George H. W. Bush had a very public beef with broccoli. He made no bones about hating the stuff, declaring in 1990, “I’m President of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.” Even today, Bush Sr. still bans broccoli from his dinner plate. Fortunately broccoli doesn’t need friends in high places. It’s got superfood status because it brims with all kinds of vitamins and minerals. It also has the bragging right of being low in calories and fat.
Calories in Broccoli
Broccoli is a low-fuss veggie — simply wash and eat it out of hand. And don’t be shy, just 1 cup of raw florets has fewer than 30 calories, while a 1/2 cup of cooked broccoli has about 27 calories.
The Health Benefits of Broccoli
1. Broccoli provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
Broccoli, like other cruciferous vegetables such as kale, radishes and cauliflower, is a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. One particular chemical component called sulforaphane not only gives broccoli its unmistakeable flavor, but it can also inhibit inflammation, which is the root of many chronic diseases.
2. Broccoli is a rich source of folate.
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that’s naturally found in a variety of foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables. The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health recommends adults take in 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate every day. One cup of boiled, unsalted broccoli contains 300 mcg of folate, 75% of the recommended daily intake.
3. Broccoli is a natural cancer fighter.
Broccoli’s anti-inflammation abilities also make it a natural combatant against cancer. Again, sulforaphane gets a big portion of the credit for staving off all kinds of cancer in the body, including oral, prostate, and colon cancer. A recent study by researchers from Oregon State University determined that sulforphane positively influences the part of our DNA that triggers malignancy in cells and their spread through our body.
4. Broccoli helps us see clearly.
Broccoli is loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, two nutrients known for protecting vision and boosting eye health. “Certain nutrients — derived from foods or supplements—can help preserve your vision,” said Dr. Andrea P. Thau, past president of the American Optometric Association. “Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients to reduced risk of certain eye diseases; for example, studies show that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.”
5. Broccoli is a rich source of vitamin C.
Broccoli contains vitamin C, which is critical for the formation of collagen. Just half a cup provides 65% of our daily vitamin C needs.
6. Broccoli is heart smart.
Broccoli is packed with fiber. Half a cup raw broccoli gives us 5% of the fiber what we need every day. Studies show that diets high in fiber can significantly lower the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension.
7. Broccoli is a dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Raw broccoli also boasts high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids: 9 milligrams (mg) in just a 1/2 cup. Omega-3 fats are known as essential fatty acids and since we’re unable to make them in our bodies, it’s essential that we obtain them from our diet.
How to Add Broccoli Your Diet
Broccoli really doesn’t require much prepping to eat. Simply rinse and cut the florets into bite-sized pieces for enjoying raw as a snack or for adding to salads. Save the stalk and slice it into medallions to make soup bulked up with spinach and coconut milk (instead of cream). Pieces of broccoli stalk also add some crunch to stir-fries. Peeling it first gets rid of any tough, stringy skin.
Broccoli’s vibrant green can turn an unappetizing shade of army fatigue if you’re not careful when cooking it. Less really is more with this veggie. Four to five minutes in a steaming basket is really all the florets need. They’re done when you can pierce them easily with a fork.
If broccoli’s strong, grassy flavor doesn’t win you over, try broccoli sprouts instead. The tiny shoots still pack oodles of nutrients without being overpowering. They’re the perfect addition to sandwiches and salads, even as a pop of color atop a bowl of soup.
Editor’s note: The American Optometric Association was an editorial participant in this piece and not a paying sponsor.