By Rebekah Facteau
Rebekah Facteau is my virtual intern. She is a senior dietetic student from New York and will be writing blog posts on a regular basis. You can read more about Rebekah on her blog post about miso.
It’s not exactly the story of the year, but it’s worth repeating; Vegetables are good for you! We hear this so often that some of us may have begun to take their powers for granted. (Sigh…carrots, again?) Before you roll your eyes at another, “Eat Your Vegetables,” agenda, there are a few things to consider about the world of cruciferous vegetables. Cruciferous plants are a part of the botanical family Brassicaceae. They have a flower with four petals arranged like a cross and a fruit called a siliqua. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a physician and nutritional researcher, specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. Dr. Fuhrman calls cruciferous vegetables the most powerful anticancer foods we have. In population studies, a 20% increase in cruciferous vegetable intake corresponded to a 40% decrease in cancer rates.
What makes this group of vegetables so special is the presence of glucosinolates. During mechanical breakdown of cell walls, through chopping or chewing, glucosinolates convert to isothiocyanates, compounds proven to perform anti-cancer activities in the body. Isothiocyanates, like sulforaphane and cambrene, work to remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells, and prevent tumors from growing. The International Journal of Urology published a meta-analysis in February 2012 regarding cruciferous vegetable consumption and prostate cancer. An increase in consumption was associated with a significantly lower risk for prostate cancer.
So What’s In Them?
Cruciferous vegetables also contain significant amounts of several vitamins. Vitamin C content is particularly high in cauliflower and cabbage. This vitamin works as an antioxidant, protecting your cells from free-radical damage. The Nurses’ Health Study conducted at Harvard Medical School since 1976 has had more than 238,000 participants. It’s the largest and longest running study examining factors that influence women’s health. Within this study, researchers have found that premenopausal women with a family history of breast cancer who had an average consumption of 205 milligrams of vitamin C per day from foods had a 63% lower risk of breast cancer than those who consumed an average of 70 milligrams per day. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommendation for healthy adults is 90 milligrams for men and 75 milligrams for women.
Kale is a major source of both vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and vitamin K. Vitamin A is important for healthy skin, teeth, eyes and reproductive health. Like vitamin C, beta-carotene is also an important antioxidant.
Vitamin K, on the other hand, usually known for its blood clotting properties, is now undergoing research at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, for the effects it might have on bone health. Researchers have discovered that vitamin K activates at least three proteins involved in bone health. They also propose that the current RDA may not be sufficient for maximizing vitamin K’s function in bones. Having a second serving of kale might be useful or perhaps making a salad with watercress or arugula will do the trick.
What Else Can They Do?
Other members of the cruciferous family include radishes, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and collard greens. All of these (and the others mentioned above) are good sources of fiber. Fiber is fermented in the gut, and is a nutrient source for our microflora, important bacteria residing in the GI tract. These healthy and active bacteria can serve as a detoxifying agent in the colon. Microflora can help protect you from excessive exposure to toxins from the diet, reducing the risk of colorectal, and possibly other, cancers.
The UCLA Medical Center in California performed a study on the effects of broccoli consumption in men and women aged 50 to 74 years old. Those who ate broccoli regularly were 50% less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who did not eat any.
Phytochemicals, vitamins, and fiber are only the tip of the health benefit iceberg when it comes to cruciferous veggies. If those three factors aren’t enough to convince you to up your intake, then maybe their delicious flavors and versatility will be. Chapter 6 of Jill’s latest cookbook The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes provides many options to get your daily servings of cruciferous vegetables. With only four ingredients, and 1 minute of cook time, Big Thyme Broccoli is one of my favorites!
Big Thyme Broccoli
The fresher the broccoli, the more simply delicious this is. I love the tiny broccoli side shoots rather than the big heads of broccoli. If you can only get the large florets, you might need to add another minute cooking.
1 minute high pressure; quick release
3 cups broccoli, cut into florets, stems chopped
2 to 4 tablespoons water or vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 to 10 thyme sprigs
Put the broccoli, liquid and salt into the pressure cooker over high heat. Add the thyme sprigs and lock on the lid. Bring to high pressure for 1 minute. Quick release the pressure, remove thyme sprigs and serve hot.
For a look at something interesting about cruciferous vegetables and moderation, check out this video by Dr. Michael Greger