Broccoli: Benefits, nutrition facts, and more
Your mom was right: You should eat your broccoli! “The veggie is a nutritional powerhouse,” says Sheena Patel Swanner, a registered dietician-nutritionist and director of nutrition programs at the American Institute of Cancer Research. “It’s loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.”
Broccoli is also part of the cruciferous family of vegetables that contain phytonutrients, compounds that help lower the risk of certain diseases. With so much nutrition packed into these little trees, it’s no wonder that they deliver many health benefits.
Discover why you should add more broccoli to your diet—and then follow our easy tips and recipes for enjoying this nutritious and delicious veggie.
Broccoli nutrition facts at a glance
A one-cup serving of raw, chopped broccoli contains only 31 calories and the following nutrients:
Nutrient Amount in 1 cup
Fat 0.3 g
Carbohydrate 6 g
Protein 2.6 g
Fiber 2.4 g
Vitamin A 567 IU
Vitamin C 81 mg
Vitamin E 0.7 mg
Vitamin K 93 mcg
Riboflavin 0.1 mg
Vitamin B6 0.2 mg
Folate 57 mcg
Calcium 43 mg
Iron 0.7 mg
Magnesium 17 mg
Manganese 0.2 mg
Top 10 health benefits of broccoli
Here’s how eating this green, leafy vegetable can improve your health.
1. Supports immune function
There’s more vitamin C in one serving of broccoli than you need in an entire day, Swanner says. The antioxidant is important for the production and functioning of white blood cells. These cells fight off viruses and bacteria, improving your immune response.
2. Helps strengthen your bones
Broccoli is a good source of bone-building calcium, and one serving also provides your entire daily requirement of vitamin K, a nutrient that activates the proteins used to form and strengthen bones. Studies show that vitamin K may help prevent fractures and osteoporosis.
3. Promotes healthy aging
Broccoli produces a sulfur-rich phytonutrient called sulforaphane, which helps protect against free radicals—particles that can damage healthy cells. Research suggests that sulforaphane may block changes to your DNA that can lead to chronic diseases. One caveat: Commercially frozen broccoli (the kind you buy packaged) does not produce the nutrient.
4. May keep your mind sharp
Many of the nutrients found in broccoli—such as vitamin K, lutein, nitrate—decrease stress and inflammation that can damage the brain. In one study, people who ate one daily serving of dark leafy greens like broccoli had significantly less cognitive decline than those who didn’t eat the veggies daily.
5. Protects against some cancers
Eating five to 10 daily servings of non-starchy vegetables lowers your risk of stomach, throat, and mouth cancer. Broccoli in particular has extra cancer-fighting powers: It contains antioxidants called carotenoids, which fight off the free radical damage that can lead to cancer, Swanner says. Cruciferous vegetables also contain compounds called glucosinolates, which switch on enzymes that help prevent cancer cells from spreading. In fact, eating cruciferous veggies like broccoli has been associated with a significantly reduced risk of colon and lung cancers.
6. Supports eye health
Broccoli contains an antioxidant called lutein. This pigment protects your eyes against harmful blue light, stress, and free radical damage, says Elsayed Abdelaal, PhD, a senior research scientist with Guelph Research and Development Centre at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Research shows that lutein—together with another antioxidant, zeaxanthin—helps prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
7. Boosts gut-friendly bacteria
Healthy microbiota (the “good” bacteria in your gut) is linked to lower body fat, better blood sugar control, and lower cholesterol. And fibers in broccoli called prebiotics feed that bacteria, says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietician-nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The vegetable is also high in an enzyme called myrosinase, which may encourage the growth of healthy bacteria.
8. Helps keep bowels regular
The fiber in broccoli adds bulk to your stools, which keeps food moving through your intestines faster to prevent constipation.
9. Supports heart health
The phytonutrients in vegetables help control inflammation in the body, Stefanski says, which may ward off heart disease. Broccoli’s high vitamin K content also prevents a buildup of calcium in blood vessels, which can trigger a heart attack or stroke. People who ate 45 grams of cruciferous veggies—about a half-cup of raw broccoli—daily were 46 percent less likely to have calcium build-up in their main artery than those who didn’t, according to an Australian study of older women.
10. May protect against stomach ulcers
Roughly 10 percent of Americans will develop a stomach ulcer at some point in their lives, but research suggests that sulforaphane (which is found in broccoli) may help destroy a bacteria that causes these painful sores.
Broccoli and weight loss
While there’s no magic weight-loss ingredient in broccoli, adding the vegetable to your meals may help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. With only 31 calories per cup, broccoli is a low-calorie food, and it’s high in fiber, so it takes your body longer to break down. “This can help you feel full for longer,” Swanner says.
Tips for buying and cooking broccoli
From the supermarket to your plate, here’s how to enjoy this leafy green veggie.
Look for a deep green color and a firm feel. Avoid broccoli with yellow or brown spots on the florets or stalk. “The broccoli should feel heavy for its size,” Swanner says. Also consider buying frozen broccoli, which can last for months in the freezer. Because it’s flash-frozen at its peak, it contains many of the same nutrients as fresh.
Place whole broccoli in a loose, perforated bag in your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper. “Don’t rinse it until right before you’re going to cook or eat it,” Swanner says. Although broccoli is best eaten within three to five days, it may last up to a couple weeks. Toss it if it’s dried out, mushy, slimy, or smells funny.
This green veggie can be the star of an entrée or side dish recipe, but simpler prep methods make it easy to add to any meal. Here’s how:
- Serve it raw: Add chopped uncooked broccoli to salads, omelets, and pasta dishes, Stefanski suggests. You can also use it to top pizza and baked potatoes.
- Steam it: Place broccoli in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water until it turns bright green—but don’t overdo it! Cooking the vegetable until it’s mushy will leach out its water-soluble vitamins, Swanner says. Steam for up to five minutes to preserve nutrients as well as cancer-fighting compounds such as sulforaphane.
- Roast it: For the easiest side dish ever, toss florets in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper; then bake at 400 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Blanch it: Want crunchy, bright green florets in a minute? Put broccoli into boiling water for 30 seconds, and then place it in ice water.
Need some cooking inspiration? Try one of these popular recipes from WW, which give broccoli a starring role.
The upshot: Is broccoli good for you?
Broccoli is high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—and low in calories. Research shows that the veggie may boost your health and help protect against diseases, including some types of cancer. When added to a healthy diet, it may also help you with weight loss and maintenance. The bottom line: Broccoli absolutely does a body good.
Sharon Liao is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition, and fitness. She lives in Redondo Beach, California.