Broccoli: Health Benefits, Risks & Nutrition Facts

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Your parents knew what was up when they told you to eat your broccoli. This verdant vegetable is a powerhouse of nutrients. It’s reputed to help digestion, the cardiovascular system and the immune system, and have anti-inflammatory properties and even cancer-risk benefits. Plus, broccoli is low in sodium and calories, at about 31 per serving. It’s also a fat-free vegetable.

Broccoli has an impressive nutritional profile. It contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, for which your digestive system will thank you. It’s also packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Broccoli is rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium and potassium. It’s also a good way to get some B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus and even a little zinc and iron. Phytochemical glucobrassicin, carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-carotene and flavonoid kaempferol are good for your immune system.

Here are the nutrition facts for broccoli, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the National Labeling and Education Act:


Nutrition Facts

Serving size:
1 medium stalk (raw)
(5.3 oz / 148 g)

Calories 45
  Calories from Fat 0

*Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Amt per Serving %DV*   Amt per Serving %DV*  
Total Fat 0.5g 1%   Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%     Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sodium 80mg 3%      Sugars 2g  
Potassium 460mg 13%   Protein 4g  
Vitamin A 6%   Calcium 6%
Vitamin C 220%   Iron 6%


Health benefits of broccoli

Cancer prevention

Probably the most publicized health benefit of broccoli is its possible ability to help prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society notes broccoli’s isothiocyanates, including sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol.  These chemicals boost detoxifying enzymes and act as antioxidants, reducing oxidative stress. They also may affect estrogen levels, which can help with breast cancer risk.

Broccoli has been primarily linked to reducing the risk of prostate, colon, bladder, and ovarian cancers.

Cholesterol reduction

The soluble fiber in broccoli binds with bile acids in the digestive tract, making them easier to be excreted and thus drawing out cholesterol.


Phytonutrients glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiin and glucobrassicin exist in a terrific trio in broccoli. Together, they aid all steps of the body’s detoxification process, from activation to neutralization to elimination of contaminants. Plus, isothiocyanates help regulate detoxification at a genetic level.

Heart health

In addition to reducing cholesterol, broccoli can aid in heart health through helping to keep blood vessels strong and helping to regulate stroke- and heart attack-causing properties.  Broccoli contains sulforaphane, an anti-inflammatory that may be able to prevent or reverse damage to blood vessel linings caused by chronic blood sugar problems. And the vegetable’s B-complex vitamins can help regulate or reduce excessive homocysteine. Excess homocysteine increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and atherosclerosis. 

Eye health

The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are very important in maintaining healthy eyes, and broccoli contains them in significant amounts. These carotenoids may help protect against macular degeneration and cataracts.


Few things help our digestion as well as fiber — and with nearly 1 gram of fiber per 10 calories, broccoli is full of this good stuff. Fiber helps keep you regular and helps maintain healthy bacteria levels in the intestines.

Broccoli also aids in digestion by helping to keep your stomach lining healthy. The sulforaphane in broccoli helps keep the stomach bacteria Helicobacter pylori from becoming overgrown or clinging too strongly to the stomach wall. Broccoli sprouts are especially good at helping in this way.


Inflammation is a necessary part of the body’s autoimmune response, but when it becomes excessive it can cause problems. Excessive inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments. Broccoli is a great anti-inflammatory. Isothiocyanates help regulate inflammation. Broccoli’s omega-3 fatty acids also help with this.

Furthermore, the flavonoid kaempferol lessens the impact of allergens, especially in the digestive tract, which can reduce chronic inflammation.

Health risks

In general, broccoli is safe to eat and any side effects are not serious. The most common side effect is gas or bowel irritation, caused by broccoli’s high amounts of fiber.

People taking blood-thinning medications should not eat more than two cups of broccoli per day, since broccoli may interfere with the medication’s effectiveness. Those with hypothyroidism should also limit their intake of broccoli.

Raw, steamed or boiled — which is more nutritious?

The way that you eat broccoli can affect the amount of nutrients you get, and which ones. People looking to broccoli for its anti-cancer benefits will want to be sure not to cook it too long. Overcooking and boiling — such as when broccoli is in soup — can undermine the effects of broccoli’s good, cancer-fighting enzymes.

Raw broccoli maintains all of its nutrients, but it is also more likely to irritate your bowels and cause gas.

The healthiest way to cook broccoli is by steaming it lightly. It is fine to chop broccoli or to slice it lengthwise. Then, steam it for two or three minutes in a steamer pot with about 2 inches of water at about 212 degrees F (100 C) or lower.

Broccoli facts

  • Broccoli originated in Italy, being developed from wild cabbage, since about sixth century B.C.  
  • The Italian name for broccoli is broccolo, meaning the flowering top of a cabbage. The word comes from the Latin word brachium, which means branch or arm, a reflection of its tree-like shape.
  • The plant came to France in 1560. Until the early 1700s, the plant was still unknown in England and was called “sprout colli-flower” or “Italian asparagus.”
  • Thomas Jefferson was a fan of broccoli and imported broccoli seeds from Italy and planted them at Monticello as early as May 1767.
  • Another president, George H.W. Bush, was not a fan. He often used his distaste for broccoli as a punch line in dozens of speeches. He once said, "I haven't liked it since I was a little kid, and my mother made me eat it. And I'm president of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." In response, broccoli growers sent 10 tons of broccoli to the White House.
  • In 2013, President Barack Obama announced that broccoli was his favorite food.
  • California produces 90 percent of the broccoli grown in the United States.
  • Vegetables related to broccoli are broccolini, a mix between broccoli and gai-lin (Chinese broccoli), and broccoflower, a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.
  • The average American eats over 4 pounds of broccoli a year, according to the USDA.
  • The world record for eating broccoli is held by Tom "Broccoli" Landers. It took him just 92 seconds to eat a full pound of the vegetable. His secret: "Just swallow, don't bother to chew."
  • The United States is the world's 3rd largest producer of broccoli. China, the top producer, grows over 8 million tons a year.

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