Broccoli is infamous for being the vegetable that everyone hates. Its crumbly head and sulfur-like smell has the tendency to make even grown adults whinge in disgust.
But given all of the things that broccoli does for us, is this hate warranted? Perhaps we just need to treat our broccoli a bit better so that we can form a mutually beneficial relationship.
However, a solid broccoli romance (bromance, if you will) takes time and understanding. That's why we decided to compile all of available/applicable human studies on broccoli as well as give you some tips to help you look forward to eating it.
Basics of Broccoli
Even though its very easy to do a google search and find out the nutrients that broccoli contains, we'll just do a quick recap to illustrate just how nutrient dense this cruciferous veggie is.
Nutrient density is one of the most important properties of health promoting foods. A nutrient dense food will provide high amounts of vitamins and minerals with very minimal calories.
For just 100 calories of cooked broccoli, you're getting the following:
- 9.4g (25% RDA) of Fiber
- 4421 IU (147% RDA) of Vitamin A
- 185mg (206% RDA) of Vitamin C
- 402 μg (446% RDA) of Vitamin K
- 0.3g (21% RDA) of Omega-3 Fatty Acids with only 0.1 of Omega-6*
- 114mg (11% RDA) of Calcium
And even though the average person in Western civilization shouldn't concern themselves with being protein deficient, you actually get 6.8g of protein as well!
*Western diets tend to be much higher in Omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in Omega-3. Keeping these ratios in check has been shown to reduce the risk of many of our chronic diseases (11).
Studies Done on Broccoli
Because there are tons of scientific papers put out every year in nutrition, we scoured through and picked the ones about broccoli that are well-designed and most likely to be directly applicable to human health.
Real World Detoxification Effects
The word "detox" is sometimes used as a buzzword, but broccoli actually has been demonstrated to have real world detoxification effects. To clarify exactly what we mean by "detox" - we're referring to a marked reduction in inflammation or enhancing the bodies ability to rid itself of dangerous chemicals.
Please note: There's a lot to cover on this particular topic. Dr. Michael Greger from NutritionFacts.org does a fabulous job breaking it down in the video below if you aren't that inclined to read too much text.
For people that live in cities or populated areas, air pollution is a serious issue. It's associated with an increased risk of several ailments including: cardiovascular disease, asthma, and more. This unfortunately remains the case even if the air is within or below the emissions standards (1)(2)(3).
Although it may seem like a stretch, consuming broccoli on a regular basis may have the potential to mitigate some of the negative effects of smoking which could potentially transfer over to protective effects from air pollution.
This does not mean that you should start smoking!
In one 10-day study, researchers took young male smokers and fed them 250g of broccoli each day. Researchers observed a 48% decrease in plasma CRP (C-Reactive Protein), a biomarker used to measure inflammation which is typically elevated in smokers (4)(5). Researchers quoted:
In conclusion, broccoli consumption may reduce CRP levels in smokers, consistent with epidemiologic observations that fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower circulating CRP concentrations.
Another study that examined over 1000 middle aged women found that these anti-inflammation effects were not just limited to smokers. The reduction in inflammatory markers from cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli) seems to apply to the rest of the population as well (6). Researchers quoted:
This study suggests that the previously observed health benefits of cruciferous vegetable consumption may be partly associated with the anti-inflammatory effects of these vegetables.
There are some even more exciting studies that were done on broccoli sprouts and broccoli sprout extract, rather than the actual broccoli itself. In one example, researchers in China (where there's extremely high pollution) found that test subjects consuming a broccoli sprouts beverage were able to rid their body of 61% more benzene than control subjects (10). Researchers quoted:
Thus, intervention with broccoli sprouts enhances the detoxication of some airborne pollutants and may provide a frugal means to attenuate their associated long-term health risks.
Although not exactly the broccoli one may be accustomed to, broccoli sprouts are readily available, cheap, and easy to make at home.
