Can Turtles Eat Broccoli? Are Broccoli Leaves Poisonous?

May 18, 2021

can turtles eat broccoli

Low carbs and a wealth of nutrients – broccoli is the embodiment of true American superfood. Do you know a cup of broccoli contains more vitamin C than an orange? 

But not all food deemed healthy for humans are suitable for turtles. Honestly, I learned that the hard way. So, can turtles eat broccoli or not? Will it impart the same benefits to our reptilian friends or backfire in unexpected ways? 

Let’s find out! 

Can Turtles Eat Broccoli? 

Yes, turtles can eat small amounts of broccoli once in a while for a change of taste. But a diet primarily composed of broccoli can lead to pressing medical conditions. This vegetable contains traces of goitrogens, a compound known to disrupt the thyroid functions in reptiles. 

Broccoli belongs to the Brassica Oleracea family of plants. And like other members of the group, it contains glucosinolate and riboflavin (a flavonoid), both of which convert into goitrogens when chewed and swallowed. 

Thus, I seldom give broccoli to my turtles, even though they’re harmless when fed sparsely. There are so many better alternatives available. Why skate on the thin ice, right? 

Can Turtles Eat Raw Broccoli?

Yes, broccoli can be given either raw or cooked. But cooking reduces the goitrogenic content of the food. Plus, it makes it easier for your pet to swallow and digest. 

Irrespective of how it’s given, just make sure that you don’t overfeed broccolis. They should never be regulars in your turtle’s palate. 

Can Turtles Eat Broccoli Stems?

Flower, stems, leaves – all parts of broccoli contain goitrogenic content. Also, the stems can be more challenging for your turtle to chew and digest. So, although there’s no significant health issue when given in moderation, I’d recommend against it. 

Can Turtles Eat Broccoli Leaves? 

Broccoli leaves are relatively easier to feed on for turtles. So, they make a better option compared to stems. However, once again, be careful about the quantity and frequency of feeding. 

They aren’t downright poisonous for turtles but do contain traces of goitrogens like the rest of the vegetable. 

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How Do Goitrogens Affect Turtles? 

Goitrogen disturbs the iodine uptake in a turtle’s thyroid gland. This, in turn, triggers the overproduction of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which leads to overgrowth of the thyroid tissue, and consequently, goiter. 

And this side effect of broccoli doesn’t just manifest in turtles. Humans susceptible to thyroid complications are on the receiving end too. 

Mammals have a double-lobed thyroid gland. On the other hand, turtles have a single-lobed thyroid gland that’s positioned right above the ventral side of the trachea- near the bottom of the heart. 

So, we are naturally more adept at digesting the caveats that tag along with broccoli. But our reptilian friends may have a hard time dealing with these antinutrients. 

Interestingly, the link between goitrogen and thyroid glands was first discovered in 1928 in rabbits! Scientists found that rabbits that ate fresh cabbage had swollen thyroid glands. 

So, wait – it’s not just broccoli?

What Other Vegetables Contain Goitrogens? 

A photo of cabbage
Cabbage

Sorry to be the bearer of the bad news, but yes, it’s not just broccoli. 

Other Brassica family members, like cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy, mustard greens, collard greens, and turnips, also contain goitrogens. Thus, you should channel caution when giving these options. 

It’s best to limit these vegetables to occasional treats. 

Do Turtles Like Broccoli? 

Can turtles eat broccoli, and do turtles like broccoli – these two questions might seem similar at first glance, but there’s a huge difference. 

You probably know this – a turtle won’t stop eating until and unless the food finishes. They don’t stop when they get full. This instinct is quite strong among wild animals. 

And as omnivores with a taste for all kinds of foods, turtles love eating broccoli. In fact, they love eating everything that looks even remotely edible. But just because they enjoy it, they shouldn’t consume too much broccoli.

On several turtle and tortoise forums, I came across owners reporting their pet love nibbling on broccoli and its various parts. But just because there’s no immediate repercussion, it doesn’t mean you can get away with it. 

Eventually, over the course, it will negatively impact your turtle’s health and compromise his lifespan. 

With all that being said, don’t yet assume that broccoli is a venomous, baneful vegetable that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. It’s jam-packed with essential nutrients. 

But for turtles, do the benefits outweigh the cons? Keep reading! 

Nutritional Facts About Broccoli 

Broccoli is 90% water. Yet, it’s loaded with nutritive compounds like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It’s also low in carbs, calories, and fat – making it a super healthy yet delicious veggie option. 

Nutritional Value In 100 Grams Of Raw Broccoli

NutrientAmount
Protein2.4 grams
Calories35
Total Fat1%
Vitamin A31%
Vitamin C 108% 
Iron 3.7% 
Calcium 3.1% 
Potassium 7% 

The percent values are calculated based on a 2000 calorie diet.

As you can derive from the above table, broccoli indeed is a nutrient-dense vegetable.

