Cruciferous Vegetable Night was made famous by the Big Bang Theory character, Sheldon Cooper. These fabulous vegetables are so tremendously healthy. We should be trying to have cruciferous vegetable night every night. Well, at least incorporating them into at least one meal per day, anyways.
Believe it or not, my daughters both fell in love with these vegetables as soon as they were introduced. I never had issues with getting them to eat these lovely veggies.
When my oldest daughter was a toddler, I couldn’t keep fresh broccoli in the house. She was crazy for it. She could eat mounds of broccoli every night. It amazed me. I am sure not many other mothers had the problem of limiting how much broccoli their kids were eating. But I had to. To this day, both my girls love the entire family of crucifers.
What are Cruciferous Vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are from the Brassica family of plants. They include such veggies as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, arugula, watercress, radishes and turnip.
These vegetables are very low in calories, yet are packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are especially good at providing us with Vitamins A, B2, B6, C, and K. They are rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, folic acid, and omega 3 fatty acids. Crucifers are amazingly nutritious.
Crucifers also contain some fantastic phytochemicals that we will talk about below. The most exciting thing about these phytochemicals is that they can help prevent and fight some cancers.
Why are Cruciferous Vegetables So Good For Us?
So, why do all these vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals matter? Well, they do amazing things to keep our bodies running smoothly. Let’s look at just a few of the benefits of eating cruiferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables contain exceptional amounts of beneficial phytochemicals, including antioxidants, that can reduce inflammation in our bodies. These antioxidants help disable and remove toxic compounds, called free radicals, from our bodies so that they can’t damage our cells and tissues. In fact, one study showed that people eating just 100 g of broccoli every day for only one week had significantly lower levels of these compounds.
Inflammation occurs in so many disease states including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Eating crucifers can help reduce the inflammation in these patients to help make them feel better.
Support Blood Clotting
Vitamin K is essential to help our blood clot. In fact, the “K” comes from the German word Koagulation, which is the process of blood clotting. When you get a cut, even as little as a needle poke or a paper cut, Vitamin K activates other clotting factors to stop the bleeding. Without enough vitamin K, we bleed more and with larger injuries, could in fact bleed to death. It is a very important vitamin.
And crucifers supply us with lots of vitamin K. For example, one cup of kale contains ten times our daily vitamin K requirements.
Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, adding a little olive oil or other healthy fat can help us absorb more of this crucial vitamin.
If you take blood thinners for a medical issue, check with your doctor or pharmacist about eating crucifers. The National Institute of Health recommends limiting the amount of these vegetables to no more than a ½ cup per day for patients on blood thinners, such as warfarin or coumadin.
Regulate Blood Sugar
The fiber in these vegetables helps to slow the absorption of sugars. This allows your body time to process these sugars, rather than being overwhelmed by a bombardment of sugar all at once. This helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes.
Another benefit to a slower absorption and metabolism of sugar is that we don’t store it as fat as easily. So the fiber in cruciferous vegetables not only helps with blood sugar and diabetes, it helps with slowing weight gain too.
These vegetables are also very low in calories. A cup of broccoli is only about 35 calories and 45 calories for brussel sprouts. You can eat a lot of these vegetables in an average person’s 2000 calorie day. The bulk of these veggies in your stomach can help make you feel full too, so you don’t eat as much of the higher calorie foods.
Adding more crucifers into our diets is a great method for weight loss.
Healthy for Our Hearts
Numerous studies have shown that these veggies are great at keeping our hearts healthy. We have already talked about reduced inflammation, which includes inflammation of our blood vessels and heart muscle. These veggies are also wonderful at preventing our arteries from clogging, which is the main cause of heart attacks.
Cruciferous vegetables contain another phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol. This wonderful compound can help women produce a less potent form of estrogen and help us balance our hormones. In men, this compound can prevent estrogens from forming when testosterone is broken down . These hormonal benefits in both men and women help moderate the effects of hormonal flux causing such things as depression, low energy, decrease sex drive and hormone-related cancers.
