Broccoli, part of the Brassica family, is considered a cruciferous vegetable. Along with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale, broccoli is known for its high concentration of sulforaphane, a sulfur-containing compound with disease-fighting capabilities. A nutritional powerhouse, broccoli is rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and phytonutrients. Broccoli is most nutritious eaten raw. If you cook it, the cooking method will determine how much of the broccoli's nutrient content is maintained.
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Broccoli is a cool-season crop grown in the spring and fall but available year-round in grocery stores. According to the Harvest of the Month publication from the California Department of Public Health's Network for a Healthy California, broccoli was first grown over 2,000 years ago and introduced into the United States just 200 years ago. Broccoli grows to a height of 2 1/2 feet with yellow flower clusters that are pollinated by bees. It is dark green and sold in bunches. A dark, vivid color is a good indicator of high nutritional value. Dark green broccoli with firm stalks and bluish green florets are ripe and ready to eat. On average, a serving is equal to 1 cup of chopped, raw broccoli or 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli. Make dark leafy greens like broccoli a regular part of a healthy diet to reap nutritional benefits.
Broccoli, both raw and cooked, is low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. A 1/2-cup portion of steamed broccoli contains 31 calories, 6 g of carbohydrates, 3 g of protein and no fat. Additionally, there are 2.5 g of fiber per 1/2-cup serving of steamed broccoli. Because there is so little fat, carbohydrates and calories, broccoli is often considered a free food, meaning that you can consume an unlimited amount of it.
Broccoli is an excellent source of vitamin C, containing 60 g or 130 percent of the daily value. A 1-cup serving is equal to 1207 IU or 46 percent of the daily value for vitamin A. Broccoli is also rich in the fat-soluble vitamins E and K. Broccoli provides 84 mcg or 24 percent of the daily value of folate, as well as trace amounts of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. One cup of steamed broccoli provides close to 3 g of fiber, or 20 percent of your daily needs.
The mineral composition of broccoli is not as great as the vitamin content; however, broccoli will still contribute to your intake of essential minerals. A 1/2-cup serving of steamed broccoli contains 229 mg of potassium or 8 percent of the daily value, and 52 mg or 5 percent of the daily value of phosphorus. Additionally, a 1/2-cup portion provides 32 mg of sodium, 31 mg of calcium, 16 mg of magnesium and trace amounts of iron, zinc, selenium, manganese and copper. Broccoli is also rich in essential acids. It contains about 92 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 27 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.
The sulfur-containing compound, sulforaphane, known for its anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-microbial properties, is one of the most powerful anticarcinogens available in food, according to researcher Elizabeth Jeffery. It works by increasing liver enzymes responsible for the destruction of cancer-inducing chemicals that you ingest from food or encounter through the environment. According to Fit Day, individuals who consume diets high in broccoli experience a significant reduction in their risk of breast, ovarian, lung, colon, prostate and bladder cancer. The phytonutrients in broccoli may fight H. pylori bacteria, providing relief from ulcers. Additionally, sulforaphane fights H. pylori bacteria in the gut, restoring symbiosis and preventing ulcer formation. The nutrient combinations found in broccoli prevent sun damage, promote bone strength and improve overall health.
Why Steaming is Best
Increasing the amount of vegetables you consume each day is important; however, it is also a good idea to maximize the nutritional value of those vegetables. The application of excessive water and too much heat can actually cause vegetables, such as broccoli, to lose their vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content, says registered dietician Karen Collins. The remedy is to cook vegetables quickly in a small amount of water. Therefore, one of the best methods to cook vegetables like broccoli is to steam them. Collins of MSNBC Nutrition Notes reports that steaming broccoli produces no significant loss of nutrients.