(NaturalNews) Along with spinach and kale, broccoli is one of the most nutritious "regular" vegetables in existence. Indeed, this cruciferous, cabbage-like vegetable, which was first grown in the Italian province of Campania, was seen as uniquely valuable among the Ancient Romans due to its significant healing properties.
When Italian immigrants introduced broccoli to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, it became a favorite vegetable among the settlers, and its popularity continues to grow today. In fact, broccoli consumption has increased over 940 percent in the West in the last 25 years -- possibly because an ever-increasing number of studies show just how good it is for us.(1)
Contains cancer-fighting isothiocyanates
Research has shown that broccoli is effective at preventing and treating several types of cancer. For example, a review published in Recent Patents on Endocrine Metabolic & Immune Drug Discovery in 2013 concluded that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli exhibited anti-tumor activity. The researchers also noted that the isothiocyanates in broccoli, which are known antioxidants, could "inhibit the cell viability of human cervical cancer cells, human pancreatic cancer cells, human hepatocellular carcinoma cells, human ovarian cancer cells, and have anti-inflammatory properties in the treatment of human T-cell leukemia cells."(2)
Another review published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention in 2013 also ascribed broccoli's anti-cancer benefits to its concentrations of isothiocyanates, though the researchers admitted that the chemopreventive effect of these compounds are not yet fully understood.(3)
Packed with vitamins C and K
One cup of chopped broccoli provides us with 135 percent of our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C and 116 percent of our RDA of vitamin K.(4) Aside from being a powerful antioxidant that helps scavenge cell-damaging free radicals from the body, vitamin C also aids the synthesis of collagen (an essential part of our connective tissue), thereby providing us with anti-aging benefits. Vitamin K, on the other hand, aids blood clot formation and helps maintain bone health. Without adequate amounts of vitamin K in our diets, we can suffer from excessive bleeding and, in the worst cases, bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
Provides protection from environmental toxins
A study published in Clinical Immunology in March 2009 found that sulforaphane -- a molecule found within isothiocyanates -- can protect us from respiratory inflammation that leads to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other common respiratory conditions. According to the study, the sulforaphane increased the production of antioxidant enzymes in human subjects, thereby guarding them from excessive free radical exposure associated with inhaling polluted air, vehicle fumes and cigarette smoke.(5) These results suggest that regular consumption of broccoli -- which is one of the greatest natural sources of sulforaphane -- can help protect us from environmental toxins.
Rich in fiber and additional nutrients
Broccoli is also high in many other health-boosting nutrients. Firstly, one cup of chopped broccoli supplies us with 9 percent of our RDA of dietary fiber, which helps to sweep the colon of accumulated waste, promote regularity and absorb sugar from the intestinal tract. Secondly, broccoli is packed with essential minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium and potassium, which work in tandem to aid our bodies' natural processes. Thirdly, broccoli is rich in vitamin A, which helps maintain vision. It is also a fantastic weight loss food, since it contains minimal calories and fat, and possesses a virtually non-existent glycemic load.(4)
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, broccoli is best consumed raw since heat interferes with the enzyme that releases isothiocyanates, limiting the number of them that our bodies can absorb.(6)
About the author: Michael Ravensthorpe is an independent writer whose research interests include nutrition, alternative medicine, and bushcraft. He is the creator of the website, Spiritfoods, through which he promotes the world's healthiest foods.