Bulldog eating greens

The Importance of Greens

All vegetables have their own unique strengths, but green, leafy vegetables are emerging as the superstars of the vegetable kingdom, and broccoli has extreme health benefits!

Before you read any further here is my full disclosure: I hate eating vegetables. Not a fan. Huh uh! My mother tried everything to get me to eat them. A thousand times I must have heard her say, “Young lady you are not moving from the table until you eat your vegetables.” Poor Mom never won that stubborn standoff. Gosh, was I a foolish kid!

Let’s leave the 1950s behind and fast forward to today when everyone knows, and numerous scientific studies have proven, that vegetables are nutritional powerhouses. Packed with vitamins and minerals, cooked vegetables are usually easy to digest. Raw veggies offer the added benefit of wholesome enzymes, and whether cooked or raw, both are rich in healthy fiber.

Which Vegetables Are Especially Valuable?

We know that all vegetables are extremely good for us, but today I want to focus on one in particular: broccoli. Broccoli is a member of the cruciferous family which includes cabbage, kale, watercress, bok choi, arugula, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. This family of vegetables appears particularly valuable for humans and their pets.

All in Moderation

But we can’t talk about the benefits of cruciferous veggies without first mentioning that all foods should be eaten in moderation.

If you consume or give your pet more than reasonable amounts of cruciferous vegetables over-consumption could upset thyroid balance, resulting in hypothyroidism. Cooking can lessen the goitrogenic risk, but again, don’t hesitate to use these vegetables, simply use them wisely. Other unfortunate side effects can be the infamous “broccoli farts” and an upset tummy.

Is Broccoli Safe for Dogs & Cats to Eat?

Dogs and cats can both eat broccoli. To reap the highest health rewards, dogs can eat broccoli raw, retaining the most nutrition, but lightly steamed may be more palatable to Fido and is loaded with benefits, too. Safe amounts of broccoli for dogs vary by the animal’s size but should be no more than 5% to 10% of their diet.

For cats, broccoli should be steamed as raw vegetables are quite hard for cats to digest. Since cats are obligate carnivores, using a sprinkle of cooked broccoli blended into their food or offered as a treat should suffice. Broccoli’s amazing effects are available for 24 hours so must be used daily for maximum utilization before excretion, especially if used for therapeutic results.

The Benefits of Broccoli

It is hard to talk about broccoli without sounding over-the-top enthusiastic. There’s very little to worry about when consuming this vegetable. Used in moderation broccoli offers some major health benefits for our pets and us.

Extra Vitamins

Consistently mentioned as one of the healthiest vegetables on Earth, broccoli boasts significant amounts of vitamins A, C, K, folate, and other B vitamins. While cats and dogs manufacture their own vitamin C, in today’s polluted world adding some extra C boosts their natural immunity.

Joint & Bone Health

Being high in vitamin K and calcium, broccoli promotes joint and bone health and may help prevent osteoarthritis.

Supports Brain Development & Function

The folate in broccoli is an essential nutrient during pregnancy as it promotes normal development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. It continues to support cognitive function throughout life, improving memory, IQ, and motor skills.

A Healthier Mouth

The vitamin C and calcium in broccoli may reduce the risk of periodontal disease and generally promotes a healthier mouth.

Aids Digestion

Broccoli is a high-fiber vegetable that aids digestion and will help reduce constipation.

Better Blood Sugar Control

Eating high-fiber foods is also associated with better blood sugar control, important for diabetic pets or people. Studies1 confirm lower blood sugar levels and less pancreatic damage when mice were fed a broccoli extract with their food.

1 – Mice, Broccoli & Sulforaphane Study – NIH; Mice & Improved Insulin Sensitivity from Broccoli – NIH;

Promotes Heart Health

Broccoli supports heart health by providing many phytonutrients such as antioxidants that may reduce the overall risk of heart attacks and protect against cell death following cardiac incidents.

Increases Antioxidant Activity

Compounds in broccoli can cross the blood/brain barrier and increase antioxidant activity in the brain, cleaning up harmful free radicals.

Protects Healthy Cells

The most promising of all the studied benefits is broccoli’s ability to protect against cancer. This vegetable is rich in sulforaphane which activates antioxidant and anti-inflammatory responses. Sulforaphane protects healthy cells against carcinogens, preventing their mutation into cancerous cells, and also activates apoptosis (cell death) against cancer cells to prevent proliferation.

Reduces Inflammation & Detoxes the Liver

Quercetin and Kaempferol are 2 of the powerful flavonoids found in broccoli and are responsible for much of its remarkable antioxidant activity. These phytonutrients reduce inflammation, detox the liver during Phase II detoxification, and produce endogenous antioxidants (through the Nrf2 pathway) such as the essential antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

And this barely scratches the surface of the valuable substances found in the humble little broccoli plant. It is truly a health marvel.

The Best Way to Add Broccoli to Your Pet’s Diet

You might be surprised to know that the hands-down best way to include broccoli into your pet’s diet or your own is to feed broccoli sprouts or microgreens.

Broccoli Sprouts & Microgreens

Broccoli sprouts are the earliest shoots plus the first set of leaves (cotyledons), the seeds, and roots.

Microgreens are the first set of leaves and stems. These tiny gems contain as much as 40 to 100 times (experts disagree) the sulforaphane as found in the mature plant, making the sprouts more nutritious, ounce per ounce, than the fully grown plant itself.

How to Prepare Broccoli Sprouts & Microgreens

Interestingly, freeze-drying and certain rather technically elaborate low-cooking methods can raise sulforaphane levels in sprouts even higher.

One thing to remember about using broccoli sprouts and microgreens is they must be masticated to activate the valuable sulforaphane. Blended for a smoothie or chewing them releases this compound.

Veggies are Important

You know, I hate to admit it, but Mom was right. Veggies are important for all of us and are an invaluable addition to our dogs’ and cats’ diets, too.

I’m investigating home sprouting kits and hope to purchase one within the month. And although I plan to add a few sprouts to my dog’s meals, Northwest Naturals already includes the mature broccoli plant in our dog’s diet formulas (except for turkey). The vegetable is extremely finely ground, mimicking mastication, for thorough digestion.

Whether used in a complete and balanced diet, such as Northwest Naturals Fruits and Veggies Nuggets, or added by you to your pet’s food, broccoli’s nutritional benefits are manifold and life-enhancing.

Let’s all resolve to eat greener by adding more broccoli to our diets and sharing it with our pets!

By Carol Kendig

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