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Broccoli — the green vegetable packs a powerfully healthy punch

The three main varieties of broccoli are calabrese, the most familiar; sprouting (also called broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli and rapini); and romanesco.

Many studies have shown the cancer preventive value of the plant compound, sulforaphane, a powerful anti-inflammatory isothiocyanate in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli.
Many studies have shown the cancer preventive value of the plant compound, sulforaphane, a powerful anti-inflammatory isothiocyanate in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli.
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Broccoli brings it all to the table as a palate-pleaser and a highly nutrient dense source of powerful health-protecting properties.

The folklore

The story of broccoli begins with wild cabbage, native to the Mediterranean and domesticated thousands of years ago. From domesticated cabbage came broccoli and many other cultivars in the Brassica family, including cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. Pliny the Elder, Italian naturalist, wrote how Romans enjoyed broccoli in the first century CE. The word broccoli comes from the Italian “cabbage sprout.”

The facts

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italica) belongs to the plant family Brassicaceae (also Cruciferae), known as the “cabbage family” or “mustard family.” The three main varieties of broccoli are calabrese, the most familiar, which has a large green flowered head and thick stalks; sprouting (also called broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli and rapini), which has several small heads and many thin stalks; and romanesco, which has small yellow-green cone-shaped, spiraled heads. Bursting with nutrition, a half-cup of cooked broccoli packs 84% DV (Daily Value) of antioxidant vitamin C and 138 percent DV of bone-healthy vitamin K, in addition to many phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, including isothiocyanates.

The findings

Many studies have shown the cancer preventive value of the plant compound, sulforaphane, a powerful anti-inflammatory isothiocyanate in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli. A laboratory study on the dietary impact of sulforaphane from broccoli suggests that it may prevent and suppress prostate cancer (The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2017). The abundance of flavonoids, carotenoids and vitamins that boost broccoli’s antioxidant capacity are higher when steamed or cooked for short periods of time (Food Chemistry, 2015), and sulforaphane concentrations were 10 times higher in raw and one-minute steamed samples after digestion compared to longer steam times (Food Chemistry, 2017).

The finer points

Peak season for broccoli is October through April, but happily, it’s available all year. Look for deep green, compact crowns with upright leaves and sturdy stalks. Yellowing is a sign it’s not fresh. Keep refrigerated in a plastic bag up to a week. Wash before using and cut an inch off the bottom. Chop florets and stems to desired size — stems grate and julienne nicely — and enjoy them raw in salads and slaws, as crudités, or pureed into a green smoothie or sauce. In just minutes broccoli steams up nicely as a side dish tossed with chopped walnuts or almonds, or stir fried with colorful veggies, olive oil and a splash of lemon juice.

Notable Nutrients: Broccoli

1/2 cup (78 g), cooked, chopped

Calories: 27

Dietary Fiber: 3 g (10 percent DV)

Vitamin A: 1207 IU (24 percent DV)

Vitamin C: 51 mg (84 percent DV)

Vitamin K: 110 mcg (138 percent DV)

Folate: 84 mcg (21 percent DV)

Note: g=gram, mg=milligram, mcg=microgram, IU=International Units, DV=Daily Value,

based on 2,000 calories/day

RECIPE: Broccoli Slaw with Toasted Walnuts

Serves 8

1 cup reduced fat mayonnaise

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper, ground

6 cups (1-1 1/4 pounds) fresh broccoli florets, half-inch pieces

1/2 cup cranberries, dried

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, toasted

1 carrot, medium, peeled, grated

  • 1. In a large bowl combine the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar salt and pepper.
  • 2. Cover broccoli with water in a pan and boil for 1-2 minutes. Drain.
  • 3. Add the broccoli, cranberries, raisins, walnuts and carrot to the bowl, stirring to evenly coat.

Nutrition Information Per Serving: 194 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 33 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 356 milligrams sodium. Recipe adapted courtesy California Walnut Board.

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition.