Branching Out With Broccoli

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italica)  takes its name from the Italian brocco and the Latin bracchium meaning arm, branch, or shoot. It’s actually a variety (breed or race) of the species Brassica oleracea, to which cabbagekalecollards, kholrabiBrussels sprouts, and cauliflower also belong. All of these Brassica oleracea vegetables are in the Brassicaceae family, along with along with bok choyrapininapa cabbageturnipsmustardwatercressarugularadishes, horseradish, daikon, land cress, rutabaga, and shepherd’s purse.

The Rasenna (later known as the Etruscans) began cultivating cabbages, the precursors to broccoli, in Asia Minor (now Turkey). During the 8th century BC, the Rasenna began their migration to Italy. Their broccoli cultivation spread throughout the region and eventually reached Rome when they settled in what is now known as Tuscany. The Romans loved broccoli. Apicius, the famous cookbook of ancient Rome, recommended preparing broccoli by first boiling it and then seasoning it with cumin, coriander seeds, and chopped onion, plus a few drops of oil and  wine. Catherine de Medici of Tuscany arrived in France with her Italian chefs and many vegetables, including broccoli, when she married Henry II in 1533. Broccoli was mentioned in England in 1724.

Thomas Jefferson, an avid gardener, recorded his planting of broccoli, along with radishes, lettuce, and cauliflower on May 27, 1767; however, broccoli did not become popular in America until the 1920s. Commercial cultivation of broccoli in the United States can be traced to the D’Arrigo brothers, Stephano and Andrea, immigrants from Messina, Italy, whose company made some tentative plantings in San Jose, California in 1922. A few crates were initially shipped to Boston, where there was a thriving Italian immigrant culture in the North End. The broccoli business boomed, with the D’Arrigo’s brand name “Andy Boy” named after Stephano’s two-year-old son, Andrew, supported by advertisements on the radio. By the 1930s, broccoli was a staple American vegetable. Demand for broccoli lagged behind cauliflower until after the Second World War, when Americans returning from Europe demanded broccoli at home.

Broccoli is a  nutritious food. It’s a good source of vitamin C, iron, fiber, potassium, vitamin A, calcium, zinc, magnesium, carotene, and B vitamins. It is important in the prevention of certain types of cancer, along with diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.

Broccoli can:

  • Help prevent cancerHundreds of research studies on broccoli have focused on the connections between inflammation, oxidative stress, detoxification, and cancer. In fact, broccoli contains anti-inflammatory nutrients, antioxidant nutrients, detoxification-support nutrients, and anti-cancer nutrients. The unique combination of antioxidantanti-inflammatory, and pro-detoxification components in broccoli make it a unique food in terms of cancer prevention. Connections between cancer development and oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, and inadequate detoxification are so well-documented in the research that any food improving all three of these metabolic problems would be highly likely to lower your risk of cancer. Broccoli is most likely to decrease your risk of prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and ovarian cancer, and may decrease your risk of other cancer types.
  • Prevent inflammation. Two cups of broccoli have just 100 calories, and approximately 450 milligrams of omega-3 essential fatty acids (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), about the amount provided by one soft gel capsule of flax oil. You get important anti-inflammatory benefits from the omega-3 essential fatty acids in broccoli.
  • Reduce the impact of allergensBroccoli is a rich source of one particular phytochemical (a flavonol) called kaempferol. Especially inside of your digestive tract, kaempferol can reduce the impact of allergens by lowering your immune system’s production of IgE-antibodies. By reducing the impact of allergens, the kaempferol in broccoli can help lower your risk of chronic inflammation.
  • Prevent oxidative stress. Broccoli is a concentrated source of an important antioxidant nutrient, vitamin C, along with significant amounts of flavonoids kaempferol and quercitin, which allow vitamin C to recycle and provide longer-term support of oxygen metabolism in your body. Broccoli also contains the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. All three of these carotenoids function as key antioxidants. In the case of lutein and beta-carotene, broccoli not only provides significant amounts of these antioxidants, but also significantly increases their blood levels when you eat at least three cups. Other antioxidants provided by broccoli in beneficial amounts include vitamin E and the minerals manganese and zincConsidered as a group, the vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and carotenoids contained in broccoli work to lower risk of oxidative stress in your body. An average of 1/2 cup of broccoli per day (only 22 calories’ worth) is enough to provide measurable benefits. A 2-cup serving twice a week would also provide this level of benefit, with only 178 calories, or 1% of the total weekly calories. Three cups of broccoli per day can help optimize levels of antioxidants in the blood, especially beta-carotene and lutein, and optimal antioxidant levels can help lower the risk of oxidative stress in healthy cells, which also helps lower their risk of becoming cancerous.
  • Fight chronic inflammation. The ability of these nutrients to support oxygen metabolism and avoid excess formation of overly reactive, oxygen-containing molecules makes them equally helpful in lowering risk of chronic inflammation and risk of cancer. The glucosinolates and omega-3 fats in broccoli also help fight cancer by reducing chronic inflammation. The anti-inflammatory substances in cruciferous vegetables may help prevent heart disease, especially the anti-inflammatory properties of sulforaphane, one of the isothiocyanates (ITCs) derived from the glucoraphanin in broccoli. In some individuals susceptible to high blood sugar, sulforaphane may be able to prevent (or even reverse) some of the damage to blood vessel linings that can be cause by chronic blood sugar problems, and may decrease risk of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Eliminate toxins. Most toxins that pose a risk to your cells must be detoxified in your body by a multi-step process. Broccoli can affect each of these detoxification steps. Isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from the glucosinolates in broccoli affect the first and second steps in detoxification (called Phases I and II). By helping to promote as well as regulate detoxification activity in your cells, the ITCs made from broccoli can help prevent insufficient detoxification of dangerous substances that threaten your cells. The glucoraphanin in broccoli, which your body converts into sulforaphane,  supports detoxification. Because skin cells can carry out the process of detoxification, sulforaphane may be especially important in helping to counteract sun damage.
  • Support digestive healthBroccoli supports your digestive health with fiber and isothiocyanates (ITC). Only 250 calories worth of broccoli—12% of a 2,000-calorie diet—gives you about 25 grams of fiber, or 100% of the Daily Value (DV). Few nutrients support your digestive health as well as fiber. The speed that food travels through your digestive tract, the consistency of food as it moves through your intestines, and bacterial populations in your intestines are all supported and regulated by fiberAlongside of broccoli’s dietary fiber are its phytochemicals called glucosinolates. Many stomach problems are linked with overgrowth of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, and also with excessive attachment of these bacteria to your inner stomach lining. Your body converts these into isothiocyanates (ITCs). ITCs—and particularly sulforaphane—help protect the health of your stomach lining by helping prevent bacterial overgrowth of Helicobacter pylori and helping prevent the bacteria from clinging to your stomach wall.  Raw broccoli sprouts are particularly useful in this regard. The glucosinolates in broccoli may also alter gene expression in cells that provide your stomach with its inner lining. 
  • Lower cholesterolBroccoli also supports your heart by lowering cholesterol. Your liver uses cholesterol to produce bile acids, which are specialized molecules that emulsify fat so that it can be digested and absorbed. Your body stores bile acids in fluid form in your gall bladder, and when you eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into your intestine where they help ready the fat to interact with enzymes and get absorbed into your body. When you eat broccoli, fiber in it bind with some of the bile acids in your intestine so that they stay inside your intestine and pass out of your body in a bowel movement, rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, your liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon your existing supply of cholesterol, and as a result, your cholesterol level drops. Broccoli provides you with this cholesterol-lowering benefit whether it is raw or cooked. However, the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw broccoli improves significantly when it is steamed.
  • Support cardiovascular healthThe B-complex vitamins in broccoli can also make a major contribution to your cardiovascular health. Homocysteine is a substance that raises your risk of atherosclerosis, stroke, and heart attack. Three B vitamins especially important for lowering your risk of hyperhomocysteinemia (excessive formation of homocysteine) are vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate. By making an important contribution to your vitamin B6 and folate intake, broccoli can help you lower your risk of excessive homocysteine formation and related cardiovascular problems.
  • Support eye health. Two carotenoids found in significant concentrations in broccoli—lutein and zeaxanthin—play an especially important role in the health of your eyes. In fact, no tissue in your body is more concentrated with lutein than the area in the outer portion of your retina called the peripheral retina. Similarly, in the macula near the central portion of your retina, zeaxanthin is uniquely concentrated. Risk of problems involving the maculas of your eyes (such as macular degeneration) and problems involving the lenses of your eyes (such as cataracts) can be prevented by eating foods like broccoli that provide significant amounts of the lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Support vitamin D metabolism. Broccoli is an unusually good source of vitamin K and also of vitamin A (as beta-carotene). If you take large supplemental doses of vitamin D to offset deficiency, ample supplies of vitamin K and vitamin A can help keep your vitamin D metabolism in the proper balance.
  • Support skin health. Hesperidin, found in broccoli, works together with vitamin C to maintain healthy collagen, which prevents sagging and wrinkling of your skin. Hesperidin is also used to treat venous insufficiency and hemorrhoids, may also have anti-inflammatory effects, may also treat vascular disorders, cancer, and some autoimmune diseases, might also be an anti-allergen, can improve capillary health and connective tissues, may help with bruising, varicose veins, and fragile capillaries, and may also help and get rid of hay fever and other similar allergies.

