Once you learn all of broccoli's health benefits, you'll want to mix the tiny green trees into every single meal.
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Ask any child to name the veggie they wholeheartedly despise and there's a good chance they'll immediately say, "broccoli." After all, the veggie has a slightly bitter taste and creates a pungent smell when cooked. In their eyes, the only thing broccoli has going for it is its tiny, tree-like shape.

But if you, as a full-fledged adult, still believe that broccoli belongs in the trash — not on your plate — you could be missing out on a host of essential nutrients and delicious meals. Here, all the need-to-know nutrition info about the green veggie, including the broccoli health benefits and recipe ideas that'll make any lifelong hater fall in love for the very first time.

What Is Broccoli?

Native to the Mediterranean region, broccoli is a member of the Brassicaceae family alongside Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi, according to information published by Colorado State University. Calabrese broccoli — named after Cambria, Italy, where it was first grown — is the most common variety in the U.S., and it's likely what comes to mind when you think of the cruciferous veggie. This type of broccoli is marked by its large head — made up of small, edible floral shoots — bright-green color, and tree-like appearance, according to the University of Minnesota (UMN). And though the florets are traditionally served up for dinner, broccoli's stems and large leaves are also edible.

Broccoli Nutrition Facts

Your parents weren't lying when they said broccoli was good for you. The crunchy veggie contains a variety of nutrients that support your digestive, immune, heart, and bone health. To top it off, "while vegetables are naturally low in protein, broccoli is one of the highest, offering almost 3 grams of protein per cup serving," says Mia Syn, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in Charleston, South Carolina. (Related: This M.D. Wants You to Eat More Broccoli Sprouts, But What Are They?)

Before diving into the exact broccoli health benefits, here's the nutritional profile of 1 cup of chopped raw broccoli, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 31 calories
  • 3 grams protein
  • <1 gram fat
  • 6 grams carbohydrate
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 2 grams sugar

Broccoli Health Benefits

Helps Build and Repair Muscles

Compared to other veggies, Brussels sprouts pack the most protein per serving, but broccoli is a close runner-up. In a 1-cup serving of broccoli, you'll score nearly 3 grams (roughly 7 percent of the recommended dietary allowance) of protein — a macronutrient that helps to build and repair muscle and tissue. And that's not the only benefit this essential nutrient has to offer: Protein also ensures proper growth and development and assists in body processes such as blood clotting, fluid balance, and more, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FTR, the protein in broccoli is considered incomplete, meaning it's missing one or more of the nine essential amino acids, which can be obtained only from food and are needed to make new protein in the body, according to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Still, eaters who steer clear of animal products (which tend to be sources of complete protein) can still nab all the necessary amino acids by eating a variety of protein-filled plant foods, such as fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes daily. 

Supports Healthy Digestion

Of all the broccoli nutrition facts, the veggie's fiber content is likely the most well-known. A cup of chopped broccoli provides a little more than 2 grams of fiber (7 percent of the RDA), including both the soluble and insoluble types of fiber. ICYDK, fiber is the part of plant foods your body can't digest or absorb. In turn, the nutrient can help make your number twos go a bit more smoothly: It helps increase the weight and size of your poop and softens it, making it easier to pass and minimizing the chances of constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic. What's more, high-fiber foods tend to be more filling, so noshing on a veggie like broccoli could make you feel satisfied long after you've cleaned off your plate.

Helps Prevent Birth Defects

In a cup of broccoli, you'll nab 57 micrograms of folate, amounting to 14 percent of the RDA for the nutrient. This B vitamin assists in DNA production and cell division, says Syn. But this health benefit of broccoli is particularly important for pregnant individuals, as folate plays a key role in preventing neural tube defects — major birth defects in a baby's brain or spine, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Even if you don't plan on having a little one in the near future, you should still aim to hit that RDA of 400 micrograms daily if you're capable of becoming pregnant. These defects develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy — often before someone finds out they're expecting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Thankfully, regular helpings of broccoli will help you get one step closer to hitting that recommendation.

