Calorie for calorie, the nutritional value of broccoli is very high. Harvard Health reports that this veggie should be a standby in all crisper drawers. But experts state that the most nutritious way to cook broccoli is to steam it.
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Steaming broccoli helps it retain more nutrients than boiling or microwaving it. This cooking method preserves its vitamin C and antioxidant levels.
Steamed Broccoli Nutrition
Steamed broccoli nutrition is nearly the same as the raw version. One cup of chopped raw broccoli provides 3 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin A and 90 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C intake, according to the USDA. One cup of raw broccoli also provides small amounts of calcium — about 3 percent of the daily value — and iron, at 4 percent of the daily value.
Steaming broccoli helps retain almost all these nutrients, points out the Dairy Council of California. The council reports that 1 cup of this nutritious veggie has as much vitamin C as an orange. By steaming it, you'll preserve its nutritional value. Boiling, on the other hand, causes water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B1 and folate to leach into the water.
What about the calories in broccoli? The USDA reports that a 1-cup serving (raw) has about 31 calories, so you can eat a lot of it without having to worry about your waistline. This veggie also provides 77 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin K and it's a good source of niacin, folate, vitamin B6 and potassium. Plus, it boasts 8 percent of the daily value of potassium and 9 percent of the daily value of fiber.
Broccoli doesn't have a lot of carbs, making it suitable for dieters. There are only 6 grams of carbs in 1 cup of raw broccoli, which is less than 2 percent of the recommended daily value.
Cook It Fresh or Frozen
If you prefer fresh broccoli, try to steam it soon after purchasing it, recommends the NC Cooperative Extension. If you're going to keep it for a little while, you can blanch it and store it in the freezer for later use. To blanch this veggie, drop it into boiling water for 30 seconds, then immediately plunge it into cold water to preserve its vitamins, minerals and vibrant color.
Fresh broccoli can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. When frozen, it is best if used within eight to 10 months of freezing to preserve its nutrients. Also, try not to overcook it. This cruciferous veggie should retain its green color and not turn brown.
Harvard Health suggests chopping off the stems and slicing the florets into bite-size pieces. Take the stems, peel them and chop these into pieces. Put all the broccoli pieces into a steamer basket in a pan of boiling water. Cover and cook for five to six minutes until tender. Serve warm with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Read more: Do Vegetables Lose Nutrients When Cooked?
Broccoli as Health Food
The nutritional value of broccoli is quite high. This cruciferous veggie abounds in antioxidants and phytonutrients that support optimal health. Steamed broccoli, which preserves most of its nutrients, can help you get those health benefits.
Broccoli has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable on a per calorie basis, according to NC Cooperative Extension. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body, which can cause inflammation and disease. Penn Medicine reports that this green veggie is a cardiovascular superfood, offering a host of nutritional benefits. It not only helps prevent heart disease, but it may also protect against cancer.
Eating broccoli as part of an overall healthy diet may lead to better digestion, lower cholesterol levels and improved immune function, according to the Dairy Council of California. Some of these beneficial effects are due to its high content of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Others are associated with sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound found in cruciferous veggies.
A review of previous studies done on sulforaphane was published in the September 2018 issue of the journal Drug Design, Development and Therapy. This compound has been shown to inhibit tumor growth and make the cancer cells more responsive to drug treatment in patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.
Cooking Broccoli Is Easy
Broccoli is quick and easy to make, and its preparation requires very little equipment. All you need is a metal or wooden steamer basket, which can be found at any supermarket.
Simply place the basket in a pan filled with water. Cut the broccoli or open a bag of frozen florets and steam over boiling water. Pair this veggie with roasted chicken from the supermarket, and you have a quick, nutritious meal.
This vitamin-packed food has also gotten the attention of researchers. An article in the December 2012 issue of Food Science and Technology International found that steaming is better than boiling as it helps preserve and increase the sulfuraphane and antioxidants that make broccoli a superfood.
There are lots of low-calorie ways to flavor steamed broccoli, according to Harvard Health. Drizzled olive oil as suggested above is one. You can squeeze some lemon juice over it, along with a little salt and pepper. If you prefer your veggies buttered, you may use one teaspoon of butter, possibly with a little lemon, and you're still getting a healthy vegetable.
You can add this steamed fiber-filled veggie to cooked pasta and grate a little Parmesan cheese over it for another healthy meal option. Alternatively, add it to cooked brown rice.
Read more: Why You Should Eat Raw Broccoli
Broccoli as a Cruciferous Vegetable
Broccoli is described as a cruciferous vegetable. The term "cruciferous" is due to the four-petaled flowers that emerge from these veggies, which resemble a cross or crucifer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Some of these have a "head." Other cruciferous veggies similar to broccoli include Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rapini, cabbage and white turnips.
So-called "headless" cruciferous vegetables include dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach. All cruciferous veggies share many nutritional benefits, which should make you eager to add them to your diet. Those include the anti-inflammatory qualities that have attracted the attention of medical research. All are rich in fiber and low in calories, which is another plus.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults eat about 2 to 2 1/2 half cups of dark green vegetables, including broccoli, per week, which is considerably more than the 1 to 1 1/2 cups the average American adult currently eats. Eating 1 cup of steamed broccoli only twice a week would go a long way toward helping you meet those guidelines.
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Sampson County Center: "The Importance of Eating Broccoli"
- Harvard Health: "Vegetable of the Month: Broccoli"
- Dairy Council of California: "Health Benefits of Broccoli"
- Drug Design, Development and Therapy: "Chemopreventive Activity of Sulforaphane"
- American Institute for Cancer Research: "Is Broccoli More Nutritious Raw Than When Cooked?"
- Food Science and Technology International: "An Overview of Health-Promoting Compounds of Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. Italica) and the Effect of Processing"
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 2. "Shifts Needed to Align With Healthy Eating Patterns"
- Penn Medicine: "5 Superfoods to Improve Heart Health"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Facts for Broccoli"