Broccoli is rich in vitamin A: its dark green color as indicates its high carotene content. Broccoli contains folate, calcium, and iron. One cup of cooked broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange, and actually fulfills your daily requirement. Broccoli is low in calories, with only 44 calories for one cup chopped and cooked and 24 calories for one cup raw chopped. It also contains protein and fiber, along with vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Broccoli, along with other cruciferous vegetables, may be important in preventing of some types of cancer. Because of its beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, fiber, and phytochemicals, specifically indoles and aromatic isothiocynates, broccoli may boost enzymes that help to detoxify your body and prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. Broccoli may also help lower blood cholesterol, because it contains a pectin fiber called calcium pectate that binds to bile acids. Broccoli’s high level of the trace mineral, chromium, may be effective in preventing adult-onset diabetes in some people, because it enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from your bloodstream into your cells.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Raw Broccoli (91 grams)

Nutrient

Amount

DV

vitamin C

81.17 mg

135.3%

vitamin K

92.46 mcg

115.6%

chromium

22 mcg

110%

folate

57.33 mcg

14.3%

vitamin A

566.93 IU

11.3%

manganese

0.19 mg

9.5%

fiber

2.37 g

9.5%

tryptophan

0.03 g

9.4%

potassium

287.56 mg

8.2%

vitamin B6

0.16 mg

8.0%

riboflavin

0.11 mg

6.5%

molybdenum

4.55 mcg

6.1%

phosphorus

60.06 mg

6.0%

pantothenic acid

0.52 mg

5.2%

protein

2.57 g

5.1%

magnesium

19.11 mg

4.8%

calcium

42.77 mg

4.3%

choline

17.02 mg

4.0%

thiamine

0.06 mg

4.0%

iron

0.66 mg

3.7%

vitamin E

0.71 mg

3.5%

selenium

2.27 mcg

3.2%

niacin

0.58 mg

2.9%

Calories

30.94

1.5%

Choose broccoli with floret clusters that are compact and not bruised. They should be uniformly colored, either dark green, sage, or purple-green, depending upon variety, and with no yellowing. In addition, they should not have any yellow flowers blossoming, as this is a sign of over-maturity. The stalk and stems should be firm with no slimy spots appearing either there or on the florets. If leaves are attached, they should be vibrant in color and not wilted.

Place broccoli in a sealed container, removing as much of the air from the container as possible. Store in the refrigerator where it will keep for 10 days. Do not wash broccoli before storing, because exposure to water encourages spoilage. Partial heads of broccoli should be placed in a well-sealed container and refrigerated. Because the vitamin C content starts to quickly degrade once broccoli has been cut, it is best to use it within a couple of days. Broccoli that has been blanched and then frozen can keep for up to a year. Leftover cooked broccoli should be placed in tightly covered container and stored in the refrigerator where it will keep for a few days.