Supports Blood Clotting and Bone Health

This may not be the most exciting health benefit of broccoli, but it's worth mentioning. In a single cup, broccoli provides nearly 93 micrograms — or 103 percent of the RDA — of vitamin K, which helps your body make proteins necessary for blood clotting and the maintenance of healthy bones and tissue, according to the National Library of Medicine. Folks who are severely deficient in the nutrient can suffer bruising and bleeding problems, as blood will take longer to clot. They may also have reduced bone strength and an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, according to the NIH.

Supports the Immune System

Nosh on a helping of broccoli, and you'll score not one, but two nutrients that may help keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Broccoli is one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that has been shown to increase the number of immune cells and their activity, according to information published by Kaiser Permanente. What's more, a single cup of broccoli provides 81 milligrams (108 percent of the RDA) of vitamin C. Research shows this micronutrient helps stimulate the production and improve the function of white blood cells — including the specific cells that attack foreign bacteria and viruses — and increases levels of existing antibodies that help fight off foreign antigens. Translation: Getting your fill of the tree-like veggie on the reg could help fend off a nasty cold. 

Improves Heart Health 

Turns out, the health benefits of broccoli also extend to your ticker. The cruciferous veggie boasts 288 milligrams (11 percent of the RDA) of potassium, an essential mineral that helps keep blood pressure under control, says Syn. Specifically, potassium offsets the effects of sodium (a nutrient that raises your blood pressure when consumed in excess) by reducing tension in your blood vessel walls and causing you to excrete more sodium through your urine. This process helps lower your blood pressure and, in turn, the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association

How to Buy and Eat Broccoli

Convinced to give the veggie you once despised another shot? When shopping for broccoli, choose a stalk that has a compact cluster of small flower buds (read: the little green beads at the top of the head), suggests Syn. "Look for bright-green or purplish-green florets as opposed to yellow flowers and enlarged buds, which are signs of over-maturity." If the broccoli in your supermarket's produce section is looking the worse for wear, feel free to grab a bag of florets from the frozen section, which is typically more affordable and lasts longer, says Syn. "Research suggests that frozen and fresh produce have comparable nutrition," she adds. "In some cases, frozen broccoli may be higher in certain nutrients than the fresh counterpart." The reason: Ripe produce is often frozen within hours of being picked, helping to lock in nutrients.

If you picked up a fresh head of broccoli, store it unwashed in a loose or perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge for about three to five days. "Broccoli tastes the best and has the highest nutritional value when storage time is brief," says Syn. When you're ready to put the little green trees to good use, wash the veggie in water, she adds. 

While there's no wrong answer when it comes to cooking broccoli, some techniques do have a leg up on others. "Because broccoli contains many water-soluble nutrients, such as vitamin C, quick-cooking methods like steaming and even microwaving can help retain more nutrition, its vibrant green color, and tender-crisp texture," says Syn. And though it's practically second nature, you don't have to toss the stalks in the trash. "They are perfectly edible when prepared right [and] are particularly rich in fiber," says Syn. "To use, remove any woody or tough skin using a peeler and cut into bite-size pieces." (Related: 9 Easy — and Delicious — Ways to Reduce Your Food Waste, According to a Chef)

Broccoli Recipe Ideas

When you're sick and tired of eating plain, steamed broccoli florets, it's time to get creative with your consumption. To spice up your dinner plate — and nab those key broccoli health benefits — steal these innovative meal ideas.

As a "rice." "Just like cauliflower, you can blend broccoli in a food processor and use it as a lower-calorie, nutrient-dense rice swap or in homemade pizza crust recipes," says Syn.

In soups. One of Syn's favorite ways to get her fill of broccoli is by blending it into a soup. Try DIY-ing a broccoli cheddar bowl à la Panera or concocting a cream of broccoli soup.

In a stir-fry. A stir fry is another one of Syn's go-to broccoli dishes. For a veg-heavy meal, toss broccoli, peppers, onions, and mushrooms into a piping-hot skillet or wok, then top the cooked veggies off with a savory stir fry sauce. Trust, it's filling enough to be a complete meal. 

As a side dish. When you're looking for a low-effort way to use up the broccoli in your fridge, consider transforming it into a side dish by roasting the veggie with chickpeas and radicchio or topping baked broccoli off with a cashew cream sauce.