Get crazy healthy with cruciferous vegetables

(Author – Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD)

Be honest – when’s the last time you went a little crazy and had a cruciferous vegetable? If it’s been awhile, it’s never too late to change that – these veggies pack a nutritional and inflammation-fighting one-two punch for your health.

Cruciferous vegetables are a group of vegetables of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae) with many species and cultivars. These nutrient-loaded veggies are excellent sources of various vitamins, minerals, fiber, and disease-fighting phytochemicals, all important components we need daily to improve our health. Some of the nutrients they are highest in include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, iron, and selenium.

Examples of cruciferous vegetables include arugula, Bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, radishes, rutabagas, Swiss chard, turnips and turnip greens, and watercress.

Why some of us may not like cruciferous vegetables

We know vegetables are good for us. But some individuals are not fond of cruciferous vegetables. When cooked, a sulfur-containing phytochemical called glucosinolates are released giving a distinct and even offensive smell and bitter taste. Research has shown that about 25 percent of people possess a taste receptor gene that increases sensitivity to bitter flavors common in cruciferous vegetables. For those with finicky palates, this can be a barrier for them eating the three or more servings of vegetables recommended daily.

What can they do for our health?

Cruciferous veggies are fortunately available year round and can be eaten steamed, raw, sautéed or roasted. Whether serving roasted Brussel sprouts, mixing broccoli and cauliflower with spaghetti for an easy pasta primavera, or mixing greens into a salad, cruciferous vegetables can be easily incorporated into any meal.

These vegetables are well-known for their health-promoting properties. Here are some examples of why cruciferous vegetables are always at the top of lists for fighting various health conditions:

Lowers cancer risk
Want to help reduce your risk of cancer – bring more cruciferous vegetables to your plate. Several studies over the years have shown cruciferous vegetables to be a player in providing protection against cancer. This is due thanks to their unique blend of sulfur rich compounds called glucosinolates, responsible for their distinctive smell when cooked and their somewhat bitter taste. Sulforaphane, a type of isothiocyanate mostly associated with broccoli, is one of the most studied compounds formed from glucosinolates. Both of these compounds have been shown to have the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells in tumors of the breast, uterine lining, lung, colon, liver, and cervix according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Promotes eye health

Cruciferous vegetables are healthy for our eyes. They contain a pigment called carotenoids giving certain produce their range of colors from yellow to reddish orange and are chemical relatives of beta-carotene. Carotenoids can help prevent diseases related to the eye such as glaucoma or macular degeneration.

Enhances the immune system

Cruciferous veggies are loaded with vitamin K and C which helps to regulate the immune system when you are sick or injured. A healthy, well-functioning immune system serves us best to fight off infections or other foreign substances that want to cause us harm.

High in fiber

Consuming 100 calories worth of these veggies will provide about 25-40% of your daily fiber needs. Most of us tend to be low in our fiber intake. When we boost our intake of fiber, this can improve digestion, prevent constipation, aid in weight loss, and prevents hemorrhoids.

Consume raw or cooked? Which is best?

It is recommended that eating cruciferous vegetables in any form as opposed to not eating them at all is advised. However, there is a difference whether cruciferous vegetables are eaten raw or cooked and the availability of certain compounds.

If cruciferous vegetables are consumed raw, the enzymes in them will remain active and are more likely to be absorbed in the upper GI tract, transported to the liver and made available to other tissues in the body.

If consumed cooked, the enzyme activity is nearly nonexistent and the digestive products are more likely to pass through the upper GI tract unabsorbed continuing on into the lower GI tract or colon to be metabolized by bacteria. This has been shown to help reduce the risk for colon cancer.

To increase the enzyme activity to benefit the upper GI tract with cooked vegetables, it is recommended to allow the vegetables to sit for several minutes after chopping prior to cooking.

Maximizing the most from cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous veggies are fortunately available year round and can be eaten steamed, raw, sautéed or roasted. Whether serving roasted Brussel sprouts, mixing broccoli and cauliflower with spaghetti for an easy pasta primavera, or mixing greens into a salad, cruciferous vegetables can be easily incorporated into any meal.

To maximize taste and nutrition, here are some tips for buying and cooking cruciferous vegetables:

• Avoid overcooking. If overcooked, they can produce a strong sulfur odor and become unappealing.
• Experiment with cruciferous vegetables by buying several types of frozen or fresh at your grocery store.
• Add raw broccoli or cauliflower florets or shredded red cabbage to a salad to boost nutrient content big time.
• Add chopped cruciferous veggies to soups, stews, and casseroles.
• Get your creative cooking juices flowing by trying out the following recipes utilizing cruciferous vegetables:

Broccoli and cheese penne recipe
Sweet and sour cabbage soup with dill
Roasted Brussel sprouts
Cauliflower and arugula soup recipe
Roasted rutabaga
Mashed turnips and sage recipe

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