The Truth About Cruciferous Vegetables

The Truth About Cruciferous Vegetables

What are Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are cool weather vegetables and have a four petal flower that resemble a cross. They are part of the cabbage family and include arugula, broccoli, bok choy, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, daikon radishes, kale, rutabaga, turnips and watercress. Even though these vegetables come in different sizes, shapes and colors, they all have similar benefits. They contain phytochemicals, which are plant based compounds that fight disease.  They are also a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber.  They offer a great source of Vitamins A and C and the leafy green cruciferous veggies are also high in vitamin K. They are all high in fiber and low in calories, making them a great choice for losing or maintaining weight and keeping your digestive system healthy (1).

Research shows that people with a diet high in natural plant foods, are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer.  Cruciferous vegetables contain two components, glucosinolates and myrosinase, and when combined through chopping, chewing, blending or digestion, they create a powerful anti-cancer compound (2).  In a European study, people who ate cruciferous vegetables at least once a week had a 17% decrease risk of breast cancer (3). The anti-cancer properties in cruciferous vegetables are shown to prevent cancer in the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach (4,5,6).

There are 5 groups of vegetables, dark-green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy and other vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are considered part of the dark-green and other vegetables groups. For more information on daily vegetable intake, visit www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables.


How to Enjoy Cruciferous Vegetables

  1. Try steaming or roasting cauliflower. It can also be grated, cooked and used in place of mashed potatoes or rice. Pureed cauliflower can be seasoned and used as a sauce substitute.
  2. Remove the tough stems from kale and add the leaves to your green salad. Leaves can also be added to your fruit smoothie to provide a power pack of nutrition.
  3. Don’t overcook them, they produce an unappealing sulfur smell if they’re overcooked.
  4. Add them to a raw vegetable platter.
  5. Include broccoli or cauliflower to your leafy green salads.
  6. Add them to stews and soups.

Cabbage

Cabbage is packed with vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that helps fight disease and lower your risk of certain cancers.  Green and red cabbage are both fantastic sources of vitamin C, but you’ll find more antioxidants in red cabbage. Antioxidants are compounds found in food that clean up waste products in cells, before they can do damage.

Choose a cabbage that is heavy for its size and has tight firm leaves. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and can be eaten raw or cooked. If you have trouble digesting cabbage, try eating it cooked instead of raw and in smaller portions.


Bok Choy

Bok Choy is a deep green leafy vegetable that plays a large part in Chinese cuisine and traditional Chinese medicine. It looks very similar to collards and has smooth stalks, like romaine lettuce.  It can be eaten raw or cooked and is often used in stir fry, but if overcooked it will produce a strong sulfur odor. It could be considered a powerhouse vegetable because it’s an excellent source of many nutrients and antioxidants.


Radishes

Radishes date back to 2700 BC and are reported as being cultivated before the pyramids were built. In the US they are often large, red and round, with a peppery flavor.  Scientists evaluated the effects of radishes on cancer cells and concluded that the root possesses the potential to kill cancer cells (6).


Kale

Kale can have green or purple leaves and they might be curly or smooth, with hard, fibrous stems. It contains bile acid sequestrants, which means it helps to bind cholesterol and eliminate it from the body. Kale is high in vitamin K, which is critical for blood clotting. Kale is also high in antioxidants that have been shown to lower the risk of 2 eye disorders, cataracts and macular degeneration (7).


Broccoli

Broccoli is reported to have originated from wild cabbage during roman times, but gained popularity in the United States in the 1920’s.  As with other cruciferous vegetables, broccoli contains sulforophane, a compound shown to have anti-cancer properties.  Broccoli is also a great source of fiber, which is shown to improve digestive health and lower cholesterol. Fiber also provides food for the good bacteria in your gut, improves digestive health and decreases inflammation (8).


Cauliflower

Cauliflower is a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw, cooked or added to salads. It can be grated and used in place of rice or mashed and seasoned like mashed potatoes. It’s been shown to fight cancer (9), improve brain health (10), and is reported to reduce inflammation and help improve the body’s ability to detoxify.

Citations

  1. J Nutr. 2009 Sep; 139(9): 1685–1691. 
    Human Gut Bacterial Communities Are Altered by Addition of Cruciferous Vegetables to a Controlled Fruit- and Vegetable-Free Diet
  2. Higdon J, Delage B, Williams D, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis. Pharmacol Res 2007;55:224-236.
  3. Bosetti C, Filomeno M, Riso P, et al. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer risk in a network of case-control studies. Ann Oncol2012.
  4. Hecht SS. Inhibition of carcinogenesis by isothiocyanates. Drug Metabolism Reviews 2000;32(3-4):395-411.
  5. Murillo G, Mehta RG. Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. Nutrition and Cancer 2001;41(1-2):17-28.
  6. www.cancer.gov
  7. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 2010 Sep;65(3):200-9
  8. WebMD. (2014). Lutein and zeaxanthin for vision. Eye Health Center. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/lutein-zeaxanthin-vision
  9. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health James M. Lattimer and Mark D. Haub*
  10. Cancer Res. 2006 Jan 15;66(2):613-21.
  11.  J Neurophysiol. 2004 Apr;91(4):1545-55.