Build a Better Body With Broccoli
Broccoli may not be at the top of your favorite-foods list, but it should be. From boosting immunity to strengthening your skeleton and joints to cutting cancer risk, here are 10 ways this cruciferous veggie sends your health soaring.
Broccoli might not be the most popular vegetable around, but it’s certainly one of the most nutritious. Considered a superfood for its nutritional value and disease-fighting properties, broccoli is high in fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamins A, C, K, and the mineral iron, all of which are essential for a healthy diet. More recently, broccoli has also been praised for its ability to combat osteoarthritis.
Widely recognized as a cancer fighter, broccoli’s health perks stem throughout the body. Here are more key broccoli benefits that should earn it a place at the top of your shopping list.
1. Broccoli slows osteoarthritis. New research out of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK and published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism has identified sulforaphane, a compound generously found in broccoli, as being preventive against osteoarthritis in mice. Sulforaphane displays anti-inflammatory behaviors and is responsible for slowing down the decomposition of joint cartilage. Researchers suggest that this finding will further fuel the emphasis that human treatment, in this case for arthritis, could lie in diet and lifestyle changes — not just in costly medication and surgery.
“This study is important because it is about how diet might work in osteoarthritis,” said lead researcher Ian Clark, professor of musculoskeletal biology at UEA, in a press release. “Once you know that you can look at other dietary compounds which could protect the joint and ultimately you can advise people what they should be eating for joint health. Developing new strategies for combating age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis is vital, both to improve the quality of life for sufferers and to reduce the economic burden on society.”
2. Broccoli helps prevent cancer. Chief among broccoli’s benefits is the superfood’s role in fighting disease. “Broccoli can actually detoxify the body and is known to have cancer prevention properties,” Keri Glassman, RD, CDN, the New York City-based author of The O2 Diet says. “It has been shown to reduce breast, bladder, colon, and ovarian cancers.” In particular, two of broccoli’s phytochemicals — indoles and isothiocyanates — play an important role in cancer prevention. Studies have found that the indole-3-carbinol may help prevent hormone-related cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer.
A recent study at the University of Illinois found that broccoli’s anti-cancer properties can be boosted even further when the veggie is paired with spicy foods that contain the enzyme myrosinase, such as horseradish, mustard, and wasabi.
Other research, done at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, found that sulforaphane, an isothiocyanate, increased the activity of a group of cancer-fighting enzymes. In addition, beta-carotene in broccoli transforms into vitamin A within the body, which may also help prevent cancer.
3. Broccoli helps fight depression. Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, says broccoli is a good source of the mood-boosting B vitamin folate. “Your brain cells won’t turn on without it,” she explains. “It’s no wonder that poor intake of folate increases the risk for depression, fatigue, poor memory, and possibly even more serious mental problems like schizophrenia. People battling the blues who boost their intake of greens such as broccoli say they feel better and happier as a result.”
4. Broccoli enhances bone health. Broccoli contains calcium and vitamin K, both of which are important for bone health and preventing osteoporosis.
5. Broccoli helps maintain a healthy nervous system and balances sodium’s effect on blood pressure. Broccoli is rich in potassium, which helps stabilize blood pressure and also aids in maintaining a healthy nervous system and brain function, according to Rovenia Brock, PhD, anutrition coach and author.
6. Broccoli may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Some studies have shown that broccoli’s vitamin B6 and folate may offer some protection against heart disease and stroke.
7. Broccoli improves digestion. Jeanette Bronee, a certified holistic health counselor with Path for Life in New York City, says broccoli’s high fiber content aides with digestion and prevents constipation by sweeping out the digestive tract. “It does need to be slightly cooked to be well digested, though,” she cautions.
8. Broccoli helps fight vision loss and repair skin damage. Broccoli contains lutein, which is important for eye health. Studies have shown that lutein helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Additionally, broccoli contains vitamin A, which is essential for vision. Broccoli also contains glucoraphanin, which helps repair damage from too much sun exposure or the aging process.
9. “Super broccoli” may prevent heart disease. Researchers at the Institute for Food Research in Norwich, England, are making broccoli even more powerful by developing a new so-called super broccoli that contains two to three times the normal amount of glucoraphanin, a nutrient that is believed to help prevent heart disease. This new breed of broccoli is not genetically modified, but rather, it’s a cross between a British variety and a Sicilian one. On sale in some parts of the United Kingdom and United States now, this super veggie is set to be available across the United States by the end of 2011.
10. Broccoli improves immunity. Broccoli is high in vitamin C, which boosts the immune system and helps fight infection. Somer says broccoli is also packed with phytonutrients and phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, which helps clear toxins from the body and strengthens resistance to colds.
Finally, says Bronee, the superfood is a non-starchy vegetable, so even carbohydrate-conscious eaters can benefit from incorporating broccoli into a healthy diet.
If you don’t like the vegetable plain, broccoli is easy to incorporate in stir-frys, salads, omelets, and more.