Diet and Nutrition

What Are Cruciferous Vegetables: Health Benefits and Recipes

What Are Cruciferous Vegetables: Health Benefits and Recipes


Cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli have one thing in common--they all belong to the family of cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables are loaded with so many nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients. These nutrients play very important roles when it comes to fighting diseases.

Phytonutrients are basically plant-based compounds, which help reduce inflammation in the body. They may also prevent the risk of developing cancer. Doctors recommend eating several servings of cruciferous vegetables every week. Cruciferous vegetables are a part of the mustard plant family, which is well-known for its gas-causing properties. However, one cannot deny the benefits that come along with these vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables would include:

  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Bok choy
  • Radish
  • Turnips
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprout
  • Cabbage
  • Arugula        

Sulforaphane is a phytochemical, which is abundantly found in cruciferous vegetables. Sulforaphane is produced when there is a conversion that happens from the enzyme myrosinase to glucoraphanin. This happens through a chemical reaction, which is brought by damage caused to the plant such as chewing or cutting the plant. Cruciferous vegetables are considered to be nature's powerhouse of nutrients since they are loaded with rich amounts of glucoraphanin.

Cruciferous vegetables also contain glucosinolates, which are the chemicals responsible for the aroma and flavor of plants. This chemical is also known to contain anticancer agents. An adult woman should consume 2-3 cups of vegetables in a day, while men should have 3 cups to reap healthy benefits.

What are cruciferous vegetables?

Let’s have a look at certain cruciferous vegetables along with their benefits:

1. Kale

Kale is a leafy green vegetable loaded with vitamins K, C, and A. It also contains beta-carotene, which boosts the health of the immune system, as well as calcium, which is very important for strong bones. Kale is widely known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer properties, thereby making it a good deal for a healthy body.

Kale can be washed thoroughly and eaten raw. Since kale looks sturdy, it is less included in salads. Instead, you can cook it in olive oil with some vinegar and sauté it for some time until it becomes soft. You can also pair kale with a handful of nuts since they are known to contain healthy fats (monounsaturated fats) and is good for lowering bad cholesterol levels in the body.

You can slice kale into long shreds and sauté using some olive oil along with salt, garlic, and nuts.

2. Brussels Sprout

Brussels sprouts are known to be a rich source of folate or folic acid. They help increase the amount of fiber in the body along with containing vitamins A and C. One of the healthy benefits of Brussel sprouts is that it is loaded with lutein, which is one of the essential nutrients for maintaining healthy eyes.

Do not overcook Brussels sprouts to avoid the release of a sulfur smell. The sprouts can be added to salads by breaking them heads up and ripping down their leaves.

3. Cauliflower

One of the commonly consumed vegetables is the cauliflower, which is also known to fight against cancer. It is recommended as a good source of fiber along with vitamin C and folate or folic acid. Folate is vital for an unborn child to prevent neural tube defects while in the womb.

For a different flavor, cauliflower can be sautéed with garlic, some minced ginger, and soy sauce. You can also cook cauliflower along with potatoes. In some cases, they can also be used in salads, wherein they can be slightly microwaved. Once done, drizzle some salad dressing on it or some feta cheese. 

4. Bok Choy

This cruciferous vegetable is a good source of calcium, folate, and vitamins A and C. It is also a cancer-fighting vegetable. When buying bok choy, always go in for the tender or younger ones since they are much tastier to be consumed in their raw form.

Bok choy can be diced or chopped and then steamed. Steamed bok choy can also be added to soups or stir-fry recipes. It is also a great salad option.

5. Cabbage

Cabbage is a thick, sturdy leafed vegetable. Incorporating cabbage into one's diet is known to provide a lot of benefits since it contains vitamins C and K. It can also be stored, especially during certain seasons when there are less green vegetables available in the market.

The most common way of consuming cabbage is by slicing it and having it as part of a salad. Instead of topping the salad with mayonnaise, you can use a low-sugar or low-fat alternative such as tahini. Cabbage can also be lightly steamed and then shredded before adding into a burrito bowl.

6. Arugula

Arugula tastes like pepper and is loaded with vitamin C and potassium, which is the main mineral that helps in the smooth functioning of the kidneys. Arugula is also considered as a good source of calcium, vitamin A, and folate. Thus, it helps keep the bones grow stronger while maintaining a sharp vision.

