The World's Healthiest Foods

The hearty structure, fresh appearance and ease of preparation combined with its exceptional nutritional value help to make broccoli one of the favorite vegetables of health conscious American consumers. While it is available year-round, the season for broccoli runs from October through May when it has the best flavor and is of the highest quality.

Broccoli is a member of the cabbage family, and is closely related to cauliflower. Its cultivation originated in Italy. Broccolo, its Italian name, means “cabbage sprout.” Because of its different components, broccoli provides a range of tastes and textures, from soft and flowery (the floret) to fibrous and crunchy (the stem and stalk). Do not let the smell of the sulfur compounds that are released while cooking keep you away from these highly nutritious vegetables.


Health Benefits

Cancer Protection

Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains phytochemicals--sulforaphane and the indoles--with significant anti-cancer effects. Research on indole-3-carbinol shows this compound helps deactivate a potent estrogen metabolite (2-hydroxyestrone)that promotes tumor growth, especially in estrogen-sensitive breast cells. Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to suppress not only breast tumor cell growth, but also cancer cell metastasis (the movement of cancerous cells to other parts of the body). Scientists have found that sulforaphane boosts the body's detoxification enzymes, potentially by altering gene expression, thus helping to clear potentially carcinogenic substances more quickly. When researchers at Johns Hopkins studied the effect of sulphoraphane on tumor formation in lab animals, those animals given sulforaphane had fewer tumors, and the tumors they did develop grew more slowly and weighed less, meaning they were smaller.

A study published December 2003 in the cancer journal, Oncology Report demonstrated that sulforaphane, which is a potent inducer of Phase 2 liver detoxification enzymes, also has a dose-dependent ability to induce cell growth arrest and cell death via apoptosis (the self-destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate abnormal cells) in both leukemia and melanoma cells. (December 31, 2003)

Now, a new study published in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows sulforaphane also helps stop the proliferation of breast cancer cells, even in the later stages of their growth. (If broccoli isn't one of your favorite vegetables, remember that a tablespoon of broccoli sprouts contains as much sulforaphane as is found in a whole pound of adult broccoli.) (October 19, 2004)

Another study, published in the December 2003 issue of Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, looked at indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a naturally occurring component of Brassica vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. I3C has been recognized as a promising anticancer agent against certain reproductive tumor cells. This study evaluated I3C’s effects on cell cycling progression and cancer cell proliferation in human prostate cancer cells. I3C was shown to suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner by blocking several important steps in cell cycling and also to inhibit the production of prostate specific antigen, a protein produced by the prostate whose rising levels may indicate prostate cancer. Researchers noted that the results of this study demonstrate that “I3C has a potent antiproliferative effect” in human prostate cancer cells, which qualifies it as “a potential chemotherapeutic agent” against human prostate cancer. (December 31, 2003)

New research has greatly advanced scientists’ understanding of just how Brassica family vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts help prevent cancer . When these vegetables are cut, chewed or digested, a sulfur-containing compound called sinigrin is brought into contact with the enzyme myrosinase, resulting in the release of glucose and breakdown products, including highly reactive compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are not only potent inducers of the liver’s Phase II enzymes, which detoxify carcinogens, but research recently conducted at the Institute for Food Research in the U.K. shows one of these compounds, allyl isothicyanate, also inhibits mitosis (cell division) and stimulates apoptosis (programmed cell death) in human tumor cells.

Cell replication (when the parent cell divides to form two daughter cells) occurs in a four-stage process. After the cell divides (the first stage), pole structures are created called spindles (the second or metaphase). If anything interferes with the construction and deconstruction of these spindles, the cell division process stops, and the damaged cells commit suicide. The IFR team, led by Ian Johnson, has shown that isothiocyanate disrupts the metaphase, thus preventing the cell division of the colon cancer cells. Their research will be published in the July 2004 issue of Carcinogenesis. (June 3, 2004)

Broccoli definitely proves the adage, "Good things come in small packages." Broccoli sprouts concentrate phytochemicals found in mature broccoli--a lot. Researchers estimate that broccoli sprouts contain 10-100 times the power of mature broccoli to boost enzymes that detoxify potential carcinogens! A healthy serving of broccoli sprouts in your salad or sandwich can offer as much or even more protection against cancer as larger amounts of mature broccoli.

A Cardio-Protective Vegetable

Broccoli has been singled out as one of the small number of vegetables and fruits that contributed to the significant reduction in heart disease risk seen in a recent meta-analysis of seven prospective studies. Of the more than 100,000 individuals who participated in these studies, those who diets most frequently included broccoli, tea, onions, and apples—the richest sources of flavonoids—gained a 20% reduction in their risk of heart disease. (October 24, 2003)

Now, an animal study, published in the May 4, 2004 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, not only suggests that just eating a couple of tablespoons a day of broccoli sprouts may have a major beneficial impact on cardiovascular health, but offers some of the reasons why.

