Broccoli: whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying it’s one of the healthiest and heartiest vegetables out there. Not only that, but it’s inexpensive and widely available, making it great for every budget and diet.
Broccoli has only been popular in the United States for about a century, but it has been cultivated as far back as the Roman empire. Today, it’s one of the most popular vegetables and appears in the vast majority of world cuisine.
Of course, not everyone enjoys this vegetable. If you have a hard time enjoying the bitter Brassica family, you’re not alone: about 20 percent of people have two copies of a gene which makes them extra sensitive to bitterness. While most people can taste some bitterness in broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and other related vegetables, the people with two copies may find them virtually inedible.
Genetics aside, broccoli is a star addition to your diet. With phytochemicals, fiber, vitamin K and antioxidants, it can help ward off disease and keep your digestion regular. Here’s why you should (try) to learn to love broccoli.
1. Improve your digestive health
Anyone who’s eaten a few too many beans (or broccoli) knows that fiber has a significant effect on our digestive system. Fiber is known to keep your digestive tract moving regularly. The more regular you are, the less likely you will experience IBS, constipation, diarrhea and other digestive issues. It also boosts your gut and colon health, which has a significant effect on your immune system.
Better yet, your broccoli side dish can help fight cancer. Broccoli is full of isothiocyanate sulforaphane, a compound that prevents cancer-causing oxidation and fights off harmful bacteria in your digestive tract. In fact, its high antioxidant content not only helps fight cancer of the digestive tract, but also in your liver.
2. Fights cancer
Speaking of fighting cancer, broccoli doesn’t just prevent digestive tract cancers. Its high antioxidant content can reduce oxidative stress overall. Oxidative stress leads to cancer and signs of aging, and comes from poor diet, bad environmental factors, heavy metals and aging in general.
If you’re a woman, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables are especially important. They’re linked to reduced risk of cervical and breast cancer, thanks to their effect on estrogen: broccoli reduces the levels of “bad” estrogen, which can cause cancer, and increases the “good” kind. In that regard, broccoli is also helpful for preventing estrogen-related cancers in men.
3. Keeps your bones strong
As we age, our bones naturally become less dense. We lose calcium, making us more susceptible to breaks. Luckily, broccoli is full of vitamin K, calcium, magnesium and potassium, which are crucial for healthy bones, teeth and nails. It’s also packed with iron.
Building bone density depends on high levels of vitamin K and iron, which broccoli delivers in spades—and if you add healthy sources of vitamin D, you’ll be even better off.
4. Maintains heart health
Did you know that broccoli doesn’t just clear your gut, but your arteries, too? (Just think of it as nature’s scrub brush.) Cruciferous vegetable consumption is linked to lower levels of cardiovascular disease. That’s because the high fiber content prevents too much cholesterol from entering your bloodstream, where it can build up as plaque in your arteries. Too much plaque in your arteries can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Broccoli improves high blood pressure levels and kidney function, too. Plus, it reduces inflammation, which can cause cancer and other diseases. Finally, its high electrolyte content keeps your muscles and nerves (like those in your heart) strong and healthy, and allows your blood to clot properly.
But what if I really hate broccoli?
We get it: not everyone is going to learn to love broccoli just because it’s so healthy for you. On the other hand, maybe you should. Is it time to take a page from concerned parents everywhere and start hiding broccoli in your own food? Adding the vegetable to spicy marinara sauces, fruit-laden smoothies and macaroni and cheese might make it a little more palatable.
If you can’t eat broccoli, try other cruciferous vegetables—especially dark green ones. While broccoli packs a lot of nutritional punch into one vegetable, it’s not the only one with high levels of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.
In short, adding broccoli to your diet can offer plenty of health benefits. If you’re not a fan, there are other options—but if you’re on the fence, maybe it’s time to find some recipes that work for you.