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Everyone knows that broccoli is a healthy vegetable that offers plenty of nutritional benefits, but most of us haven’t looked into its wonders much beyond that. The truth is that broccoli is a significant source of nutrients ranging from vitamins to minerals and beyond, and it has some unexpected effects, such as a potential anti-carcinogen that may actually help beat cancer. Ideally, to reap all of its benefits, you should enjoy broccoli on a regular basis and prepare it in a way that leaves most of its nutrients intact.
True of both the immature sprouts and the matured broccoli itself, broccoli includes enzymes that work together as an anti-carcinogen to target and destroy malignant stem cells—also known as cancer cells. For this to work, it is important to keep both broccoli sprouts and matured broccoli in your diet. The broccoli contains sulforaphane, which is an anti-carcinogen but only effective in the presence of myrosinase, which occurs only in the sprouts. Ingesting myrosinase through sprouts makes it possible for the body to absorb sulforaphane more efficiently than if you ate broccoli alone. In addition to targeting existing cancer cells, sulforaphane also inhibits new cancer cells from growing and spreading. Steaming broccoli seems to render this most efficient, as opposed to other preparation methods that may destroy the enzyme before it has a chance to work. Additionally, pairing the broccoli and sprouts with condiments such as wasabi, mustard, and radish may increase the effectiveness of this anti-cancer benefit.
Prevent Ulcers and Gastritis
Another study examining the effect of broccoli as a carcinogen inadvertently found that people who consume broccoli sprouts have lower stomach inflammation levels. This means that any stomach ailment that involves inflammation—including ulcers and gastritis—is less likely to occur and less likely to be severe if it does occur. It seems that sulforaphane, the component that targets cancer stem cells, also facilitates production of enzymes that perform a number of health functions. These range from skin protection from sun damage to minimizing inflammation in the body’s major organ systems, such as the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems. Interestingly, sulforaphane also acts as an antibiotic, reducing the likelihood of infection from inflammatory disease. Specifically, it can target the bacterium H. pylori, which is a leading cause of gastric cancer. In addition to the antibiotic and anti-inflammatory components of broccoli, its high-fiber status means that the gastrointestinal health benefits continue through the colon instead of stopping at the stomach.
The Importance of Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium (Broccoli Has All Three)
Broccoli contains high levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, all crucial components to human nutrition. A deficiency in potassium can cause everything from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease to gastrointestinal disease and even reproductive problems such as infertility, while healthy potassium levels support all of these systems and reduce dysfunction. Magnesium has many benefits, including working alongside calcium to increase bone density to a healthy level, potentially reversing osteoporosis. It also helps prevent cardiovascular disease, reducing the likelihood of having a stroke or abnormal arrhythmia. Magnesium can regulate hypertension, reversing high blood pressure, and it helps metabolize carbohydrates to reduce the potential for type-II diabetes in people who are at risk. Finally, it can treat depression and other mental disorders to some extent. Naturally, calcium has significant benefits related to bone development and mass, helping children to reach their potential height and supporting bone health in older adults who are at risk for fractions. The combination of all three in broccoli makes it a great source for minerals as an essential part of nutrition.
Why We Need Fiber
Broccoli has both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber in some amounts, and this can help benefit health in many ways. Soluble fiber breaks down somewhat during digestion, while insoluble fiber passes through the digestive tract relatively intact. People with higher levels of soluble fiber in their diet tend to have lower levels of cholesterol overall, which can be beneficial. Both soluble and insoluble fiber also discourages overeating by inducing a feeling of fullness and satisfaction. In turn, less overeating means that blood sugar levels stay stable and healthy, which can be very important to people whose blood sugar tends to fluctuate. This management of glucose levels can be particularly valuable for people who live with diabetes. People with high-fiber diets tend to have body weights that are closer to healthy for their body size and shape, another aspect of health management that is important to diabetics. Finally, soluble fiber is great for the gastrointestinal system, helping to prevent digestive discomfort, constipation, and diarrhea, and keeping waste elimination regular to promote colon health. Because broccoli has so much fiber in both the stems and florets, it contributes to our digestive and overall health in more ways than we can count. A single, generous serving of broccoli can include the entire day’s worth of fiber, especially if the broccoli is steamed or raw. The fiber breaks down somewhat with cooking, but it remains more intact than other nutrients do with cooking.
Reasons You Should Avoid Too Much Broccoli
Like anything, broccoli can lose its benefits when you have too much of it, especially if you have a condition that might be exacerbated by eating too much broccoli. People who are prone to kidney stones and other issues with calcium deposits should avoid having more than a cup of broccoli per serving, as larger servings may lead to calcium buildup that causes painful kidney stones. Additionally, broccoli can interact with blood thinners to some extent, making it a poor nutritional choice for people who rely on these medications to reduce their risk for stroke. There are few other instances in which broccoli may be harmful, except in the incidence of food allergies or other reactions. For the most part, broccoli is a highly nutritional food source that has few adverse effects.
Benefiting from Broccoli to the Fullest
Most vegetables require a certain cooking method to maximize their effectiveness at delivering nutrients, and this is true of broccoli as well. Cooking broccoli for too long by boiling or simmering will leach most of the nutrients out of it, rendering it both tasteless and without its numerous benefits. Instead, you should steam broccoli or enjoy it raw to reap its benefits the most fully. You can enjoy all the benefits of broccoli—nutrition, fiber, cancer-busting—best by consuming it raw, as all forms of cooking involve direct heat application in some way that can destroy enzymes and remove nutrients. In most cases, gentle washing, trimming, and possibly blanching in hot water is enough to prepare the broccoli for dinner and soften the fibrous stem to make it more palatable. You may prefer your broccoli a different way, but the health benefits do change according to preparation. However, even boiled broccoli is better than no broccoli, so make sure to add broccoli to your diet in some form if it isn’t there already. Eating it regularly is the best way to make sure that you’re benefiting, so add servings of broccoli several times per week if possible. The benefits are too great to ignore and may help improve your health significantly.