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Rapini (Broccoli Rabe): Health Benefits and Nutrient Facts

Benefits of Rapini or Broccoli Rabe

Add variety to your diet by trying less common vegetables such as broccoli rabe (sometimes spelled broccoli raab). Also known as Italian turnip, broccoletto, cime di rapa and rapini, broccoli rabe makes a delicious side dish when it's steamed or sautéed and seasoned with fresh garlic, pepper, and a pinch of salt. Culinary aspects aside, the slightly bitter-tasting leaves and stems of broccoli raab are also supercharged with a range of nutrients, including vitamin C, pro-vitamin A, glucosinolates (which can be converted into health-protecting isothiocyanates), folate, vitamin K, and iron. Thanks to its broad nutritional profile, rapini or broccoli rabe can offer a whole host of health benefits to those who have the courage to befriend this relatively unknown member of the Brassica family of plants. Here's a lowdown of the most interesting health benefits of broccoli rabe.

Broccoli Rabe is Supercharged with Vitamin C

A three-ounce serving (about 85 grams) of raw broccoli rabe provides your body with almost a third of the Daily Value for vitamin C. In addition to giving your immune system a real health kick, vitamin C can help keep your skin, bones, and teeth strong. Most of these health benefits are linked to the strong antioxidant properties of vitamin C or to its ability to promote collagen synthesis.

How to Maximize the Benefits: Drizzle some healthy, vitamin E rich oil (such as walnut oil or foodgrade almond oil) on steamed rapini before serving the dish. Vitamin E is known to boost the health-protecting qualities of vitamin C.

Broccoli Rabe is Good for Your Heart

Aside from the wonderful health benefits of vitamin C described above, this powerful nutrient is also good for your heart and cardiovascular system, making it a great addition to cardiotonic diets. In an intriguing study conducted by scientists from the University of California, people who took a daily supplement containing 500 milligrams of vitamin C experienced a 24 percent drop in their plasma C-reactive protein (CRP) levels after just two months. Recent research suggests that CRP levels may offer an even better measure of a person's heart disease risk than cholesterol levels.

But wait, there's still more: broccoli rabe is also packed full of vitamin K! According to USDA's Nutrition Facts data, one U.S. cup of chopped raw rapini provides a whopping 112% of the Daily Value for vitamin K. Vitamin K is believed to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis by directing dietary calcium into the bone and thus preventing its build-up in the arteries. Along with high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is one of the key risk factors for heart disease.

Up Your Pro-Vitamin A Levels with Rapini (Broccoli Rabe)

You probably already know that carrots are good for you because they are loaded with pro-vitamin A, but did you know that many green leafy vegetables also contain significant amounts of pro-vitamin A? One U.S. cup of raw broccoli rabe, for example, contains over 20 percent of the Daily Value for pro-vitamin A. This health-protecting nutrient is known for its strong antioxidant properties, but it is also essential for healthy vision. In particular, diets that don't contain enough vegetables and fruits providing pro-vitamin A have been linked to poor night vision and impaired color vision.

How to Reap the Health Benefits: Studies show that pro-vitamin A in Brassica vegetables is better absorbed when the food is slightly steamed. Therefore, if your goal is to get the maximum vitamin A from your rapini, you'll want to eat it slightly steamed rather than raw.

Folate for Allergy and Asthma Sufferers

Even though broccoli raab is not included in's list of Good Foods for Asthma Sufferers, it is definitely a food asthma and allergy sufferers should consider eating on a regular basis. Like other common brassica vegetables, rapini broccoli is considered hypoallergenic, meaning that is unlikely to cause allergic reactions and asthma in humans. But turns out, this unsung superfood may provide additional health benefits for people who suffer from asthma and allergies due to the high levels of folate it contains (a three-ounce serving of broccoli rabe provides almost 20% of the Daily Value for folate).

A large-scale study published in the June 2009 edition of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that people with the lowest serum folate levels were 31% more likely to have allergies and 40% more likely to suffer from wheezing, compared with those who had the highest levels of folate in their blood. This association was found to be dose-dependent, meaning that the higher the folate levels, the bigger the protective effects.

How to Get the Most Benefits: Evidence suggests that green tea may lower the body's ability to absorb folic acid, so you might want to avoid drinking green tea during a meal that features broccoli rabe. But don't forget to sip some green tea later – this super-drink can give your health a real boost (see Green Tea and its Health Benefits)!

Broccoli Raab May Help Prevent Certain Types of Cancer

A member of the brassica family of plants, broccoli rabe might also help prevent certain types of cancer. According to a research paper published in the September 1996 issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a high consumption of brassica vegetables is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. This study, which analyzed the findings of a large number of cohort studies and case-control studies, concluded that the inverse association between a high consumption of brassica vegetables and cancer risk is most consistent for lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancers and least consistent for prostate, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.

There are several mechanisms by which brassica vegetables, such as broccoli rabe, may help fight cancer. For instance, isothiocyanates and other health benefiting compounds provided by rapini broccoli may help prevent DNA mutation, induce apoptosis in cancer cells, eliminate cancer-causing toxins, prevent harmless growths from turning into malignant tumors, and prevent cancer from spreading from one organ to another.

How to Maximize the Anti-Cancer Effects: Cooking, particularly boiling and microwaving at high power, is thought to reduce the bioavailability of isothiocyanates. To maximize the potential anti-cancer effects of broccoli raab, avoid over-cooking.

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