The researchers found that mice fed a diet rich in sulforaphane had significantly less cartilage damage and osteoarthritis than those that were not. The study also examined human cartilage cells and cow cartilage tissue.
Sulforaphane is released when eating cruciferous vegetables containing the compound glucoraphanin such as Brussels sprouts and cabbage, but particularly broccoli.
Previous research has suggested that sulforaphane has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, but this is the first major study into its effects on joint health.
Professor Ian Clark of the UEA who led the research said: "We now want to show this works in humans. It would be very powerful if we could. There is currently no way in to the disease pharmaceutically and you cannot give healthy people drugs unnecessarily, so this is where diet could be a safe alternative."
More than 8.5 million people in the UK have osteoarthritis, which led to more than 77,000 knee and 66,000 hip replacements in 2011.
The findings are published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.