Studied Impact on Cancer
Cancer is a complex and nuanced subject and we like to steer clear about making bold claims about it. However, we would be doing you a disservice if we didn't report on some of the broccoli-related findings in the scientific literature.
The Women's Healthy Eating and Living study observed over 3000 breast cancer survivors and found a greater reduction in breast cancer recurrence for women with a high cruciferous vegetable intake (7).
These women were already taking Tamoxifen, so we're not suggesting that broccoli is going to be a panacea. However, high fruit and vegetable consumption combined with the best of Western medicine is a great combination! Researchers quoted:
This secondary analysis in over 3,000 breast cancer survivors suggests that baseline vegetable intake may be associated with a reduction in the risk of breast cancer recurrent or new events particularly for those using tamoxifen. Such associations should be explored further as the possibility that vegetable intake is simply a surrogate for other health-promoting behaviors cannot be ruled out.
Check out the video above for more details on these studies as Dr. Greger from NutritionFacts.org has a concise way about explaining the findings so that everyone can understand.
Can You Eat Too Much Broccoli?
As we discussed in our article on kale, cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens that can interfere with thyroid function if you consume them raw. Given that broccoli is quite unpalatable to consume raw, this shouldn't be an issue for people. The culprit enzymes responsible for this whole process are deactivated through cooking, so eat as much (cooked) broccoli as you like!
In the event that you do want to consume your broccoli raw, it is important to consume enough iodine which can be found in foods like sea vegetables. However, we recommend just cooking your broccoli (9).
Tips of Preparing Broccoli
Simplicity is Key
If you want to add more broccoli to your diet, then you need to keep things simple. Sure, there are a bunch of delicious and creative ways to prepare it, but having a go-to method that you love will ensure that it becomes a staple.
Use some of the simple methods we laid out below to start adding broccoli or any other cruciferous veggie to your daily diet. Keep it handy in the fridge for when you want a quick savory snack. Consuming it regularly over the course of a few weeks will help you acquire a taste. It may eventually become one of your favorite foods!
A Little Oil Goes a Long Way
For the average person working an office job, too much cooking oil can add a lot of empty calories and the wrong oils such as coconut (yes, its true) can also contribute to cardiovascular disease (8).
That doesn't mean you should shy away from oil altogether though, especially if it means that its going to result in you eating a lot more broccoli!
A great way to apply oil to broccoli is to use a silicone pastry/basting brush. It's far easier to clean than a normal brush and does a great job applying the oil evenly. You'll also use way less than if you were to just drizzle it all over your pan.
Here's some quick pointers to help you apply this method:
- Cut the broccoli into thin slices and place on an oven safe baking sheet.
- Combine 1 TBSP of olive oil with the juice of half of a lemon.
- Brush each head of broccoli with the olive oil and lemon mixture.
- Season with sea salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper.
- Cook at 350F for around 20-25 minutes or until the pieces are just slightly crispy.
Chilling After Cooking
If you prefer to steam your broccoli before serving, this is also an excellent option. Steaming it will mellow out the texture and the flavor of the broccoli, making it a perfect medium for a small amount of high-flavored oil (such as olive oil infused with garlic).
Here's a great way to do cold broccoli:
- Steam 1-2 big heads broccoli to the texture you'd like using a knife or food chopper.
- After it has the crunch or softness you like best submerge it in ice cold water to stop the cooking immediately.
- Take 1 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil and mix with half or a whole lemon.
- Add sea salt, pepper, and smoke paprika.
- You can also add pieces of roasted garlic, but garlic powder might be too strong if its not cooked.
- Mix thoroughly and serve or store in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Incorporating more broccoli into your diet is a great idea if you want to reduce your risk for many chronic diseases and protect yourself from environmental pollutants. There are virtually no downsides, as long as cook it!
Take some time to experiment and learn how to prepare broccoli in a way that you'll eat regularly. Good habits take some time to form, and only consistent mindful steps in the right direction can cause them to do so. Happy eating!