Everyone knows that broccoli is one of the most healthful foods around. But how many people really know why.

This king of the cruciferous family (other members include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and bok choy) is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid, calcium and fiber. Find out what broccoli can do for you…

  • Broccoli fights cancer. It contains two classes of anticancer phytonutrients—isothiocyanates and glucosinolates. Sulforaphane is an isothiocyanate that activates detoxifying enzymes in the body that prevent the formation of cancer-causing substances. Sulforaphane also has potent antioxidant properties. Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a glucosinolate that has been shown to benefit women with early-stage cervical cancer and helps protect estrogen-sensitive cells, such as breast cells, against cancer.
  • Broccoli helps the eyes. Broccoli also is rich in the carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Both are important in preventing ultraviolet light damage to the eyes and can help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people age 65 and older.

Recommended: Eat one-half cup of raw or lightly steamed broccoli daily (buying frozen broccoli is fine). Avoid boiling—it diminishes its nutritional value. Broccoli sprouts, which are the newly sprouted seeds of broccoli, can be added to sandwiches or salads. They contain 30 to 50 times the concentration of protective phytonutrients found in mature broccoli plants. Broccoli sprouts are especially rich in sulforaphane. Because broccoli sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria, people with weak immune systems should check with their doctors before consuming them.