Photo of Broccoli

By Dr. Willie T. Ong

We know that vegetables are good for you, but which veggies rank among the best? According to a paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one food stands out as very healthy – broccoli.

Broccoli originated in Italy and it’s part of the Brassica family of cruciferous vegetables. Other members of the cruciferous family are cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, kale and Brussel sprouts, all with similar health benefits.

A cup of steamed broccoli (146 grams) provides a wide range of nutrients. These include 46 calories (won’t make you fat), 4.6 g protein, 8.7 g carbohydrates, 6.4 g fiber, 178 g calcium, 1.8 mg iron, 50 ug vitamin A, 0.13 mg thiamin (Vitamin B1), 0.32 mg riboflavin (Vitamin B2), 1.18 mg niacin (Vitamin B3), 0.9 mg Vitamin B5, 0.27 mg Vitamin B6, 90 ug folate, and 98 mg vitamin C (twice the recommended daily allowance).

According to the US Department of Agriculture, broccoli has more vitamin C than an orange and as much calcium as a glass of milk. One medium-sized stem has three times more fiber than a slice of wheat bread.

Health Benefits of Broccoli:

  • Beneficial especially for women.

Broccoli contains phytonutrients, called indole and sulforaphane, which may help prevent breast cancer. Sulforaphane belongs to a class of molecules named isothiocyanates. These phytonutrients help block an estrogen metabolite that promotes breast cancer growth (specifically, the estrogen-sensitive type). Moreover, its folic acid content is good for pregnant women to prevent birth defects in the fetus. The large amount of calcium in broccoli may also prevent osteoporosis.

  • For protection against many cancers

Dr. Paul Talalay, a Professor of Pharmacology and Director of the Laboratory for Molecular Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, named his laboratory “Brassica,” which is the genus that includes cauliflower and broccoli.

Talalay and his colleagues discovered broccoli’s cancer-fighting substance called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane helps activate the body’s immune cells (called helper T-cells), and may help the liver in detoxifying potential carcinogens like cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, drugs and alcohol.

In addition, researchers at Tokyo’s Graduate School of Agriculture discovered that sulforaphane can block the growth of melanoma, a form of skin cancer. This study was published in 1999 in the Nutrition and Cancer journal.

Similarly, a study on Singaporean women exposed to high pollution levels shows that eating a diet high in broccoli and other cruciferous veggies confer a 30% decrease in the risk of getting lung cancer. Another study in the Netherlands shows a 49% decline in the risk of developing colorectal cancer in patients who eat these vegetables. 

Overall, when scientists at the World Cancer Research Fund reviewed 206 human and 22 animal studies, they find enough evidence that cruciferous vegetables lower the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, throat, stomach, esophagus, lung, pancreas and colon.

  • For heart and cholesterol problems. 

Most vegetables are rich in fiber and thus helps reduce blood cholesterol levels. Fiber helps regulate bowel movement and is said to “cleanse” the intestines. In addition to fiber, broccoli has a high Vitamin C and potassium content, which helps in normal heart function.

  • For weight loss. 

Considered a low calorie food, broccoli is an ideal vegetable for those on a diet. Each cup of steamed broccoli contains only 46 calories. The high fiber content of its stem (or spears) makes one feel fuller. For adults and children on a weight-loss program, steamed broccoli spears can be an alternative snack. 

  • Antioxidants to boost the immune system. 

Broccoli is a unique vegetable because it contains several antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and glutathione. Some people take glutathione in supplement form but some experts say that this may not be as effective as the natural form found in broccoli. Glutathione is said to work by helping the liver neutralize cancerous substances and pollutants, including mercury and lead.

  • For many other diseases. 

Aside from the benefits mentioned, eating broccoli has been linked to the prevention and control of diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and various cancers.

How to Eat Broccoli:

To get the most benefit, you need to choose the freshest broccoli. All parts of the vegetable, including the leaf, the flower (florets) and the stem are nutritious, although the whitish stem does not contain vitamin C.

Try steaming the vegetable instead of boiling it. Place the broccoli in a steamer over boiling water for five to seven minutes. The appearance of cooked broccoli should still be bright green in color. A pale and soggy broccoli means that it has been overcooked.

Another technique is to roast broccoli. You may place a little oil and season it with calamansi, vinegar or cheese.

Research shows that the more cooking and processing done on vegetables, the lesser will be its active phytonutrients. This is true for most foods that grow naturally. That is why it is best to cook vegetables lightly.

According to the food pyramid, a healthy diet should consist of around two cups of assorted vegetables each day. Near the top of list should be your broccoli and cabbage, which can be eaten several times in a week.

Finally, a work of caution. For those individuals with low thyroid function (called hypothyroidism), you should avoid eating large amounts of cruciferous vegetables, because this can depress the function of the thyroid gland. However, those with high thyroid function (called hyperthyroidism) might benefit from eating broccoli. Another possible effect of broccoli is gassiness, which can be minimized by simply adding garlic or ginger.

In our list of healthiest vegetables (which include tomatoes, carrots and malunggay), you now have another star. Protect yourself from the many carcinogens in the environment. Go ahead, eat your broccoli.

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