Did you know that plants are packed full of natural chemicals that are brilliant at protecting us from diseases such as cancer?
This week I’m taking a look at one of the superstar group of vegetables that are packed full of these natural plant chemicals/phytochemicals: Cruciferous vegetables.
So what are they, why are they good for us, how should we cook them and how many servings should we eat each day? And if you think they’re too bitter for you, I’ve got a solution for that!
Read on to find out how powerful they are at fighting disease and why you should eat them every day.
What are they?
They’re part of the Brassicaceae family of vegetables and originally got their name because of the cross -shaped flowers that they produce just before they go to seed.
This group of veg are unique in that you can eat their flowers, leaves, stems, stalks, roots and seeds to benefit from their awe inspiring goodness.
Here are 19 power packed cruciferous vegetables for you to enjoy.
- Bok choy – also known as Chinese cabbage and is used a lot in oriental cooking – great with ginger and garlic
- Broccoli – you can eat the flower and the stalk. comes from the Italian plural of broccolo, which means “the flowering crest of a cabbage”,
- Brussels sprouts – a favourite for some at Christmas time, hated by others. It makes a great soup!
- Cabbage – a squeeze of fresh lemon is all that’s needed
- Cauliflower – great with a white sauce
- Collard greens – packs a huge amount of Vitamin K
- Horseradish – we eat its root, however once it’s exposed to air or heat it’ll begin to lose its pungency, darken in color, and become unpleasantly bitter tasting over time
- Kale – great in soups, stews and smoothies
- Kohirabi – also known as German turnip or turnip cabbage. It’s used extensively in Indian cooking
- Maca – currently one of the trendy foods to eat. Those in the know have been eating it for years!
- Mustard greens – all the goodness concentrated into just the leaf
- Mustard seeds including black and white – they’re packed full of concentrated goodness and are great in my veggie chilli!
- Mizuna – a great salad leaf with a mild mustard flavour
- Radishes – a fantastic root to eat raw and in salads
- Rocket – also known as arugula with a strong peppery flavour
- Rutabaga/turnip – great with plant based haggis
- Turnip greens turnip tops – can be quite bitter for some people
- Watercress – has more calcium than milk!
- Wasabi – also known as Japanese horseradish. It’s great with veggie sushi but is very strong. It’s great at clearing your nose!
4 Enormous Reasons Why Cruciferous Vegetables Are So Good For Us
- As a group of vegetables, very few other single food groups can compare to the nutrient punch that cruciferous vegetables pack. They’re bursting with vitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folic acid, fibre, phosphorous and potassium and they also contain many B complex vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6 as well as vitamins E and K. Vitamin K helps to regulate our inflammatory response, including chronic, excessive inflammatory responses.
- But that’s not all. They’ve got good fats such as (ALA). Just 100 calories of cruciferous vegetables gives us between 1/3 and ½ of a gram of omega-3, primarily in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). This serves as the building block for all other forms of omega-3 fats in our bodies. You’ll get more ALA in just 100 calories of cabbage than you’ll get in 100 calories of salmon! Who would’ve thought that?
- And surprise, surprise, PROTEIN! You can get over 25% of the protein you need each day from just 3 cups of these superstar vegetables.
- In addition to these more conventional nutrients found in cruciferous vegetables, research has also shown that they’re also packed with glucosinolates, which have the potential to prevent cancer.
Nerdy bit coming up, there’s no need to read this bit if you just want to know why they’re good for you rather then the chemistry behind them. Skip to the bullets below.
… molecules formed from enzymatic activity on glucosinolates are called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are formed after glucosinolates have been acted upon by myrosinase enzymes.
Research has shown that people who eat generous amounts of cruciferous vegetables have remarkably low cancer rates.
Here are four ways that the compounds within the vegetables can help you:
- Sulforphane in cruciferous veg helps your liver to get rid of toxic chemicals and excrete carcinogenic compounds. This happens within 48 hours of eating it!
- It’s also anti-inflammatory and can be effective at inhibiting the growth of Helicobacter-pylori, a common bacteria found in your stomach
- Phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to stop the growth of cancer cells
- Cruciferous vegetables affect the hormones that influence the development of hormone dependent cancers such as breast cancer. They actually change the way estrogens are broken down and eliminated by changing it from a hormone that encourages the growth of cancer cells to a hormone that has anticancer actions! What natural marvels!
Will cooking cruciferous vegetables affect the amount of phytochemicals in them?
Cooking them will reduce the amount of phytochemicals in them, but it will not remove them completely. Cooking them until they’re soft will also make them easier for you to digest as they can sometimes be difficult for some people to digest when they’re eaten raw.
You should always try to chop the raw cruciferous veg and let it sit for several minutes before you cook it. This increases the availability of myrosinase enzymes (they convert glucosinolates into anti-cancer compounds) to get to work before they’re deactivated by the cooking heat. These enzymes in turn are more readily absorbed by our upper digestive tract, then transported to our liver and then made available to other tissues in our body than might benefit from them.
You can also add half teaspoon of mustard powder to the pot as this helps to activate the myrosinase.
How to cook cruciferous vegetables
If you’re going to cook your cruciferous veg, steam them rather than microwave or boil them. The easiest way to do this is to add ½ inch of water to a pot, put the veg in, cover the pot and leave to steam on a high heat until cooked. Different parts of the vegetable will take different times to cook, (the root will take longer to cook than the leaves for instance) so check now and then to see how they’re doing adding more hot water if necessary. To check that they’re cooked, just make sure that your fork can slide straight into them easily.
How many should I be eating each day?
Try to get at least seven servings of fruit and veg each day. I’d have at least one to two servings of cruciferous veg in addition to your rainbow of other veg each day. Over a week aim for at least four to five servings .
A serving of cooked veg is about half a cup or 125ml or one cup/250ml raw.
But they’re just too bitter for me…
If you’re one of the many or few people who find cruciferous vegetables bitter, try adding them to a curry, stir fry or soup as this will help to disguise the taste for you, but you’ll still be able to benefit from all their goodness.
So if you don’t eat cruciferous veg, I urge you to think again. For disease prevention they’re brilliant. Your body will thank you for it!
 Murillo G, Mehta RG (2001). “Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention”. Nutr Cancer
 Kensler TW,Chen JG, Egner PA. et al. Effects of glucosinolate ricj broccoli sprouts on urinary levels of aflatoxin-DNA adducts and phenanthrene tetraols in a randomized clinical trial in He Zuo township, Qidong, People’s Republic of China. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 Nov;
 Murillo G, Mehta RG (2001). “Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention”. Nutr Cancer
 Bell MC, Crowley-Nowick P, BradlowHL, et l. Placebo-controlledtrial of indole-3-carbinal in the treatment of CIN. Gynecol Oncol. 2000;
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