For the best flavor and nutrition, eat broccoli soon after purchase. Wash broccoli thoroughly just before using. Trim the tough portion of the stem about one inch from the bottom. Rinse broccoli under cold running water. Cut florets into quarters for quick and even cooking. Be sure to enjoy the stems and leaves of broccoli; they provide a good balance of flavors. If the stem is large or tough, you can peel it. Cut the stem into 1/2″ slices. To get unique health benefits from broccoli, let it sit for several minutes before cooking.

For the best flavor and nutrition, eat broccoli soon after purchase. Wash broccoli thoroughly just before using. Trim the tough portion of the stem about one inch from the bottom. Rinse broccoli under cold running water. Cut florets into quarters for quick and even cooking. Be sure to enjoy the stems and leaves of broccoli; they provide a good balance of flavors. If the stem is large or tough, you can peel it. Cut the stem into 1/2″ slices. To get unique health benefits from broccoli, let it sit for several minutes before eating or cooking.

Both cooked and raw broccoli can make excellent additions to your meal plan. There may be some special advantages for your digestive tract when broccoli is eaten raw. With fresh raw broccoli, simply slicing a few minutes prior to eating or thoroughly chewing unsliced pieces will help activate sulfur-metabolizing enzymes. Another form of broccoli you may also want to try if you enjoy raw broccoli is broccoli sprouts. Some of the nutrients found in broccoli—like vitamin C—are especially concentrated in broccoli sprouts. Remember that all raw broccoli requires more thorough chewing than cooked broccoli.

For salads, cut the broccoli into bite size pieces. Include the leaves and stems, and simply chop them or cut them into julienne strips to take advantage of their valuable vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Chop or dice broccoli florets and stems into your salad.

Steaming has does a better job of preserving nutrients than other cooking methods. Many nutrients can be lost from food when the food surface comes into direct contact with water. Hotter water temperatures leech more nutrients from food, as will longer cooking times. Steaming, by comparison, leaves the broccoli in contact with steam only and can reduce nutrient loss for this reason. Fill the bottom of a steamer pot with 2 inches of water. While waiting for the water to come to a rapid boil prepare broccoli florets and stems. Because the fibrous stems take longer to cook, they can be prepared separately for a few minutes before adding the florets. For quicker cooking, make lengthwise slits in the stems. The leaves are perfectly edible and contain concentrated amounts of nutrients. Steam stems for 2 minutes before adding the florets and leaves. Steam for 5 more minutes. At the just tender point, the broccoli will retain its brilliant green color and actually increase in nutrient value. However, when the broccoli turns to a dark olive green color, its nutritional density is considerably diminished. Sprinkle with lemon juice to bring up the flavor if needed.

To stir-fry broccoli, chop broccoli into bite-size pieces and florets and stir-fry in about 1 teaspoon of olive oil combined with water or vegetable broth for 3-1/2 minutes in a frying pan heated to 248°-284°F (120°-140°C). Approximately two-thirds or more of the nutrients (including vitamins, minerals, phenols, and glucosinolates) will be retained. Flavor with Bragg Liquid Aminos or tamari, lemon or lime juice, a touch of your favorite vinegar, and finish with seasonings and herbs of your choice, and sesame seeds.

If you plan to add broccoli to a vegetable soup, cut the stems and florets into bite-sized pieces and add during the last few minutes of cooking.

Other serving ideas:

  • Make broccoli slaw by shredding the stems on a coarse grater or the shredding disc of a food processor.
  • Use broccoli florets as an appetizer with a dip.
  • Toss pasta with pine nuts and steamed broccoli florets. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Purée cooked broccoli and cauliflower, then combine with seasonings of your choice to make a simple, yet delicious, soup.
  • Add broccoli florets and chopped stalks to fritattas and scrambles.
  • Put steamed broccoli into the blender or food processor along with vegetable broth, other vegetables, garlic, and seasonings to create a beautiful, delicious sauce to serve over brown rice, baked potatoes, polenta, or pasta.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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