By Dr. Mercola
Vegetables have an impressive way of offering widespread benefits to your health, and broccoli is no exception. When you eat broccoli, you're getting dozens, maybe even hundreds, of super-nutrients that support optimal, body-wide health.
Man-made substances just can't compare, and that's why, if you take just one piece of advice away from your childhood, make it this one: eat your broccoli!
5 Leading Benefits of Broccoli
We've compiled an extensive review of the health benefits of broccoli on our Broccoli Food Facts page. This cruciferous veggie (in the same family as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and more) is one of the best health-boosting foods around, with research proving its effectiveness for…
Recent tests on cells, tissues and mice show that a sulfur-rich broccoli compound, sulforaphane, blocks a key destructive enzyme that damages cartilage.1 It's thought that increasing broccoli in your diet may help to slow down and even prevent osteoarthritis.
Sulforaphane in broccoli has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby striking to the root of tumor growth, and the broccoli compound glucoraphanin -- a precursor to sulforaphane – boosts cell enzymes that protect against molecular damage from cancer-causing chemicals.2, 3
Studies have also found that sulforaphane normalizes DNA methylation4 —a process that involves a methyl group (one carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms) being added to part of a DNA molecule, and therefore influencing its expression.
DNA methylation is a crucial part of normal cell function, allowing cells to "remember who they are and where they have been" and is indispensable for regulating gene expression.
DNA methylation also suppresses the genes for things you don't want, such as viral and other disease-related genes, and abnormal DNA methylation plays a critical role in the development of nearly all types of cancer.
One study published in PLoS One,5 for instance, found that just four servings of broccoli per week could protect men from prostate cancer. One serving of broccoli is about two spears, so that's only 10 broccoli spears per week.
In this study, the researchers collected tissue samples over the course of the study and found that the men who ate broccoli showed hundreds of beneficial changes in genes known to play a role in fighting cancer.
3. Blood Pressure and Kidney Health
Sulforaphane in broccoli may also significantly improve your blood pressure and kidney function, according to yet another study in which hypertensive rats with impaired kidney function were given sulforaphane. The natural compound improved the rats' kidney function and lowered their blood pressure by normalizing DNA methylation patterns within their cells.6
4. Anti-Aging and Immune System Health
Sulforaphane also seems to stimulate a variety of antioxidant defense pathways in your body that can directly reduce oxidative stress and slow down the decline in your immune system that happens with age.7 In theory, this means that eating vegetables that contain sulforaphane, such as broccoli, could quite literally slow down the hands of time.
5. Heart Health, Especially for Diabetics
Sulforaphane encourages production of enzymes that protect the blood vessels, and reduces the number of molecules that cause cell damage -- known as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) -- by up to 73 percent.8 People with diabetes are up to five times more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes -- both of which are linked to damaged blood vessels. Eating broccoli may help to reverse some of this damage.
Broccoli Benefits Your Eyes, Your Skin and Much More
The benefits of broccoli are seemingly endless. It's also known, for instance, that broccoli:9
Supports your body's detoxification, thanks to the phytonutrients glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian, and glucobrassicin Is anti-inflammatory (inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases) Contains the flavonoid kaempferol, which may fight allergies and inflammation Contains significant amounts of fiber to facilitate better digestion Supports eye health, thanks to high levels of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin Benefits your skin, as sulforaphane helps repair skin damage Is rich in beneficial nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and vitamin C May reduce blood sugar levels, as it contains both soluble fiber and chromium Supports heart health and contains lutein, which may help prevent thickening of your arteries
The 'Secret' Way to Enhance the Health Benefits of Broccoli
I call it secret because so many people believe that the only way to eat broccoli is after it's been roasted or steamed. Not so, as broccoli can also be enjoyed raw or even 'tender-crisp' – which is one of the best ways to protect its nutrient levels. However, an even better way to get the health benefits of broccoli is by eating its sprouts. Fresh broccoli sprouts are FAR more potent nutritionally speaking than mature broccoli, allowing you to eat far less in terms of quantity to get key therapeutic compounds like sulforaphane.
This is also an excellent alternative if you don't like the taste (or smell) of broccoli. In terms of research, even small quantities of broccoli sprout extracts have been shown to markedly reduce the size of rat mammary tumors that were induced by chemical carcinogens. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University:10
"Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads, and may offer a simple, dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk."
When compared to either broccoli or cauliflower, which also contains sulforaphane,11 three-day-old broccoli sprouts contain anywhere from 10 to 100 times higher levels of glucoraphanin, compared to the mature varieties. Best of all, you can grow broccoli sprouts at home quite easily and inexpensively. Another major benefit is that you don't have to cook them. They are eaten raw, usually as an addition to salad, making them a super-healthy convenience food!
How to Grow Your Own Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli sprouts look and taste similar to alfalfa sprouts, and are easily grown at home, even if you're limited on space. I strongly recommend using organic seeds, and a pound of seeds will probably make over 10 pounds of sprouts. From the researcher's calculations mentioned earlier, this can translate to as much cancer-protecting phytochemicals as 1,000 pounds (half a ton) of broccoli!
I used to grow sprouts in Ball jars over 10 years ago but stopped doing that. I am strongly convinced that actually growing them in soil is far easier and produces more nutritious and abundant food. It is also less time consuming, as with Ball jars you need to rinse them several times a day to prevent mold growth. Trays also take up less space than jars. I am now consuming one whole tray of sprouts every 2-3 days, and to produce that much food with Ball jars I would need dozens of jars. I simply don't have the time or patience for that. You can find instructions on how to grow sprouts by viewing a step-by-step guide at rawfoods-livingfoods.com.
Broccoli Is Only One 'Superstar' Veggie
There's no doubt that broccoli is a vegetable you should strive to eat frequently, but like most foods if you eat it too often you may grow tired of it or even develop an aversion to it. Fortunately, you don't have to because there are so many vegetables to choose from that you can't possibly get tired of them..
My best recommendation is to eat a variety of vegetables each day. My Recommended Vegetables List provides a guide to the most nutritious vegetables and those to limit due to their high carbohydrate content. You can also get creative with how you consume them, alternating whole vegetables with freshly prepared vegetable juice and fermented vegetables.
As an example, you can easily consume several different types of raw vegetables each day just by thinking outside the box for your lunchtime salad. My current salad consists of about half a pound of sunflower sprouts, four ounces of fermented vegetables, half a large red pepper, several tablespoon of raw organic butter, some red onion, a whole avocado and about three ounces of salmon or chicken.
You could also add some raw broccoli or broccoli sprouts, asparagus, garlic, tomatoes, celery, parsley, spinach, zucchini and so on. The key is to branch out beyond plain lettuce. Of course, you can also get creative with your recipes. The New York Times12 recently featured several broccoli recipes that sound delicious, including broccoli, quinoa and purslane salad, broccoli stem and red pepper slaw and roasted broccoli with tahini garlic sauce. If you're bored with broccoli, give these recipes a try (and do share how they taste by commenting below!).