Also, some studies have investigated crucifers as potential aromatase inhibitors, to control estrogens in the treatment of breast and prostate cancers.
Fight Cancer with Cruciferous Vegetables
The role of Brassica plants in cancer prevention and treatments is a hot topic in research. There are so many studies published already. And most seem very promising so far. Although we don’t have clear answers yet, I think the evidence is strong enough to justify adding more of these vegetables into our diet. Let me summarize just some of this research here.
Crucifers breakdown cancer-causing agents that enter our bodies
Sulforaphane and crambene are phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables that can stimulate enzymes in the body to detoxify carcinogens. Thus, crucifers help protect us against the things that cause cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables protect normal cells from DNA damage
Antioxidants in these plants can neutralize free radicals that can damage cell DNA and lead to cancer. In fact, this is so powerful, these veggies can reduce our levels of oxidative stress by as much as 22% in a very short time. So, eating these veggies can protect us from cancer.
These veggies increase the death of cancer cells
I have already talked about Indole-3-carbinol. This compound can balance estrogens, which helps in breast and prostate cancers. But this compound, among others, can also boost and strengthen our immune system to kill cancer cells.
Crucifer compounds stop blood vessels from developing inside tumors
Glucosinolates are sulfur containing compounds that fight cancer. Sulfur is what causes that unique pungent smell if these foods are overcooked. But these smelly compounds are also exciting cancer researchers. These compounds can protect against and help fight cancers such as breast, brain, blood, bone, colon, stomach, liver, lung, mouth, pancreatic, prostate and potentially many others.
These compounds can help kill cancer cells and also stop blood vessels from developing inside tumors. Thus, the cancerous tumors are starved of nutrients and oxygen. Without nutrients, tumors don’t grow and may even shrink.
While cruciferous veggies can help fight cancer, cancer patients still need to follow the advice and treatment plan of their oncologist and cancer care team. These foods can complement other cancer treatments. It is important to discuss nutrition with your doctor.
Is There a Downside to Eating Cruciferous Vegetables?
While these veggies sound so amazing, there are a couple of minor negative side-effects that may be a problem for some people.
Flatulence & Bloating
Because of the amount of fiber in these veggies, flatulence may be a problem. The fiber can ferment in the bowel and cause production of gas. This can be counteracted by cooking to help break down some of the fiber and make the veggies more digestible. Drinking more water after eating these vegetables also helps.
Potential Thyroid Problems
Raw cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens that block the use of iodine in our bodies. This can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland and swollen neck. However, for the normal person, you would need to eat a lot of these vegetables to cause this. It would take approximately 10 cups of raw brussel sprouts in one day to cause this effect, for example. It is usually only a concern in people who are already deficient in iodine. This is rare in countries that use iodine-enriched table salt.
Although uncommon, some people have a hypersensitivity to this family of vegetables. Those that suspect they may be allergic to crucifers should not eat them and talk to their doctor.
Interference with some medications
If you are on medications, especially blood thinners, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist about eating cruciferous vegetables. These plants contain some powerful phytochemicals that can interact with some, not many, drugs.
In general, moderate amounts of crucifers are considered safe to eat.
Cooked vs Raw?
Cruciferous vegetables can be eaten safely both raw and cooked. However, some of them are more delicious when they are cooked, such as collard greens and brussel sprouts.
Cooking can help with digestibility, flatulence and break down the goitrogenic compounds.
Some ways to cook cruciferous vegetables
Broccoli is best steamed for about 5 minutes until it is a beautiful bright green. Roasting broccoli is another delightful way to cook it.
Cauliflower is tasty steamed and roasted. Another great way to cook cauliflower is to “rice” it and toss it into a stir-fry. To make cauliflower rice use a grater or a food processor to chop it into rice-sized bits.
Collard greens can be boiled in a broth or sauteed until tender.
I like my brussel sprouts roasted in the oven, lightly drizzled with garlic butter . But they are also nice steamed.
Here are 10 fabulous recipes to help get you eating more cruciferous vegetables:
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