Broccoli and cheese are a classic pairing. Meals and snacks are easy to build with this popular, cruciferous vegetable and the various cheeses that can accompany it. Neither complicated nor over-processed, broccoli and cheese contribute a range of nutritious compounds and vitamins, require little in the way of preparation, and offer versatile, satisfying flavors.
Broccoli: Nutritional Benefits
Broccoli's undeserved reputation as a soggy dinnertime vegetable is only because broccoli is routinely overcooked. You should serve it raw, or lightly steamed. As described by author Dale Kiefer in the June 2007 issue of "Life Extension" magazine, broccoli contains chemical compounds such as indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane that inhibit cancer-cell growth. It has beta-carotene, which your body converts to Vitamin A for eyesight and skin health; calcium for cellular and bone functions; Vitamin C for immunity; fiber for digestion; folate for normal blood-cell development; and only 35 calories per 1/2 cup.
Cheese: Nutritional Benefits
Cheese also has a reputation: being "bad" for diets. However, if you select low-fat versions, you will reap cheese's many benefits. Low-fat ricotta, feta, Parmesan, mozzarella and cottage cheeses all contain readily-absorbed calcium that promotes strong bones and teeth, supports calcium-dependent cellular activities and ensures a healthy nervous system. Note that 1/2 cup ricotta has 337 milligrams of calcium, whereas 1 c milk has only 280m. Cheese has protein for muscle-repair, and it even has enzymes and microbes that boost flavor and assist digestion.
Low-fat Cheese Types
Urged by consumers who want better dietary standards, many manufacturers now stock healthier versions of full-fat cheeses. Neufchatel is a mild, low-fat cheese that can replace regular cream cheese. Soft goat cheese, as described by TravelLady.com, is a spreadable treat that has half the fat of cream cheese. Feta cheese is crumbly, with sharp flavors stronger than cheddar's. Mozzarella can be shredded for pizza and, with a texture similar to that of Swiss, sliced for grilled sandwiches. Soft cheeses such as brie and Camembert also typically contain less fat. Look for them in your grocery's dairy section or ask that they be stocked.
Simple Dishes: No Cooking Required
A simple salad of steamed or raw broccoli florets topped with 1/2 cup cottage cheese and 1/2 cup fresh fruit combines sweet and salty flavors with smooth and crunchy textures, 16 g to 20 g protein and slow-acting carbohydrates that will not upset blood-sugar levels. You can also make an uncomplicated snack or appetizer from broccoli spears and cheeses arrayed on a platter as dips or sliced.
Healthier Versions of Main Dishes
Substitute low-fat ricottas and reduced-fat Swiss cheese for high-fat cheeses such as cheddar, American and full-fat Swiss. Broccoli-cheese souffles accommodate these substitutions well. For pizza, make a topping of broccoli, low-fat mozzarella and sprinkled Parmesan, which is naturally low-calorie. Omelets can incorporate chopped broccoli and any low-fat, meltable cheese. For lasagna, make a low-fat, high-protein ricotta-and-cottage cheese mixture. Enjoy a healthful broccoli-cheese soup by pureeing broccoli with low-fat milk, heating it, melting in some mozzarella and low-fat cheddar, and topping it with crumbled feta. Tweaking your favorite recipes like this will improve your diet and your health.
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Based in New York City, Fiona Bayly writes about running with a focus on health, nutrition and training strategies for athletes from beginner to professional. She is an avid triathlete, former New England Scholastic Cross Country champion and current member of TeamUSA's age-group championship team in the sport of Aquathlon.