If you’re not new around The Lyons’ Share, you know I’m a proponent of eating more vegetables. And you may even know that, for most people, I’d favor broccoli or leafy greens over corn and potatoes (although the latter are not “bad” and I, too, eat both here and there, but they’re not the bulk of my veggie consumption!). But why are some vegetables healthier than others? It all comes down to the different types and concentrations of various nutrients contained in different classes of vegetables. Today, I’m going to break down some of the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables, in hopes of inspiring you to load up your plate with them!
What are cruciferous vegetables? And why are cruciferous vegetables healthy?
There are several, but the most common are:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
- Daikon radish
- Mustard greens
These are all members of the Brassica family of vegetables, and they’re known for their rich content of flavonoids, fiber, carotenoids, phytonutrients, and minerals. Each one has a slightly different nutrient profile, but in general, they have high levels of folate, iron, manganese, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
The biggest nutritional benefit of cruciferous vegetables, though, is that they have high levels of glucosinolates, which are the components that give cruciferous vegetables their slightly bitter taste and pungent aroma. These glucosinolates protect our cells from DNA damage, inactivate carcinogens, and have antibacterial and antiviral effects!
One of the most important glucosinolates is glucoraphanin, which is contained in cruciferous vegetables. But what’s really cool about nature is that another component, an enzyme called myrosinase, is also contained in cruciferous vegetables, but it’s kept separate from the glucoraphanin. When those two mix, they create a “magical” component called sulforaphane, which is what we’ll be discussing mostly today. Why wouldn’t nature have just put sulforaphane in the vegetables instead of keeping the glucoraphanin and myrosinase separate? Because sulforaphane is very unstable and doesn’t last very long, so we need to absorb the benefits almost as soon as it is created. When we chew cruciferous vegetables, though, we mix the glucoraphanin and myrosinase, which creates the “magical” sulforaphane just in time for us to absorb it! Pretty incredible, right?
What are the specific health benefits of cruciferous vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are most frequently studied in relation to cancer (some review studies included here and here). They have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth, block new blood vessel formation in tumors, and contribute to cancer cell death, thanks in large part to the sulforaphane mentioned above. Many studies show that, even in those who already have cancer, intake of cruciferous vegetables leads to better survival, like this one for bladder cancer and this one for lung cancer. There was even a study showing that high sulforaphane intake stopped growth of cancer cells in one of the most aggressive cancers, glioblastoma. Other cancers that have been studied to show better outcomes for those who intake cruciferous vegetables include prostate cancer, breast cancer, and other estrogen-based cancers, because a component in cruciferous vegetables called DIM helps shift estrogen metabolism to a healthier format.
Cruciferous vegetables are also anti-inflammatory, and inflammation is at the root of almost every chronic condition, from neurodegenerative diseases to metabolic syndrome to arthritis to heart disease and so much more. If you want to reduce inflammation (and you should!), cruciferous vegetables are the way to go. One study showed up to 25% decrease in inflammation in those women who ate the most cruciferous vegetables!
There are so many other health benefits of cruciferous vegetables, but here are just a few:
- Brain health and memory: A Brigham and Women’s Hospital study showed that those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables, and leafy greens in particular, had the lowest rate of cognitive decline
- Digestion: The high fiber content is great for the diversity of your microbiome (a good thing!) and can contribute to better gut health (which is linked to better mood, immunity, long-term health, and more!). They can keep you more regular, too.
- Blood sugar: Sulforaphane and fiber, both included in cruciferous vegetables, have separate helpful impacts on your blood sugar balance, whether you have type 2 diabetes or not.
- Heart health: This study showed that people who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had a 31% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease vs those who ate the least, as well as a 22% lower risk of dying from all causes.
How to eat more cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables may not be the most natural flavor for people who are newer to veggies, but I assure you that you’ll get used to it! And if you experiment with some of the recipes listed below, I know you’ll find something you enjoy!
Here are some of the ways I’ve enjoyed cruciferous vegetables recently:
- I get broccoli and cauliflower in regularly when I make this breakfast casserole!
- Frozen riced cauliflower is amazing in smoothies! It makes them creamy and delicious, without tasting at all like cauliflower! You can see my most frequent recipe here.
- I love kale in this tasty Rosemary Breakfast Hash!
- I adore the crunch of cabbage salads, and make them often! Here’s one version.
- This “hidden veggie” tuna salad has sneaky broccoli rice in it! And, I served it with cauliflower on the side!
- Simple roasted broccoli and cauliflower are always a favorite!
- Arugula isn’t always my first choice, so when I put it in a salad, I’m sure to include some fun toppings! Last week, I made this air-fried paleo chicken tender with green bean fries and roasted potato salad!
(By the way, we exchange recipes and healthy food ideas in my Revitalize Health Accelerator all the time! I’d love to have you as a member – click here to schedule a free chat with me!)
Who should not eat more cruciferous vegetables?
Before you dive on in and have 12 servings of cruciferous vegetables per day in order to live forever, let’s talk about some of the down sides. First, if your digestive system isn’t yet trained to handle a lot of fiber, they’ll likely cause you a lot of gas and bloating. In this case, you either haven’t been eating vegetables for very long (in which case, ease your way in, be sure to chew well, and start with a serving or so per day!), or you may lack digestive enzyme capacity or potentially have a bacterial imbalance like SIBO, which we could confirm via testing in working together.
If you are on warfarin, Coumadin, or another blood thinner, you’ll want to talk to your doctor and adjust dosages before including high amounts of cruciferous vegetables.
One more caution is that if you have an imbalanced thyroid, too many raw cruciferous vegetables can be goitrogenic, which means they can disrupt thyroid hormone production. An easy way to get around this is to cook them (who likes raw Brussels sprouts anyway?), but if you do have known thyroid issues, I would recommend moderating intake of raw cruciferous vegetables.
Now it’s your turn! Did you know all of these benefits of cruciferous vegetables? Which one will you eat more of today?
Want more? In my Revitalize Health Accelerator, I walk you through every step of what it takes to be a well-rounded healthy person. The information, motivation, and accountability in this program is simply unmatched! You’ll learn everything from inflammation to emotional eating, from supplements to sleep quality, from macronutrient balance to meal planning – I’ll walk you through my proven system to teach you how to implement it. If you’re curious, set up a free call with me here to discuss!