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April Super Food: Broccoli


Love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be much in between for this cruciferous powerhouse of a plant. In fact, some of my friends took advantage of their Covid loss of taste to take down some broccoli while they were afflicted. But, so great are the health benefits and the love-it-or-hate-it flavor that people that would never even get close to it in a store were buying it when they couldn't taste anything. There's a commercial in there somewhere; I just know it. So, for April, we will take a look at what makes these tiny little trees (not really, but you can't say you haven't thought of them that way) so beneficial.

 

Broccoli: A History


No doubt you've heard about the splendors of Tuscan cuisine.

As rich in taste as it is in history. The ancestors of modern-day Tuscans were known as the Etruscans, and they were the first to cultivate the ancestor of what is today known as broccoli. This ancient Italian civilization was the absolute horticultural powerhouse of its time. The Etruscans engineered broccoli by manipulating a relative of the cabbage family (that's why it's also a cruciferous veggie).


Broccoli's English name combines the Italian word broccoli (flowering crest of cabbage) with the Latin name brachium (arm, branch, or shoot). The Romans also cultivated broccoli, and therefore much of its spread to the known world. However, it didn't hit the shores of England until the 18th century, when it was known as Italian Asparagus.


Skip to the American Colonies of the 1700s, and you have our main gardening forefather, Thomas Jefferson, experimenting on broccoli seeds brought over from Italy at his home of Monticello. The real broccoli boom of the United States didn't come until the mass immigration of Southern Italians in the 1920s. They brought the plant with them, and it took off across the states as the depression ramped up.


Broccoli has been commercially grown since the 1500s, but it hasn't been until the last 30 years that it has received the love it so richly deserves. Broccoli consumption has more than tripled in these few decades. I know I've done my part to make it so!


Other relatives of broccoli are kale, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

 

Why is Broccoli Healthy?


Raw broccoli is composed of roughly 90% water, 7% carbs, 3% protein, and minimal amounts of fat.


Macronutrients

The carbs in broccoli are primarily made up of prebiotic fiber and sugars—specifically, fructose, glucose, and sucrose. Lesser occurring sugars in broccoli also include lactose and maltose. The high fiber content of this plant brings the total amount of digestible carbs per serving to only 3.5 grams. Broccoli really shines in the protein arena, though. Broccoli's dry weight is 29% protein. Wait, why does it say 3% in the first line? Well, broccoli's water content is so high that 1 cup of broccoli only serves up about 3 grams of protein. Still, not shabby for a whole plant-based way of getting in a little extra protein.


Micronutrients

Broccoli is absolutely packed out when it comes to vitamins and minerals.

  • Vitamin C: 1/2c yields 70% of your daily recommended value and supports immune function.

  • Folate (B9): This one is especially good for pregnant women. Folate is used for tissue growth and cell function.

  • Manganese: needed for brain function, nervous system, and enzymatic response.

  • Vitamin K1: This is a vitamin that enables us to clot better. If you are on blood thinners, check with your doctors before consuming foods high in K1.

  • Iron: Helps transport oxygen through red blood cells.

  • Potassium: Aids in blood pressure control and preventing heart disease.

  • Vitamin A: Aids in eye health.

Lower Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is important for many functions within our bodies. One of those functions is forming bile acids to help digest fats. Usually, your body reabsorbs the bile acids in order to reuse them. However, broccoli compounds bind with the bile acids, preventing their reabsorption. This forces the body to make new bile acids from cholesterol, reducing the overall marker in your body.


Cancer Prevention

Many cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, carry in them compounds called isothiocyanates. Studies indicate that these affect liver enzymes, ease oxidative stress, boost your immunity, help fight inflammation, and stunt the growth of cancer cells.


If you just can't stand the taste, there are a myriad of broccoli supplements available at most stores. However, they may not give you the full effect of eating the whole thing.

 

Steamed, baked, roasted until it's just a little bit burnt (my favorite way), or consuming it straight up raw as from a veggie tray, Broccoli deserves its spot on the superfood pedestal. This ancient food has nourished generations before us and will continue to torment and tantalize generations to come.


Go online today and find out if you can find a new favorite broccoli recipe! Of course, my family's favorite is the Panera Bread Copycat Recipe!

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