The Health Benefits of Broccoli

Broccoli is not hard to find. It’s one of those vegetables that you can buy year-round in most groceries in the United States. It’s easy to think of it as “just another green vegetable.” Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t take it for granted.

Broccoli’s “Big Three”
Broccoli has many useful components, but there are three that have received a lot of attention in recent years-indole-3-carbinol, sulforaphane, and beta carotene.

Indole-3-carbinol, also called I3C, can encourage the development of “good” hormones while discouraging harmful ones. This effect can reduce the risk of hormone-related cancers, like those of the breast or prostate.

Sulforaphane has been shown to increase levels of enzymes that block cancer. In a study using lab animals who were exposed to carcinogens-cancer-causing agents-25% of the animals who received sulforaphane developed tumors, compared to 68% of the animals who did not receive it.

Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A by the body. It’s an antioxidant that can assist in the capture of free radicals, which can make cells more vulnerable to damage.

Other helpful nutrients
Broccoli is high in vitamin C, which has many benefits. These include the relief of cold symptoms (it’s an antioxidant too), assistance in the absorption of iron, and the prevention of cataracts.

It’s a good source of folic acid (also called folate), which can be low in women taking birth control pills. Folic acid is also needed for the normal growth of tissue, which makes it very important for women who are pregnant.

Broccoli has large amounts of calcium, which (among other things) helps prevent osteoporosis, and potassium, which is useful in the treatment of high blood pressure.

And it’s high in fiber, which not only maintains the health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but also plays a part in the reduction of cholesterol levels in the blood.

Tips for using broccoli
– When you’re shopping for broccoli, you may find some florets that are more purple than others. Don’t shy away from these; the purple color actually means they have more carotenoids-which is a good thing.

– Broccoli can be overcooked easily, especially if you use water. This is not a good thing, because when overcooked it can lose many of its helpful ingredients-especially I3C. Instead of boiling it in water, try steaming or microwaving it, or use it in stir-fry dishes.

– Contrary to popular belief, broccoli stems are edible. You just need to peel away the tough outer skin. You can then slice them into small pieces or cook them whole. (They’re great with teriyaki sauce.)

– Broccoli sprouts are actually higher in nutrients than the mature plants-by as much as 50%. They can be hard to find, though. If you’d like to try them, check your local natural food store-and be prepared to pay more than you would for other types of sprouts.

There are many different ways to prepare broccoli. Get yourself a good cookbook and start enjoying the benefits of this extra-healthy “green vegetable.”

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