Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables, thanks to its low calorie count and seriously impressive nutritional profile (think: vitamins, antioxidants and fiber). However, if you suffer from broccoli-related stomach pain, know that you're not alone — broccoli intolerance is very real.
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The Broccoli Basics
Broccoli has a long list of health benefits. Specifically, it's loaded with good-for-you compounds, including vitamin C, potassium, B6, folate, vitamin K, vitamin A and fiber, all of which play important roles in various biological processes, says Jesse P. Houghton, MD, senior medical director of gastroenterology at the Southern Ohio Medical Center, Portsmouth, Ohio.
For example, vitamin C not only helps the body metabolize protein, but it also plays a vital role in healing, says the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. One cup of chopped raw broccoli has 89.2 milligrams of vitamin C, which is 90 percent of your daily value for that vitamine, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Read more: What Is a Serving Size of Broccoli?
In addition, the high fiber content found in broccoli — as well as the entire family of cruciferous veggies, such as Brussels sprouts and cauliflower — is important for the digestive system. Eating enough daily fiber prevents constipation and regulates bowel movements to help remove waste from the body, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Can Broccoli Cause Stomach Pain?
The very same fiber that's so beneficial for your digestive system can also be the cause of a broccoli-induced stomachache — think bloating, gas and cramps, Dr. Houghton says. "The fiber can reach the colon and be acted upon by the bacteria in our intestines, giving off gas in the form of methane, nitrogen and carbon dioxide," he says. If your stomach experiences these unpleasant side effects after eating the green veggie, it could be a broccoli intolerance.
Broccoli also can be the culprit behind a slew of stomach-related symptoms. Not only does the veggie — or more specifically, the intestinal bacteria that breaks the fibrous content down — cause gas, but that gas can actually be painful, too. Because the gas expands the intestines, its lining and walls become stretched.
"This then activates stretch receptor nerves, which then send a signal to our brains telling us that our intestines are being stretched," Dr. Houghton says. "We sense this as painful stimuli in our abdomen."
How to Avoid Broccoli Intolerance
The good news is that you can still enjoy broccoli if it gives you gas or stomach pain — you just need to tweak how you're eating it. For starters, Dr. Houghton recommends taking small bites and chewing each one completely to break down as much of the vegetable as possible before it enters your digestive tract. Keep your portions small and avoid eating raw broccoli.
Should you decide to cook your broccoli — regardless of whether it's steamed, stir-fried or tossed into a side dish — know that doing so can actually be to the vegetable's detriment. "Cooking broccoli will cause you to sacrifice some of the plant's important phytonutrients," Dr. Houghton says.
In fact, a study published in the journal Heliyon in March 2019 found that boiling broccoli significantly reduces its retention of flavonoids, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits. Research published in the journal Food Chemistry in November 2019 found that flavonoids can not only inhibit enzymes important in inflammation, but that they can also reduce the effect of tissue damage.
Another option to help you combat broccoli intolerance can be gas-fighting over-the-counter medications. If you know you're going to have the cruciferous vegetable, consider taking Beano before eating. "It contains the alpha galactosidase enzyme that helps [our bodies] break down the trisaccharide raffinose that's found in broccoli," Dr. Houghton says.
Otherwise, you can opt for medication containing simethicone — like Gas-X, for example — which helps to break down the gas bubbles themselves to stop pain, cramps and gas in their tracks.
Read more: Do Broccoli Stems Have Nutritional Value?
Is This an Emergency?
- Food Chemistry: "Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Flavonoids"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Should I Be Eating More Fiber?”
- Heliyon: "Effects of Domestic Cooking on Flavonoids in Broccoli and Calculation of Retention Factors"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin C"
- Jesse P. Houghton, MD, senior medical director of gastroenterology, Southern Ohio Medical Center, Portsmouth, Ohio
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Broccoli: Raw"