Vegetables are a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but there’s a class of veggies that stands apart from the rest because of their exceptional health benefits. If you’ve ever bitten into a broccoli spear or enjoyed a bowl of kale, you’ve experienced their goodness. This class of veggies called cruciferous vegetables encompasses more than just kale and broccoli. There is a rich array of other vegetables that fall into the cruciferous family. What makes them so special?
The Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables not only contain the typical antioxidants you find in most vegetables, but they also have other powerful cancer-fighting chemicals that guard cells against damage that can lead to malignancy. Cruciferous veggies contain sulfur compounds called glucosinolates. When you bite into a broccoli spear or other cruciferous vegetable, these glucosinolates are converted to powerful anti-cancer compounds called sulforaphanes and indoles. Sulforaphanes are natural detoxifiers that work by turning on enzymes in the liver that break down toxins and other chemicals that could lead to cancer. Indoles also have the benefit of converting estrogen in the body to a less toxic form. This may reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer.
Studies show that the natural chemicals in cruciferous vegetables may ward off a variety of cancers including cancer of the colon, breast, liver, cervix, bladder, uterus and breast. They may even help smokers keep lung cancer at bay. One study showed that smokers who ate 4.5 or more servings of cruciferous vegetables a month reduced their risk of lung cancer by 22 to 50%.
Cruciferous Vegetables Are Heart-Healthy Too
Research also shows that adding more cruciferous vegetables to your diet keeps your heart healthy. One large study involving almost 135,000 Chinese adults found that those who ate the most cruciferous veggies significantly reduced their risk of dying from a heart-related cause. Those who ate the most even had lower overall mortality. Bring on the broccoli and Brussels sprouts! When you eat cruciferous vegetables, you also get the benefits of the heart-healthy fiber. Plus, veggies are low in calories, so they’re waistline friendly.
What Are Your Options?
Look beyond broccoli, and bite into these other cruciferous vegetables – watercress, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, kale, bok choy, turnips, broccoli rabe, arugula, radishes, daikon, and wasabi. You have lots of choices with this family of vegetables.
For maximal health benefits, lightly steam them or eat them raw to preserve their natural vitamins and cancer-fighting compounds. If you don’t have time to prepare fresh vegetables, choose frozen ones instead. They’re usually frozen at their peak of freshness and have similar health benefits to fresh ones according to the Food and Drug Administration. Add them to soups, stews, salads or enjoy them in place of a starchy side-dish. You’ll save calories, and get added nutritional benefits. Cruciferous vegetables – what’s not to love about them?
Medscape.com. “Cruciferous Vegetables Reduce Lung Cancer Risk in Smokers”
WebMD. “The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables”
Am J Clin Nutr July 2011 vol. 94 no. 1 240-246.