Although you'd never guess it, broccoli has its origins in the wild mustard plant. It was bred by farmers over time to be the crunchy, green vegetable we know today -- and it's loaded with healthy nutrients.
Broccoli dates to the Roman Empire, where it grew in the Mediterranean region. U.S. farmers didn't start to grow it until the 1920s. Today, if you're like the average American, you eat nearly 6 pounds of the stuff each year. How much you like its cabbage-like flavor may depend at least in part on your genes. Some people are born hyper-sensitive to bitter tastes like that of broccoli.
In the U.S., the most common types of this veggie are hybrids of an Italian green broccoli called "Calabrese" -- with florets of varying shades of green. But don't expect to see signs for Calabrese broccoli at the store. Throughout the world, grocers sell different varieties under the single name "broccoli."
Nutrients per Serving
A 1/2 cup of broccoli contains:
On top of all the vitamins and minerals it contains, broccoli is chock full of many natural chemicals that scientists are still learning about. Chief among these is a sulfur compound called sulforaphane, which may help with certain health conditions. These include:
Cancer. Sulforaphane and other natural compounds in broccoli might stop cancer cells from forming in your body.
Osteo arthritis. Because it keeps the cartilage between your joints healthy, sulforaphane can help prevent or slow osteoarthritis.
Schizophrenia. While scientists don't have enough proof yet, high levels of sulforaphane may shift brain chemicals. Researchers are trying to find out if broccoli sprout extracts could help people with schizophrenia manage their symptoms.
Other natural plant compounds in broccoli called carotenoids have health benefits, too. They can help lower your chances of getting heart disease and boost your immune system, your body's defense against germs.
Risks and Warnings
You may need to avoid broccoli if you have some health problems. Talk to your doctor about what's best for you if:
You take blood thinners. Broccoli is high in vitamin K, which helps your blood clot. If you eat more than usual, it may change how your body responds to your medicine. While you don't have to avoid all broccoli if you're on blood thinners, you should keep the amount of vitamin K in your diet steady.
How to Prepare Broccoli
Some people prefer broccoli florets, but you can eat the leaves and stems, too. The stalk contains the most fiber, while broccoli leaves are highest in cell-protecting antioxidants, vitamins E and K, and calcium.
At the store or farmers market, look for fresh broccoli with dark green or purple, not yellow, florets.
Don't wash broccoli until you're ready to prepare it. Unwashed, it will stay fresh in a plastic bag in your fridge for a week.
Boiling will remove up to 90% of broccoli's nutrients, so prepare it a different way. It's easy to roast, steam, stir-fry, or microwave. You can also eat broccoli raw with a side of hummus or salad dressing.