Broccoli’s health benefits are due in large part to the fact that it’s part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which also includes bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
Cruciferous vegetables have one thing in common: they’re a potent source of cancer-fighting chemicals. Broccoli and broccoli sprouts are an excellent source of sulforaphane, a phytochemical with powerful anti-cancer properties. Studies show a high intake of cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, can help protect against breast, lung, prostate, bladder and pancreatic cancers.
Cruciferous vegetables have also been shown to guard against heart disease and stroke. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating just ½ cup (125 ml) of cruciferous vegetables each day lowered the risk of stroke by more than 30 percent.
From a nutrient standpoint, broccoli is hard to beat. Half a cup (125 ml) of cooked broccoli delivers less than 30 calories and provides more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin K. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C and folate and a source of fibre.
Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) cooked broccoli:
Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b
Broccoli gets its name from its tree-like appearance; its name is derived from the Latin word brachium, which means arm or branch. Broccoli has its roots in Italy and not surprisingly, the most popular variety of broccoli sold in North American is called Italian green, or Calbrese, named after the Italian province of Calabria.
Calbrese broccoli is distinguishable by its deep green colour, thick stalk and small florets. Other varieties of broccoli have been developed including broccolini, a cross between broccoli and kale, and broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
Broccoli sprouts are another popular way to enjoy this cruciferous vegetable. Available at specialty food stores, broccoli sprouts are broccoli plants that are 3 to 4 days old. They look like alfalfa sprouts but have a signature peppery taste similar to radish.
Broccoli is available year-round but its local growing season is June through October; look for it at grocery stores, farmer's markets or roadside stands.
When choosing broccoli, look for bright green stalks and deep green florets and leaves. Avoid broccoli that shows any signs of aging, including wilted leaves, or any yellow, brown or soft spots. The stalks should be slender and crisp and easily pierced with a fingernail, but not rubbery. As well, avoid florets that have started to open as this is another sign that broccoli is past its prime.
Store broccoli in a loose plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge. Avoid washing or rinsing broccoli before storing as this can shorten its shelf life. Properly stored broccoli can keep for a week or more in the fridge.
To prepare broccoli, rinse and drain broccoli under cool water; avoid soaking broccoli as this can cause it to lose some of its water-soluble vitamins. Trim off the bottom of the stalk, peel and cut into bite sized pieces. Cut the florets where they attach to the stem and section into bite-sized pieces.
The way you cook broccoli can dramatically affect the amount of nutrients it retains. Steaming, quick sautéing and stir-frying are the healthiest ways to prepare broccoli. Longer cooking times and greater volumes of water will result in greater losses of vitamins and nutrients, so keep both to a minimum.
A study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that microwaving broccoli resulted in a loss of 97%, 74% and 87% of its three major antioxidants. In comparison, steaming broccoli resulted in a loss of only 11%, 0% and 8%.
Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is another way to help broccoli retain some of its nutrients during cooking. One study found that when broccoli was sautéed in different oils including extra virgin olive, sunflower, peanut, soybean and safflower oils, only broccoli lightly stir-fried in extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil retained similar antioxidant and vitamin C levels as uncooked broccoli.
Steaming: Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a saucepan with a steamer. Add the broccoli to the steamer and cover; reduce heat to medium and cook for 6-7 minutes, or until broccoli can easily be pierced with a fork.
Sautéing: In a skillet, or wok heat oil over medium-high heat. Add broccoli and cook for 2 to 3 minutes; add water, stock or wine; cover and steam for another 2 to 3 minutes.
EatingThere's no shortage of ways to add broccoli to your diet. Whether you enjoy it lightly sautéed with olive oil and lemon juice, as a pizza topping, or stir-fried with tofu and peanut sauce, broccoli can accompany just about any meal.
Healthy ways to enjoy
- Add finely chopped broccoli florets to an omelet, frittata or quiche; their dark green colour looks especially appealing when combined with red bell peppers
- Add broccoli florets to savoury muffins and quick breads
- Enjoy a broccoli salad made with broccoli florets, diced apple, and shredded carrots; season with olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sea salt and pepper
- Add a handful of broccoli florets to a spinach salad; top with chickpeas, diced tomato, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing
- Sprinkle sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds over lightly steamed broccoli for a delicious side dish
- Steam broccoli in low sodium chicken broth for a tasty side dish that can be eaten hot or cold
- Top home-made or leftover pizza with broccoli florets
- Serve broccoli florets with hummus or black bean dip
- Broccoli was first introduced to North America by Italian immigrants, it didn't become popular until the 1920's
- Most broccoli available in North America is grown in California
- Broccoli was grown mainly in Italy until the 16th century when a royal marriage brought the green vegetable to France