You can use arugula to prepare a salad pizza by mixing in some arugula along with onions, tomatoes, and red pepper. It can be tossed into the oil with vinegar and top it on the pizza crust along with some pizza sauce. This would make a good combination of healthy food and good taste.

7. Turnips

Turnips have plenty of nutrients, which include vitamins A, K, and C. It is also loaded with folate and fiber. It can be described as a purple and white root vegetable.

You can boil and mash turnips and then add some potatoes or apples to it. Turnips can also be diced or chopped and then added to other vegetables for a stir-fry.

Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

1. Lower Risk of Cancer

It has been said that one of the main reasons to consume cruciferous vegetables is to reduce the risk of developing cancer. Researchers have found a link between the intake of cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer.

There are various components present in cruciferous vegetables, which are known to lower the risk of cancerous tumors. They have shown the ability to stop the growth of cancer-causing cells in various parts of the body such as the lungs, breast, colon, liver, and cervix.

According to research, it has been observed that individuals who have a rich diet of cruciferous vegetables have a lower risk of prostate cancer. Cruciferous vegetables contain phytochemicals such as sulforaphane. This phytochemical helps to stimulate the enzymes in the body leading to the detoxification of carcinogens before they harm any cells.

In a different mechanism, there are two other compounds that are also found in cruciferous vegetables. They are indole-3-carbinol and crambene. These two compounds also have the potential to activate the detoxification of enzymes.

Sulforaphane is commonly referred to as an anticancer agent or compound. This is due to the fact that it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that are quite similar to turmeric. Sulforaphane has been researched for the prevention and treatment of various types of cancer such as cancer of the breast, prostate, lungs, stomach, colon, and bladder.

2. Reduce Oxidative Stress

Cruciferous vegetables are also known to reduce oxidative stress in the body, thereby leading to the prevention of cancer cells. Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance of free radical production and the body's ability to detoxify their damaging effects through antioxidant neutralization. 

Cruciferous vegetables may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer such as cancer of the prostate, colon, lungs, and breast. To get maximum health benefits, the vegetables should be eaten raw, so that the phytochemicals present in these vegetables are retained.

3. Promote Heart Health 

A diet rich in omega-3s and vegetables such as cruciferous vegetables is known to protect the body against heart diseases. In one study, it was seen that a diet with low cruciferous vegetables but high in sugar or refined products led to an increase in chronic inflammation and a rise in blood sugar levels leading to type II diabetes.

4. Fight Depression

Cruciferous vegetables along with sulforaphane have a significant impact when it comes to depression and other mental health problems. However, current testing has only been carried out on animals.

Inflammation has always been connected with a number of diseases including depression. In one of the studies, it was found that broccoli sprouts are great for minimizing or preventing an inflammation relapse. Similarly, extracts of broccoli sprouts were found to be so effective that they acted as a prophylactic. This prophylactic effect helps prevent depression and anxiety. There is more research being conducted on the phytochemical content of these vegetables and their link to depression.

5. Anti-Inflammatory Food

Inflammation in the body has been identified as one of the culprits of most chronic and autoimmune conditions in humans. In one of the research studies, it was identified that treatment with sulforaphane effectively helps in restoring the status of antioxidants, thereby preventing inflammation in the body.

How to enjoy cruciferous vegetables?

For some people, it would be quite difficult to stand the sight of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, or kale. However, these vegetables are really good for the overall health. They can also be made enjoyable to eat as well. Below are certain tips you can use when it comes to purchasing or cooking cruciferous vegetables:

  • Cruciferous vegetables should not be overcooked since they can release of a strong sulfur smell, which would spoil the taste.
  • Choose fresh cruciferous vegetables instead of frozen ones. 
  • When preparing soups, casseroles, or stews, add some chopped cruciferous vegetables for added nutrients.
  • Include at least one cruciferous vegetable as part of your daily diet.
  • When purchasing cruciferous vegetables, ensure that you look for firm florets in a broccoli. The florets should be firm with a dark, purple, or green hue on top of it. The reason is that they are richer in vitamin C and beta-carotene than those florets that have a lighter green hue on top.