In addition to the compounds mentioned above, it also contains little to medium traces of other nourishments like manganese, folate, and vitamin K1. Let’s see what they mean for turtles. 

Is Broccoli Good For Turtles? 

The two most crucial nutrients for turtles are vitamin A, and D. Broccoli contains only one of them in moderation. Likewise, it also contains modest amounts of calcium. But these nutrients can be easily supplemented with other safer vegetable options. 

Lack of vitamin A invites several eyes and respiratory complications like aural abscesses and hypervitaminosis A in turtles. And calcium is crucial to ensure the growth and strengthening of bones and shells. 

But like I said above, there are several other safer and healthier options available for turtles. What are they?

Safe Vegetables For Turtles 

Here’s a list of some safe and healthy vegetables for turtles. 

  • Squash 
  • Parsnip 
  • Asparagus 
  • Carrot 
  • Pea
  • Green beans 
  • Bell peppers 
  • Cilantro 
  • Swiss chard 
  • Kohlrabi 
  • Watercress 
  • Zucchini 

Disadvantages Of Feeding Broccoli To Turtles 

Besides the goitrogens meddling with the thyroid functions, there are few other downsides as well. Broccoli contains a handful of nutrients that are considered antinutrients for turtles. Likewise, oxalic acid present in this vegetable can disturb the calcium absorption function, while purines can cause complications in kidneys. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the disadvantages:

  • Goitrogens affect the iodine uptake, which triggers an overproduction of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
  • Oxalic acids can hamper the calcium absorption process, leading to metabolic bone diseases 
  • Purine compounds give way to excess uric acid production and cause illnesses like gout

Before you go, quickly have a look at the relationship between different turtle species and broccoli. Do some fare better than others?

Frequently Asked Questions 

can turtles eat broccoli
Broccoli

Can Box Turtles Eat Broccoli? 

Ideally, a box turtle’s diet should consist of 50% plant-based material and 50% animal-based protein. So, these omnivores can definitely eat broccoli but sparsely. It should never be a part of their staple diet. 

Can Eastern Box Turtles Eat Broccoli? 

Yes, Eastern box turtles can also eat broccoli in moderate amounts. You can give it as a refreshing snack every once in a while. 

Can Painted Turtles Eat Broccoli?

In the wild, a Painted turtle’s diet usually comprises critters and aquatic plants. So, introducing entirely new vegetables like broccoli can invite a number of digestive complications. So, make sure to watch the portion and frequency if you’re giving broccolis.

Can Red-Eared Sliders Eat Broccoli?

Broccoli is not something available in a Red-eared Slider’s natural habitat. So, feeding it can invite unsolicited health complications. It’s best not to give broccoli, but if you want to try, give tiny amounts occasionally. 

Can Aquatic Turtles Eat Broccoli?

Aquatic turtles love feeding on fish, critters, and aquatic plants. Broccoli is not something they’re naturally inclined to eat, or their digestive tracts are used to. So, it’s better to steer away from this vegetable and give some safer alternatives. 

Now that you know everything on can turtles eat broccoli or not, let’s look if this vegetable is safe for their terrestrial cousins. 

Can Baby Turtles Eat Broccoli? 

No, steer clear from giving broccoli to your baby turtles. They need calcium and protein-rich diet that ensures well-rounded development. And they definitely don’t need potential exposures to kidney and thyroid complications that broccolis can ignite. 

Can Tortoises Eat Broccoli? 

Turtles are 100% herbivores, and their diet should contain a plentiful of salads made with greens and veggies. So, tortoises can eat broccoli, but once again, the risks of thyroid and kidney complications due to goitrogens loom. So, it’s best to feed this vegetable sparsely.

Here’s a cute ASMR of a turtle eating broccoli:

Can Desert Tortoises Eat Broccoli?

Yes, desert tortoises can eat broccoli. But their natural diet heavily leans towards the grass, leafy plants, and flowers. So, broccoli may not be the best vegetable to feed your desert tortoise. 

Can Russian Tortoises Eat Broccoli? 

A Russian tortoise’s diet includes herbaceous and succulent vegetation like flowers, twigs, grass, and some fruits in the wild. They don’t eat protein. So, you can switch broccoli with some other nutritious option that’s safe for them. 

Can Sulcata Tortoises Eat Broccoli?

A Sulcata tortoise’s diet mainly consists of grass, hay, and edible flowers. So, it’s not really ideal to introduce vegetables like broccoli, which isn’t available in their natural habitat. 

Conclusion On Can Turtles Eat Broccoli 

To be honest, the answer to this question falls under a gray area. To feed or broccoli or not to feed – it’s pretty confusing. 

As healthy as broccoli is, it’s not the best vegetable out there to feed your pet turtle. Although moderately, some compounds found in it can cause kidney and thyroid complications in turtles. 

So, if you’re interested in giving it, first weigh out all the pros and cons. And if you decide to give it a go, feed minimal amounts occasionally, and your pet should be fine! 

Read Next!

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.