1. Fighting cancer
Eating a high amount of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of cancer; particularly lung and colon cancer. Studies have suggested that sulforaphane, the sulfur-containing compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite, is also what gives them their cancer-fighting power.
Researchers have found that sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful part of cancer treatment in the future. Sulforaphane is now being studied for its ability to delay or slow cancer with promising results shown in melanoma, esophageal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.
Other easily recognized cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, turnips, and cabbage, as well as the lesser-known arugula, broccolini, daikon, kohlrabi, and watercress.
Another important vitamin that broccoli contains, folate, has been found to decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. Adequate intake of dietary folate (in food) has also shown promise in protecting against colon, stomach, pancreatic, and cervical cancers. Although the mechanism behind the protection is not understood, researchers believe that it may have something to do with folate’s role in DNA and RNA production and the prevention of mutations.
2. Improving bone health
Poor vitamin K intake is linked with a higher risk of bone fracture. Just one cup of chopped broccoli provides 92 micrograms of vitamin K, well over 100 percent of your daily need. Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K improves bone health by improving calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
Broccoli also contributes to your daily need for calcium, providing 43 milligrams in one cup.
3. Looking younger
The antioxidant vitamin C, when eaten in its natural form (in fresh produce as opposed to supplements) can help to fight skin damage caused by the sun and pollution, reduce wrinkles, and improve overall skin texture.
Many people automatically think of citrus fruit when they think of vitamin C, but did you know that broccoli provides 81 milligrams in just one cup? That is more than what you need in an entire day.
Vitamin C plays a vital role in the formation of collagen, the main support system for the skin. Vitamin A and vitamin E are also crucial for healthy looking skin, both of which broccoli provides.
4. Improved digestion and natural detoxification
Eating foods with a natural fiber like broccoli can prevent constipation, maintain a healthy digestive tract, and lower the risk of colon cancer. Adequate fiber promotes regularity, which is crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool. Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may also play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation.
5. Protection from chronic disease
According to the Department of Internal Medicine and Nutritional Sciences Program of the University of Kentucky, high fiber intakes are associated with significantly lower risks of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases.
Raw, steamed or boiled: Which is more nutritious?
The way that you prepare broccoli can affect the amount of nutrients you get, and which ones. People looking to broccoli for its anticancer benefits will want to be sure not to cook the vegetable too long.
A 2007 University of Warwick study found that boiling broccoli can undermine the effects of the food’s good, cancer-fighting enzymes. Researchers studied the effects of boiling, steaming, microwave cooking and stir-fry cooking on fresh broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and green cabbage.
Boiling led to the biggest losses of cancer-fighting nutrients. Steaming for up to 20 minutes, microwaving for up to three minutes and stir-frying for up to five minutes produced no significant loss of cancer-preventive substances. Raw broccoli maintains all of its nutrients, but it is also more likely to irritate your bowels and cause gas.
Possible health risks of consuming broccoli
If you are taking blood-thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important that you do not suddenly begin to eat more or less foods containing vitamin K, which plays a large role in blood clotting.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. The key to a healthful diet is to eat a variety of foods, rather than to concentrate on individual foods.