21 October 2014 The Power of Cruciferous

Cruciferous vegetables hold a lofty ranking in the nutrition world. OK, unless you have studied nutrition, or botany, you may be asking, “What on earth is a cruciferous vegetable?” A cruciferous vegetable is a member of the cabbage family that gets its name from the plant’s four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross, or crucifer. Some of the most commonly eaten cruciferous veggies include arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radish, rutabaga and turnip (1).

One reason cruciferous veggies are such nutrition superstars is the sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. The sulfur compounds not only cause the unique pungent aroma, but also may lower cancer risk (2). Both lab and population studies have shown links between cruciferous vegetable intake and protection against colon, prostate, breast, and lung cancer. In the lab, glucosinolates break down into biologically active compounds. Animal and cellular research has studied the potential ways these compounds work. They may help protect cells from DNA damage, may inactivate cancer-causing substances in the cell, may help fight viral and bacterial effects, and may decrease inflammation.

Population studies have shown a correlation between higher intake of cruciferous vegetables and lower cancer risk. As with any population study looking at nutrition, it is difficult to make firm conclusions about food intake and disease risk. People who eat more cruciferous veggies often have other healthy habits going on to lower disease risk.

In any case, there are other reasons for including cruciferous vegetables in your diet. They are loaded with nutrients, including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, E, and K, folic acid, minerals and are excellent fiber sources. In addition to potentially lowering your cancer risk, you may also benefit from the anti-inflammatory substances that can lower heart disease and diabetes. Finally, for the calorie-counters out there, the calories are way low! For example, one cup of steamed broccoli has only 44 calories. Not big on fish? A cup of Brussels sprouts has 260mg of omega-3s, while broccoli has 200 mg. For all these reasons, health agencies advise including several servings of cruciferous vegetables per week (3).

Here are some helpful tips for buying and cooking cruciferous veggies:

  • Select firm, compact heads without soft spots and no “off odor”.
  • Choose fresh leaves that have not yellowed.
  • Wash fresh vegetables just before using.
  • Cook them quickly and try not to overcook for both nutrient retention and to prevent a strong sulfur odor.
  • Many cruciferous veggies, like cauliflower, arugula, turnip, broccoli, and radish, are excellent raw.
  • Kale and arugula make excellent additions to smoothies.
  • If quality fresh veggies are not available, go for frozen.
  • Roasting Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale is one of the tastiest and easiest ways to prepare these veggies. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees, toss the veggies in a bowl with olive oil and garlic powder, and then roast them on a cooking sheet. Remember, try not to overcook. Delicious and nutritious!

References:

  1. National Cancer Institute. Fact Sheet: Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. Avail at www.aicr.org. Accessed 10/6/2014.
  2. Cavell BE et al. Anti-angiogenic Effects of Dietary Isothiocyanates: Mechanisms of Action and Implications for Human Health. Biochemical Pharmacology. 2011. 81(3); 327-336.
  3. National Cancer Institute. Eat a Variety of Fruits & Vegetables Every Day. Avail at http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.gov. Accessed 10/6/2014.

Brenda Braslow, MS, RD, CDE

Brenda is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Denver,

Colorado who specializes in diabetes prevention and health enhancement.

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Foods & Recipes/Fruit & Vegetables Nutrients/Antioxidants

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