Are you a broccoli lover, or not really a fan? Although it can be an acquired taste, broccoli is filling and provides several nutrients for very few calories. It’s also been credited with impressive health benefits. But is there strong evidence to support these claims?
In this guide, you’ll learn all about broccoli, plus tips for including it in your diet.
What is broccoli?
Broccoli (Brassica oleracea italica) is a green vegetable that originated in Italy around the sixth century B.C. Its name comes from the Italian word broccolo, meaning “the flowering crest of a cabbage.”
Like cabbage, broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that also includes Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. When chopped or cooked, these vegetables release compounds that have a familiar and fairly strong sulfur aroma.
The two most common broccoli varieties are:
- Calabrese broccoli: Also known as Italian green broccoli, Calabrese is the most familiar type in the US. It has thick green stalks and large heads with small buds called florets
- Sprouting broccoli: Similar in appearance to Calabrese broccoli, sprouting broccoli has thinner stalks and smaller heads with florets that are either green or dark purple.
Closely related vegetables include broccolini, also known as baby broccoli, which is a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli; and broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
Broccoli nutrition facts
Broccoli is a good source of several vitamins and minerals and is especially rich in vitamin C.
100 grams (3.5 ounces), or approximately one cup of chopped raw broccoli, provides:
- Vitamin C: 89 mg (149% of the recommended daily intake, or RDI)
- Vitamin K: 102 mcg (127% of the RDI)
- Folate (Vitamin B9): 63 mg (16% of the RDI)
- Vitamin A (from beta-carotene): 623 IU (12% of the RDI)
- Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (9% of the RDI)
- Potassium: 316 mg (9% of the RDI)
- Calcium: 47 mg (5% of the RDI)
- Iron: 0.7 mg (4% of the RDI)
Because vitamin C and the B vitamins are water-soluble, broccoli can lose some nutrients while cooking — depending on the method used. Other nutrients are more stable when exposed to heat and water.
Steaming and microwaving broccoli preserve nearly all of its vitamin C, whereas stir-frying leads to a modest loss and boiling reduces vitamin C content by up to 50%.Broccoli can also lose significant amounts of folate and other B vitamins during boiling.
Yet, even after boiling, broccoli remains pretty high in vitamin C compared to many other foods. Plus, cooking cruciferous vegetables can make them easier for your body to digest.
So, go ahead and steam, microwave, fry, or boil your broccoli. You’ll still get a hefty dose of nutrients.
Broccoli provides small amounts of all the macronutrients, or “macros.” One cup of raw broccoli has about 3 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat, and 7 grams of total carbohydrates, including 3 grams from fiber.
Broccoli also contains several phytochemicals (“plant chemicals”) that are responsible for its color, smell, and flavor.
How many calories are in broccoli?
A one-cup serving (100 grams) of chopped raw broccoli has just 34 calories.
One cup of cooked broccoli is slightly higher in calories (and nutrients) than one cup of raw broccoli. This is because, like many vegetables, it loses water and becomes more compact when heated.
A one-cup serving (150 grams) of chopped, cooked broccoli has 55 calories, which is still very few.
However, at Diet Doctor, we don’t recommend counting calories. If you’re trying to lose weight, including broccoli in your diet — along with nourishing foods that are higher in protein and fat — can be a winning strategy.
Is broccoli a good source of fiber?
Broccoli provides fiber, the non-digestible portion of carbs that can improve constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms in some people. Fiber has also been linked to other health benefits, such as lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.Additionally, it may reduce appetite and help you feel full.
One cup of chopped, cooked broccoli has 5 grams of fiber. Like other plants, it contains a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber.
To learn about other foods that can boost your fiber intake, see our list of 15 high-fiber foods.
Broccoli is low in carbs
Results from systematic reviews of high-quality clinical trials are clear: low-carb diets can help people lose weight and improve type 2 diabetes control.
Like other vegetables that grow above the ground, broccoli contains very few net carbs. One cup of broccoli provides about 4 grams of net carbs, making it an excellent option for those who eat low-carb or keto diets.
Does broccoli have proven health benefits?
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli have a reputation for protecting against cancer and other diseases, due in large part to the phytochemicals they contain. This includes sulforaphane, whose precursor glucoraphanin is especially abundant in young broccoli sprouts.
However, most experimental studies linking broccoli to better health have been conducted in animals or test tubes, which is considered very weak evidence.
Other data on broccoli and health comes from observational or epidemiological research. According to some researchers, many of these studies suggest that people who eat the most cruciferous vegetables have lower risk of disease and live longer lives.
But observational studies can’t provide reliable information about the health effects of specific foods. One issue is that researchers typically rely on self-reported intake via food frequency questionnaires, which have been criticized as highly inaccurate.
Moreover, people who eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables are also less likely to smoke and more likely to eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, drink alcohol in moderation, and practice other health-conscious behaviors, compared to those who eat fewer cruciferous vegetables.
Simply put, observational studies can’t prove that specific foods decrease disease risk or lead to health improvements. They can only show an association between a behavior (e.g., eating broccoli) and an outcome (e.g., better health).
You can read more about this in our guide to observational vs. experimental studies.
At this time, a few clinical trials have tested the effects of broccoli, broccoli sprouts, or broccoli sprout extract on various health markers. In some but not all studies, consuming broccoli or broccoli sprout extract was found to lower markers of inflammation in the blood. Results from other trials suggest that in some cases, broccoli sprout extract may lower blood sugar, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve some markers of heart disease risk.
Although results from some of these trials are encouraging, others have been less impressive. What’s more, many of these studies used broccoli sprout extract rather than fresh broccoli, and most were small or of short duration.
So while it’s certainly possible — perhaps even probable — that eating broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables can improve health and reduce disease risk, we need much more high-quality experimental human research to say this with certainty.
Most importantly, your health is much more likely to be influenced by your overall diet and lifestyle rather than one specific food.
Broccoli recipes and ideas
Admittedly, plain broccoli doesn’t taste wonderful to everyone. But when paired with natural fat, it takes on a whole new — and often delicious! — flavor dimension.
Here are a few ideas for making broccoli taste great:
- Steamed: Top freshly steamed broccoli with melted butter and salt.
- Roasted: Place sliced broccoli on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil and garlic. Bake at 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Fried: We pretty much guarantee you’ll love butter-fried broccoli.
- Add-on: Use leftover broccoli in an omelet or a salad with a creamy dressing.
In a rush? Use frozen broccoli. It’s been washed, cut, and is ready for the microwave, steamer, or skillet.
Also, be sure to check out these tasty Diet Doctor recipes featuring broccoli: