Broccoli rabe — also known as broccoli rapini or raab, broccoletti, spring raab, and Ruvo kale — is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica genus, along with broccoli, cabbage, turnips, arugula, and kale, among others (
Brassica vegetables are also known as cruciferous vegetables. These nutritional powerhouses have numerous health benefits — they have cancer-fighting properties and may reduce the risk of chronic disease (
Aside from its potential health benefits, broccoli rabe shares multiple similarities with other cruciferous vegetables. For instance, it has a nutty and slightly bitter taste similar to broccoli. It also has long, broccoli-like florets surrounded by kale-like leaves.
This article explores broccoli rabe, including its nutrients, benefits, and potential downsides, and how to prepare it.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli rabe is packed with nutrients.
A 1-cup (170-gram) serving of boiled broccoli rabe provides (
- Calories: 42
- Carbs: 5 grams
- Fiber: 4.8 grams
- Protein: 7 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Vitamin C: 70% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Folate: 30% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 43% of the DV
- Iron: 12% of the DV
- Calcium: 15% of the DV
- Zinc: 8% of the DV
Broccoli rabe is a rich source of vitamins A, C, and folate. These have many uses in the body, including vision health, immune support, and the prevention of birth abnormalities, respectively (
It is also a good source of magnesium, which is required for energy production, and it contains a good amount of potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure (
In addition, it’s low in calories but packs a high amount of fiber and plant-based protein.
Broccoli rabe is particularly rich in sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, just like other cruciferous vegetables.
Glucosinolates are arguably the most important compounds in broccoli rabe. They’re responsible for the vegetable’s characteristic taste, and they’re behind most of its health benefits (
Broccoli rabe is a nutrient-dense vegetable rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and plant-based protein. But most importantly, it is a rich source of glucosinolates, the plant compounds behind most of its health benefits.
Thanks to broccoli rabe’s glucosinolate content, eating the vegetable may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, among a wide variety of health benefits.
Rich in antioxidants with cancer-fighting properties
Antioxidants are compounds that help fight oxidative stress, high levels of which may lead to the progression of various diseases, including cancer. Broccoli rabe contains many antioxidants with potent anticancer properties (
One of the most studied types of antioxidants in broccoli rabe is glucosinolates, which have strong cancer-fighting properties. For example, they may help maintain low levels of oxidative stress, inhibit cancer-cell growth, and promote the death of cancerous cells (
Additionally, glucosinolates break down in the body into secondary metabolites, such as isothiocyanate and sulforaphane, which also have antioxidant and antitumor activities that prevent the spread of cancerous cells (
What’s more, broccoli rabe is also rich in other antioxidant compounds that help fight off cancer cells, including flavonoids, phenolics, carotenoids, tocopherols, and ascorbic acid — or vitamin C (
In fact, research suggests that higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli rabe might reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by about 8% and gastric cancer by about 19%. These cancers are among the most common causes of death from cancer worldwide (
May improve heart health
Oxidative stress also plays a critical role in the development of heart disease, including high blood pressure and atherosclerosis — the narrowing of the veins due to plaque buildup (
Yet, broccoli rabe may help reduce the risk of heart disease again due to its antioxidant content (
Research shows that glucosinolates may improve heart health by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in your artery walls, improving blood flow, and preventing plaque buildup (
In addition, being a green leafy vegetable, broccoli rabe is dense in dietary nitrates, which are also linked to a reduced risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (
May help with blood sugar control
Both fiber and antioxidants in broccoli rabe may help manage your blood sugar levels.
Fiber-rich foods can slow down food’s transit time through your gastrointestinal tract, which, in turn, delays glucose absorption and prevents your blood sugar from spiking (
Meanwhile, broccoli rabe’s antioxidants, such as polyphenols, can enhance glucose uptake by muscle cells, leading to improved blood sugar levels (
What’s more, animal studies show that flavonoids may also normalize blood sugar levels, while isothiocyanates may prevent or reduce blood-sugar-related complications (
Generally speaking, higher cruciferous vegetable intakes have been associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (
Potential anti-obesity effects
The bacteria in your gut — or gut microbiota — may directly influence obesity because of its role in the absorption, storage, and burning of energy from foods (
Having a higher ratio of Firmicutes bacteria to Bacteroidetes bacteria is more common in people with obesity. In contrast, leaner people tend to have higher levels of Bacteroidetes than Firmicutes (
Evidence shows that intake of cruciferous vegetables may increase Bacteroidetes and reduce Firmicutes levels in humans (
Studies in mice have suggested that those changes are associated with an increased activity of the enzyme myrosinase. This is in charge of transforming glucosinolates into their secondary metabolites, including sulforaphane (
Thanks to its antioxidant and fiber content, broccoli rabe may benefit heart health, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and even provide cancer-fighting and anti-obesity properties.
The downsides of broccoli rabe are minimal.
The main one is the potential for broccoli rabe, and other cruciferous vegetables, to lead to goiters. A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland that can occur from a lack of iodine.
However, this is very unlikely unless you consume broccoli rabe in extreme amounts.
In these rare cases, it may be caused by goitrin, the breakdown product of progoitrin, which is one of several types of glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables.
Goitrin inhibits iodine use in the thyroid gland and, in doing so, increases the risk of goiter and hypothyroidism (
However, levels of this compound are far too low to be risky when you consume broccoli rabe as part of a balanced diet.
Research suggests that iodine uptake to the thyroid is inhibited by 194 μmol of goitrin. Yet, broccoli rabe contains less than 10 μmol of goitrin per 100-gram serving. Thus, it carries minimal risk (
Additionally, cooking methods, such as steaming, stir-frying, and boiling, may reduce goiter-causing compounds in cruciferous vegetables by about 20% or more, depending on the method (
Like most cruciferous vegetables, broccoli rabe may interfere with the production of thyroid hormones if you eat it in very large amounts. However, the risk is minimal if you follow a balanced diet.
Nutritionally speaking, broccoli and broccoli rabe are very similar.
They both provide virtually the same amount of protein and fiber per serving, although broccoli packs twice the number of carbs as broccoli rabe, with 11 grams of carbs per 1 cup (160 grams) of broccoli (
Yet, being cruciferous vegetables rich in glucosinolates, they both share the health benefits and potential downside mentioned above. They also have similar tastes. Thus, if you already like broccoli, chances are you’ll like broccoli rabe too.
Their main difference is mainly in their appearance. Broccoli rabe has smaller florets while broccoli has a large head full of thick, tree-like florets. Broccoli rabe also has bigger leaves and a longer stalk that’s edible.
Unlike broccoli, which can be enjoyed both raw and cooked, broccoli rabe is mostly consumed cooked.
Broccoli and broccoli rabe are two very similar cruciferous vegetables that share many benefits and downsides. Their main differences are in how they look.
Broccoli rabe is a common ingredient in Italian and Asian cuisines, where it is usually mixed with pasta or stir-fried, respectively.
Here are some cooking ideas.
One of the easiest ways to add broccoli rabe into your diet is to roast and serve it as a side dish, which you could pair with some chicken or fish.
To roast broccoli rabe, try seasoning it with olive and sesame oil, salt, orange zest, and red pepper flakes and toss it on a baking tray. Roast at 425°F (218°C) for 10 minutes or until the stalks look bright green and the leaves and florets start to crisp.
Broccoli rabe also makes an excellent addition to sauces and salads, or you could bake them into chips as you would prepare kale chips.
If you’re short on time, you can blanch it quickly by adding it to a pot with boiling water with a pinch of salt, letting it simmer for 1–2 minutes, and then straining it out. This way, you’ll reduce some of the bitterness.
Broccoli rabe is a versatile ingredient. Roasting or a quick blanch are recommended over consuming it raw to help reduce its natural bitterness. It can be served as a side of veggies, baked into chips, or added to sauces or pasta.
Broccoli rabe is another cruciferous vegetable from the Brassica genus of plants that’s very similar to broccoli.
In fact, both have very similar nutritional profiles and provide the same potential health benefits, including cancer-fighting properties, improved heart health, and weight and blood sugar control.
Interestingly enough, they also share their main downside, which is the potential to interfere with thyroid hormones. However, the risk of this is minimal.
Broccoli rabe is easy to prepare and can make a tasty and nutritious addition to your diet.
Just one thing
Try this today: If you’re curious about ways to add more cruciferous vegetables to your diet, check out this article for recipe ideas for arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, radish, and turnips.