In this 14-week study, led by Bernhard Juurlink, from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, rats prone to high blood pressure and stroke were fed either broccoli sprouts rich in a compound already known to be protective against cancer called glucoraphanin (and also known as sulforaphane glucosinolate or SGS), broccoli sprouts depleted of this substance, or no broccoli sprouts at all. At the end of the study, in rats fed the glucoraphanin-rich diet, tissue antioxidant defense mechanisms increased, inflammation decreased in the heart, arteries and kidneys, and blood pressure dropped. Rats given broccoli sprouts without glucoraphanin and rats given no broccoli sprouts exhibited no protective changes. According to Juurlink, glucoraphanin-rich broccoli sprouts help the body disarm free radicals—not directly like the antioxidant vitamins C and E, which scavenge one free radical at a time by binding to it, and are therefore rendered inactive in the process—but by boosting the body’s own antioxidant defense systems by increasing levels of glutathione, an antioxidant produced by the body that serves as an essential component in glutathione reductase and glutathione peroxidase, some of the liver’s most important detoxification enzymes. The end result is a broad spectrum of ongoing, prolonged antioxidant activity that cycles over and over, eliminating many free radicals.(June 3, 2004)

Cataract Prevention

Broccoli and other leafy green vegetables contain powerful phytochemical antioxidants in the carotenoid family called lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are concentrated in large quantities in the lens of the eye. When 36,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study were monitored, those who ate broccoli more than twice a week had a 23% lower risk of cataracts compared to men who consumed this antioxidant-rich vegetable less than once a month. In addition to the antioxidant potential of broccoli's carotenoids, recent research has suggested that sulforaphane may also have antioxidant potential, being able to protect human eye cells from free radical stressors.

Stronger Bones with Broccoli

When it comes to building strong bones, broccoli's got it all for less. One cup of cooked broccoli contains 74 grams of calcium, plus 123 mg of vitamin C, which significantly improves calcium's absorption; all this for a total of only 44 calories. To put this in perspective, an orange contains no calcium, 69 mg of vitamin C, and 60--about 50% more--calories. Dairy products, long touted as the most reliable source of calcium, contain no vitamin C, but do contain saturated fat. A glass of 2% milk contains 121 calories, and 42 of those calories come from fat.

Protection Against Ulcers

The same research team that discovered that broccoli sprouts fight cancer have also found that these sprouts may also eradicate Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium not only responsible for most peptic ulcers but one that has been found to increase a person's risk of getting gastric cancer three to sixfold. Glucoraphanin, a compound found in broccoli and broccoli sprouts that the body turns into the cancer-preventive chemical sulforaphane, appears to be more effective than modern antibiotics against H. pylori. Clinical research is being planned that will hopefully confirm these findings, offering people an effective dietary approach to eliminate H. pylori.

As promised, a study published in the December 2003 issue of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy provides more support for broccoli’s ability to eliminate H. pylori In this study, sulforaphane, a phytochemical richly abundant in the form of its precursor in broccoli sprouts, was able to completely eradicate H. pylori in 8 of 11 mice that had been infected with the bacterium via the implantation of infected human gastric cells. Results were so dramatic the researchers concluded that sulforaphane-rich broccoli may be of benefit in the treatment or prevention of infection with H. pylori, a primary cause of ulcers.(December 31, 2003)

An Immune System Booster

Not only does a cup of broccoli contain the RDA for vitamin C, it also fortifies your immune system with a hefty 1359 mcg of beta-carotene, and small but useful amounts of zinc and selenium, two trace minerals that act as cofactors in numerous immune defensive actions.

A Birth Defect Fighter

Especially if you are pregnant, be sure to eat broccoli. A cup of broccoli supplies 94 mcg of folic acid, a B-vitamin essential for proper cellular division because it is necessary in DNA synthesis. Without folic acid, the fetus' nervous system cells do not divide properly. Deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy has been linked to several birth defects, including neural tube defects like spina bifida. Despite folic acid's wide occurence in food (it's name comes from the Latin word folium, meaning "foliage," because it's found in green leafy vegetables), folic acid deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the world.

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one July 2004 study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in guinea pigs, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as broccoli, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.

The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on 73 subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and 146 similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during follow-up between 1993 and 2001. Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.


