Broccoli is a staple food in many parts of the world and can be found in popular dishes across various cultural and socio-economic spectrums. Interestingly though, this tasty supergreen is actually a man-made creation. Broccoli was custom-bred from the wild cabbage plant (brassica oleracea), with the sole purpose of cultivating a more palatable vegetable. That same wild cabbage is also the proud parent of cauliflower, kohlrabi, kale, brussel sprouts, and the modern day cabbage - which is why we refer to all of these vegetables as members of the Brassica family.
Broccoli has long been revered for its high vitamin content and comprehensive list of health benefits. Here are 7 reasons why you should add more of it to your diet!
1. Cholesterol Reduction
Victoria Jarzabkowski, a nutritionist with the University of Texas at Austin, talks about broccoli's ability to lower cholesterol levels thanks to its high soluble fiber content, which binds with cholesterol in the blood. This binding process makes the cholesterol easier to excrete from the body, and therefore reduces overall levels.
Interestingly, broccoli sprouts are even more potent than mature broccoli in this regard. A 2009 study published by The Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition found that an extract from broccoli sprouts was able to produce powerful cholesterol-lowering effects and potentially reduce lipid storage in subjects with a high-fat diet.
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that broccoli sprouts may be especially potent in detoxifying the body from carcinogens. Large quantities of protective enzymes can be found in very young (3-day-old) cruciferous sprouts. The ability of these sprouts to protect against carcinogens is anywhere from 10-100 times more potent than that of their mature counterparts.
3. Heart Health
In addition to kicking out cholesterol, broccoli can aid in keeping your heart healthy by strengthening blood vessels. The sulforaphane content in broccoli is an anti-inflammatory and may even be able to prevent and reverse damage done to blood vessel linings, which is often caused by chronic blood sugar levels.
Furthermore, according to Harvard University's School of Public Health, broccoli's B-complex vitamins can help regulate your body's homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that increases in parallel to excessive red meat consumption. High levels of homocysteine in the body increases the risk of coronary artery disease.
One of broccoli's most well-known benefits is its ability to aid digestion. This helpful characteristic can be attributed to a particularly high fiber content - around 1 gram of fiber per 10 calories! Fiber assists in keeping your bowel movements regular and helps to maintain healthy bacteria levels in the gut.
An important factor to consider when consuming broccoli for digestive purposes is that some people find the raw version to be particularly unsettling on their stomach. For this reason, if you're feeling the urge to try some raw broccoli, it's probably wise to start by consuming small amounts first.
5. Eye Health
Affectionately known as "the eye vitamins", lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids that are highly revered for their vision strengthening properties. Both of these naturally occurring chemicals are found in broccoli and have been shown to help protect against macular degeneration and cataracts; two debilitating eye conditions that severely affect vision and quality of life.
Broccoli is a great anti-inflammatory that may help to reduce the effects of joint damage caused by osteoarthritis. A 2013 study conducted by the University of East Anglia found that broccoli's sulforaphane content may assist in easing the suffering associated with arthritis. This quality is largely attributable to sulphorane's ability to "block the enzymes that cause joint destruction by stopping a key molecule known to cause inflammation."
Broccoli is also a great source of one particularly potent phytonutrient called kaempferol, which has the potential to lessen the impact of allergy-related substances in the digestive tract. A 2010 study published in the Inflammation Researcher journal found that by decreasing the influence of allergy-related substances, the kaempferol in broccoli also helps to lower the risk of chronic inflammation.
7. Cancer Prevention
Perhaps the most widely publicized health benefit of broccoli is its potential to help fight cancer. Many studies have provided evidence of the protective effects that broccoli and broccoli sprouts have against cancer. The chemopreventive properties of sulforaphane have been extensively studied and research into the effect that sulforaphane has on cancer stem cells (CSCs) has drawn some interesting conclusions. CSCs are suggested to be responsible for initiating and maintaining most forms of cancer, and are known to be largely drug-resistant. A number of studies have indicated that sulforaphane may have the ability to target CSCs in different types of cancer, which would greatly assist in the recovery process and reduce the risk of relapse.