by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator
This article was originally published in February 2013
We all know that adequate consumption (about 5 cups each day) of fruits and vegetables keep us healthy and reduces our risk for chronic diseases. But did you know that some vegetables can provide greater benefits than others for specific health conditions? Eating cruciferous vegetables every other day, for example, significantly reduces your risk for several different forms of cancer. All cruciferous veggies (also known as brassicas) have a slightly peppery taste, the result of a sulfur-containing phytonutrient found only in this vegetable family. This pungent nutrient (called glucosinolate) lends them a unique taste, as well as very powerful health benefits.
To maximize your benefits from eating broccoli, cabbage, turnips and the like, let crucifers “aerate” on your cutting board (or in a bowl) for five minutes after chopping and before cooking. This allows an enzyme in the vegetable to convert those glucosinolates into other compounds (isothiocyanates/indoles), and it is this second compound that enhances our bodies’ natural detoxification systems and offers us the greatest cancer protection. Light steaming (five minutes) does not damage these powerful nutrients, but using a microwave or overcooking will result in lower amounts in your food.
We all want to get the most for our money, right? Eating crucifers offers you the most cancer prevention that you can get from a vegetable, so get the most bang for your buck by making cruciferous veggies a regular part of your diet. A good starter goal is to eat a cup of crucifers every other day (3 cups/week) and then slowly increase either your portion sizes or frequency of consumption.
Of course, all of these vegetables also contain other important nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, folate, calcium, fiber and more, so they will offer many additional health benefits as well — but they definitely deserve extra attention as cancer fighters!
15 cruciferous vegetables to try
Roots — rutabagas, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi, wasabi, horseradish
Leaves — cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, arugula, mustard greens, watercress
Stems — cauliflower, bok choy