A healthy, balanced diet is a huge component in maintaining wellness. Everyone recognizes the importance of consuming an abundance of fruits and veggies in a healthy diet. But, there are some veggies that may pack a more nutritional punch. Recent research has recognized cruciferous vegetables for their profound nutritional benefits.
What is a Cruciferous Vegetable?
Cruciferous vegetables are those that are derived from the cabbage family. These vegetables are known for possessing a host of healthy vitamins, nutrients and minerals. These nutrients serve as protective factors against a number of chronic disease, cancer being one of them. They are also known for their sulfur containing minerals, which are at fault for the odor that is produced by cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. These vegetables are most beneficial when they are chopped well and chewed well because their nutrients are most effective when broken down well.
What Vegetables Fall Into This Category?
The vegetables that belong to the cruciferous family include the following; arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radish, red cabbage, turnips, and water cress.
Cruciferous Vegetables and General Nutrition
Cruciferous vegetables are high in fiber as well as nutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins C, E, and K as well as folate and other minerals. These veggies are known for a host of positive health effects.
Cruciferous vegetables have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects because they are able to decrease the secretion of inflammatory molecules. Anti-inflammatory effects are beneficial in treating multiple diseases including cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate that individuals who consume a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables have lower inflammation markers (Jiang, Yu et al., Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Volume 114, Issue 5, 700-708.e2).
These vegetables are known decrease oxidative stress by reducing harmful molecules called oxygen-free radicals. They also contain beta-carotene which is a nutrient that is converted to vitamin A. Beta-carotene (in dietary amounts, not from supplements) promotes tissue growth and repair. Cruciferous veggies are a great source of vitamin C and folic acid which represent other essential nutrients to the body.
Not only are cruciferous vegetables nutrient superfoods, they are low in calories and high in fiber. This means that you can eat a lot of them for few calories, and the fiber component will keep you full. This can promote the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer
Recent research indicates a connection between the consumption of cruciferous vegetables and the prevention of cancer. Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates which are the chemicals that provide the vegetables with their famous sulfuric smell and sometimes bitter flavor.
While we may think these glucosinolates are bad (because they cause the stink in the cauliflower), when they are broken down during digestion, they produce some pretty powerful health benefits. When broken down, glucosinolates become the compounds indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates. Research in rats and mice have found that these indoles and isothiocyanates can slow or prevent the development of cancer in specific organs including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach. The animal research has suggested that these compounds may be able to do the following: inactivate carcinogens, protect the cells from DNA damage, host antiviral and antibacterial properties, work as anti-inflammatories, as well as prevent tumor cell migration.
The studies of the effects of cruciferous vegetable consumption on cancer in humans are not as definitive as the studies completed on animals. The studies on prostate cancer found that men who consumed great amounts of cruciferous vegetables had lower risks of prostate cancer. The same holds true for colorectal cancer. A study completed in the Netherlands found that women with high intakes of cruciferous vegetables had lower risks of colon cancer.
The studies on lung cancer completed in Europe, the Netherlands, and the US offer varied results. However, one US study revealed that women consuming more than 5 servings of cruciferous vegetables weekly held lower lung cancer risks. The breast cancer studies also revealed conflicting results with some studies showing no correlation between consumption of cruciferous vegetables, a weak correlation, or a positive correlation. One case-control study revealed that women consuming greater amounts of cruciferous vegetables had lower risks of breast cancer.
Despite the varying study results, nearly every study found some correlation between the consumption of cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. While the research cannot guarantee that consumption of cruciferous vegetables will prevent cancer or slow the progression of cancer, there is a definite, positive correlation between these vegetables and cancer in many organs.
Cruciferous vegetables offer tons of health benefits from necessary vitamins and nutrients, to anti-inflammatory properties and the prevention of cancer. These veggies are certainly a nutritional superfood. While the studies on the consumption of these veggies and cancer are varied, much research has found a positive correlation between the two. Cruciferous vegetables pack a huge nutritional punch and can provide a host of healthful benefits to your body.