With its bright green colour, broccoli is as good to look at as it is to eat. Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables available today. It offers innumerable health benefits. Being low in calories, high in fibre and rich in nutrients makes it an excellent choice for those who want to fight the extra kilos.
The health benefits
Cancer prevention: Broccoli has an arsenal of powerful anti-cancer compounds and antioxidants that help prevent cancer by scavenging free radicals that cause damage at the cellular level. Eating broccoli reduces the risk of prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, stomach and oesophageal cancer; ovarian and skin cancer.
Heart care: The antioxidants, vitamins, fibre and sulforaphane [a naturally occurring substance in the vegetable] are good for heart health. They help decrease the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Broccoli also contains beta-carotene that decreases risk of a heart attack. The fibre content helps lower cholesterol levels, especially LDL [bad cholesterol]—steamed broccoli works better in removing cholesterol than raw broccoli.
Diabetes control: Broccoli’s high fibre content helps manage diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels. In fact, sulforaphane compounds present in broccoli have the ability to reverse the damage that is caused to the heart due to diabetes.
Bone strength: High calcium levels make broccoli effective in building and maintaining strong bones and keeping osteoporosis at bay. Eating 100g broccoli gives 47mg calcium along with nutrients like zinc, magnesium and phosphorus, which also contribute to bone health.
Skin glow: Beta-carotene and vitamins A, C, E and K found in broccoli lend a healthy glow to the skin.
Eye care: Broccoli is loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin that ensures sharp vision and prevents age-related macular degeneration. Darker the colour of the vegetable, the more lutein and zeaxanthin it contains.
Immunity boost: Broccoli boosts the immune system due to the presence of beta-carotene, antioxidants and trace minerals like zinc and selenium.
Pregnancy care: Eating broccoli during pregnancy ensures a good supply of all necessary nutrients. It even reduces the risk of neural tube defects and hence is also helpful for women who are trying to conceive.
How to select
- Choose fresh, compact and bright dark green or purple green coloured flower heads.
- Avoid buying yellow flower heads as they indicate over-mature broccoli.
- Select broccoli with firm stalk and stem. Do not buy broccoli with hollow stems.
- Avoid buying dried or wilted broccoli florets.
How to store
Broccoli can be stored in the refrigerator for 7 – 10 days. You need not wash before storing. Just keep the heads in containers and place in the refrigerator.
How to freeze
- Wash broccoli with salt water to remove dirt and pesticides. Rinse well and cut the heads 1 – 2 inches wide. Cut the stem into quarter inch pieces.
- Boil water in a cooking pot and squeeze lemon in it. Adding lemon maintains the bright green colour of broccoli even after cooking. Put the broccoli pieces in a strainer and lower it into the boiling water. Steam for five minutes.
- Remove the strainer and immediately hold it under running water or immerse in a bowl of ice-cold water. Strain the pieces and pat dry with a towel.
- Freeze the blanched broccoli in zip pouches or containers. Frozen broccoli can be used up to a year.
- When you want to use it, do not defrost; frozen broccoli can be added directly to stir fry dishes or soups.
How to cook
The florets, stalks and leaves of broccoli are all edible; they can be eaten raw, steamed or cooked. Even though it belongs to the same family as cauliflower, it cannot be cooked in the same way. The method of cooking directly affects the nutrient levels of broccoli. Here are some healthy ways of cooking it.
- Stir frying is a quick and healthy way to cook broccoli. It preserves the nutrients and also tastes good.
- Steaming is the most preferred way of cooking broccoli. It retains the bright green colour and taste, besides increasing the levels of glucosinolates and antioxidants.
- Microwaving is the easiest way to cook the vegetable. But do not microwave for more than three minutes or it loses nutrients.
How to include in your diet
- Add chopped and steamed broccoli to any salad.
- Stir fry broccoli with vegetables, garlic and herbs in olive oil for a healthy side dish.
- Add steamed broccoli to pizzas or pastas.
- Add the florets to soups or dips.
- Sauté broccoli with baby corns, carrots and mushrooms. It combines well with these vegetables. In a buttered baking tray, pour white sauce and mix broccoli, mushrooms and baby corns. Grate cheese on top and bake. Serve hot.
Did you know?
The broccoli that you see in the market is known as heading broccoli. Romanesco broccoli [also known as summer cauliflower and broccoflower] and Rapini broccoli are other known varieties.
Individuals with thyroid dysfunction must avoid broccoli because it contains ‘goitrogens’, which may cause swelling of the thyroid gland.