Moms tell kids to eat their broccoli for a reason -- this vegetable really packs a nutritional punch. It is filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals and also provides a number of phytochemicals that can decrease your risk for health problems like heart disease and cancer. However, how you prepare broccoli can affect its nutrient content and thus its disease-fighting ability.
Low in Calories but High in Fiber
Broccoli can help you maintain a healthy weight because it is low in calories and provides a lot of filling fiber. Each cup of cooked broccoli contains 5.1 grams of fiber, or 20 percent of the daily value of 25 grams, along with 0.6 grams of fat and 3.7 grams of protein but only 55 calories. Getting plenty of fiber in your diet helps lower your cholesterol, control your blood sugar, decrease your risk for heart disease and keep your digestive tract working smoothly.
Rich in Vitamins
Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, a single serving of broccoli gives you a whopping 275 percent of your body's daily requirement -- or daily value -- for vitamin K and 169 percent of the daily value for vitamin C. It also provides 48 percent of your body's need for vitamin A, 42 percent for folate and more than 10 percent of the daily values for vitamins B-6 and E. You need vitamin K for blood clotting, vitamin A to keep your vision optimal and your immune system functioning at its best, and folate for cell division and synthesizing DNA. Vitamin B-6 plays a role in immune function and metabolism, and vitamin E acts as an antioxidant to prevent cell damage from compounds called free radicals.
Broccoli provides at least small amounts of most essential minerals, but it is an especially good source of phosphorus, potassium and manganese, containing between 10 and 15 percent of the daily value for each of these minerals. Phosphorus aids in forming strong bones, while potassium helps offset the effects of high sodium consumption on your blood pressure. Manganese assists your body in processing protein, carbohydrates and cholesterol.
Preliminary research suggests that certain phytochemicals in broccoli may help prevent cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. An 2009 article published in "Phytochemistry Reviews" noted that phytochemicals in broccoli, including indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane, may help lower your risk for heart disease, breast cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. Broccoli is also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, providing 1.7 milligrams per serving. These compounds may limit macular degeneration, cataracts and cancer risk, according to an article in a 2004 issue of the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition." While there is no recommended dietary allowance for these phytochemicals, some experts recommend consuming 6 milligrams per day, according to the website All About Vision.
Eat your broccoli raw or steamed to get the most nutrients. Boiling and frying causes broccoli to lose nutrients, including vitamin C and some phytochemicals, noted a study published in the "Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B" in 2009. Steaming limits the loss of nutrients since it doesn't involve immersing the broccoli in water or cooking it at very high heat.