Broccoli’s name is derived from the Latin word brachium, which means branch or arm, a reflection of its tree-like shape that features a compact head of florets attached by small stems to a larger stalk. Because of its different components, this vegetable provides a complex of tastes and textures, ranging from soft and flowery (the florets) to fibrous and crunchy (the stem and stalk). Its color can range from deep sage to dark green to purplish-green, depending upon the variety. The most popular type of broccoli sold in the United States is known as Italian green, or Calabrese, named after the Italian province of Calabria where it first grew.

Other vegetables related to broccoli are broccolini, a mix between broccoli and kale, and broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Broccoli sprouts have also recently become popular as a result of research uncovering their high concentration of the anti-cancer phytochemical, sulforaphane.


Broccoli has its roots in Italy in ancient Roman times when it was developed from wild cabbage, a plant that more resembles collards than broccoli. It spread through out the Near East where it was appreciated for its edible flower heads and was subsequently brought back to Italy where it was further cultivated. Broccoli was introduced to the United States in colonial times, popularized by Italian immigrants who brought this prized vegetable with them to the New World.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Broccoli:
Both cooked and raw broccoli make excellent additions to your meal plan. Some of the health-supporting compounds in broccoli can be increased by slicing or chewing, since both slicing and chewing can help activate enzymes in the broccoli. The heating (for example, steaming) of unsliced broccoli is also just fine, since bacteria in the intestine also have enzymes that can cause production of health-supportive compounds. When cooking broccoli, however, the stems and florets should be prepared differently. Since the fibrous stems take longer to cook, they can be prepared separately for a few minutes before adding the florets. For quicker cooking, make lengthwise slits in the stems. While people do not generally eat the leaves, they are perfectly edible and contain concentrated amounts of nutrients.

The World’s Healthiest Foods has long recommended quickly steaming or healthy sautéing as the best ways to cook vegetables to retain their nutrients. Now, two studies published in the October 2003 issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that investigated the effects of various methods of cooking broccoli confirms this advice. Of all the methods of preparation, steaming caused the least loss of nutrients. Microwaving broccoli in water resulted in a loss of 97%, 74% and 87% of its three major antioxidant compounds—flavonoids, sinapics and caffeoyl-quinic derivatives. In comparison, steaming broccoli resulted in a loss of only 11%, 0% and 8%, respectively, of the same antioxidants. Study co-author, Dr. Cristina Garcia-Viguera, noted that “Most of the bioactive compounds are water-soluble, during heating they leach in a high percentage to the cooking water…because of this it is recommended to cook vegetable in the minimum amount of water (as in steaming) in order to retain their nutritional benefits. A second study published in the same issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture provides similar evidence. In this study, Finnish researchers found that blanching vegetables prior to freezing caused losses of up to a third of their antioxidant content. Although slight further losses occurred during frozen storage, most bioactive compounds including antioxidants remained stable. The bottomline: how you prepare and cook your food may have a major impact on its nutrient-density.(December 3, 2003)

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Sprinkle lemon juice and sesame seeds over lightly steamed broccoli.

Toss pasta with olive oil, pine nuts and healthy sautéed broccoli florets. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Purée cooked broccoli and cauliflower, then combine with seasonings of your choice to make a simple, yet delicious, soup.

Add broccoli florets and chopped stalks to omelets.


Broccoli contains goitrogens, naturally-occurring substances in certain foods that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid broccoli for this reason. Cooking may help to inactivate the goitrogenic compounds found in food. However, it is not clear from the research exactly what percent of goitrogenic compounds get inactivated by cooking, or exactly how much risk is involved with the consumption of broccoli by individuals with pre-existing and untreated thyroid problems.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.


Broccoli (pieces, steamed)
1.00 cup
43.68 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 123.40 mg 205.7 84.8 excellent
vitamin A 2280.72 IU 45.6 18.8 excellent
folate 93.91 mcg 23.5 9.7 excellent
dietary fiber 4.68 g 18.7 7.7 excellent
manganese 0.34 mg 17.0 7.0 very good
tryptophan 0.05 g 15.6 6.4 very good
potassium 505.44 mg 14.4 6.0 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.22 mg 11.0 4.5 very good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.18 mg 10.6 4.4 very good
phosphorus 102.80 mg 10.3 4.2 very good
magnesium 39.00 mg 9.8 4.0 very good
protein 4.66 g 9.3 3.8 very good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.20 g 8.0 3.3 good
vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.79 mg 7.9 3.3 good
iron 1.37 mg 7.6 3.1 good
calcium 74.72 mg 7.5 3.1 good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.09 mg 6.0 2.5 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 0.94 mg 4.7 1.9 good
zinc 0.62 mg 4.1 1.7 good
vitamin E 0.75 mg 3.8 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%


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This page was updated on: 2004-11-19 13:33:09
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation