I’ve long gotten over the childhood trauma my mother caused by demanding that I remain at the dinner table until my broccoli was finished. I choked it down because my desire to play outside outweighed refusal to eat the mushy mini trees.
My taste buds have immensely matured since then, and now broccoli is one of the first vegetables I grab at the farmer’s market. Turns out, my mother knew what she was talking about: broccoli is one of the top superfoods on the planet. It’s amazing in omelets, on salads and pizza, or simply sautéed with olive oil and freshly minced garlic.
I admittedly enjoy its fresh flavor, crispness and versatility, but as a nutrition nerd, I actually get excited knowing broccoli is chock-full of potassium and folate — it’s able to keep me healthy and ward off disease. Broccoli also is amazing for preventing anemia, and it’s packed with five grams of fiber per cup, which helps prevent constipation and offers a satisfying full feeling after eating.
So even if you’re like me and weren’t really feeling that broccoli your mother made you eat, here are some grown-up reasons to stalk the stems.
No, really. Broccoli is as impressive as Muhammad Ali was in the boxing ring when it comes to fighting cancer. Eating lots of broccoli and its cruciferous cousins — including cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens and kale — has been linked to a decreased risk of cancer, particularly lung and colon cancer. New research has added liver cancer to the list. Studies have indicated that sulforaphane, the sulfur-containing compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite, is what also gives them their cancer-fighting power.
Researchers have found that sulforaphane, which is being studied for its ability to impede certain cancers, has shown promise in stifling melanoma, esophageal, prostate and pancreatic cancers. Sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to encourage cancer cell progression. When scientists figure out how to stop HDAC enzymes, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies could become a powerful part of cancer treatment.
When eaten in fresh produce, the antioxidant vitamin C helps fight the skin damage from sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles and improve skin texture. Citrus fruit almost always immediately comes to mind when thinking about vitamin C, but broccoli actually is loaded with vitamin C with 81 milligrams in one cup — far more than needed in an entire day. Vitamin C helps create collagen, the key factor in the skin’s support system. Broccoli also provides vitamin A and vitamin E, also significant factors in good-looking skin.
Powerful nutrition punch
Broccoli is real winner, too, ranked among the top 20 foods on the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index), which scores vitamin, mineral and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content. It ranks high because it’s packed with nutrition and is very low in calories.
Chronic disease defense
Scientists at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program discovered that consuming high levels of fiber significantly reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and some gastrointestinal diseases. Research shows that eating more fiber also helps lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity and boost weight loss in obese people.
Researchers at the University of Illinois are one step closer to using a group of genes found in broccoli to breed a variety of super broccoli, magnifying the benefits of eating this cruciferous plant. The set of genes control the accumulation of phenolic compounds, including some flavonoids that are linked to lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, asthma and several types of cancer. Phenolic compounds are powerful antioxidants and help reduce inflammation, which is the body’s natural response to disease or damage and kickstarts several degenerative diseases. Scientists believe people whose diets contain higher levels of these compounds will be less likely to suffer from these diseases. The new research puts them on track to discover exactly how to produce broccoli and other vegetables with mega-doses of phenolic compounds.
7 ways to get more broccoli in your life
Omnipotent omelets — A veggie omelet is good eating for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Chop up a handful of broccoli, toss in some baby spinach and crumbled feta cheese to heighten your calcium and antioxidant levels. Use about a quarter cup of veggies for a two-egg omelet.
Wrap it up — Chop up some raw broccoli and roll it up in your next veggie wrap.
Undercover lover — Smother flatbread or pizza with chopped broccoli before baking.
Simple side dish — Drizzle olive oil on broccoli and sprinkle ample amounts of cracked black peppercorns and minced garlic. Adding minced or dried ginger gives even more of a zing.
Roasted flavor riot — Murder the mush by baking your broccoli. Mix with olive oil, kosher sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Spread in a single layer over a baking sheet. Bake until the florets are crispy and beginning to brown, about 25 minutes.
Conjure and create — Mix up your own pesto or pasta sauce and make it special with broccoli.
Comforting casserole — Remember mom’s cooking with an updated version of broccoli casserole. Try throwing in some chopped steamed broccoli florets, diced chicken breasts, lean ham or tofu, corn, cooked brown rice, half a cup of low-fat cheddar cheese, a can of low-sodium cream of mushroom soup and half a cup of skim milk (or dairy-free milk). Add salt, pepper and a pinch of chili and garlic powder. Bake at 375°F for about 30 minutes.
—Kimberly Hayes Taylor