat cell decomposition, reported Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications in 2012. Even though laboratory studies verify the action of sulforaphane, more research using people is needed to determine whether eating sulforaphane-containing foods would work the same way to help break down body fat.