Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

Vegetables from this family are cultivated and eaten around the world and include cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage and Chinese vegetables such as bok choi, gai lohn (Chinese broccoli) and leafy salad greens such as arugula, watercress as well as daikon radish and wasabi. These vegetables are rich in vitamin C as well as soluble fiber and are good sources of phytochemicals (active plant compounds that with many health benefits, including reducing certain forms of cancer).

romanesco cauliflower - Sept 29 2014
Romanesco

Before discussing the health benefits of cruciferous vegetables, what are they? Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables of the family Brassicae. Cruciferae takes its name from that Latin word for “cross-bearing” because the flowers of these plants have four petals resembling a cross. Vegetables from this family are cultivated and eaten around the world and include cauliflowerbroccoli, kale, cabbage and Chinese vegetables such as bok choi, gai lohn (Chinese broccoli) and Gai Choi (Chinese mustard greens). Even mustard seeds (both white and black) which are used widely in South Asian cooking are from this family of vegetables. Leafy salad greens such as arugula (also called rocket) are from the Brassica family, as are watercress and daikon radish and wasabi. These vegetables are rich in vitamin C as well as soluble fiber and are good sources of phytochemicals (active plant compounds that with many health benefits, including reducing certain forms of cancer).

Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are rich in glucosinolates which are converted into compounds that have been found to have anti-cancer properties, especially against breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. Compounds found in cruciferous vegetables have been found to cause an important liver enzyme from the Cytochrome P450 family to be expressed.  This enzyme has an important role in drug metabolism and synthesis of cholesterol. They also contain a few compounds which research indicates may protect the liver against damage.

Taste

Some people find that cruciferous vegetables taste bitter and other don’t. About 70% of people can taste a certain compound called PTC (phenylthiocarbamide) and to them cruciferous vegetables are perceived as bitter.  Cruciferous vegetables don’t actually contain PTC, but people who find that this compound tastes bitter will find cruciferous vegetables do too. Which people taste these vegetables as bitter depends on where one’s ancestors come from The lowest rates of tasting bitter from these vegetables (58%) are found amongst the aboriginals peoples of Australia and New Guinea and the highest rate (98%) amongst the indigenous people of North and South America. One study has found that non-smokers and those that don’t drink tea or coffee have a higher likelihood of tasting PTC than the general population. As well, there are certain cultures, especially Chinese and South Asians are taught to like foods with this slightly bitter taste and who in turn have been found to have lower incidences of colon, breast and prostate cancer as a result of eating many different foods from the Brassicae family.

Contraindications

Cruciferous vegetables contain enzymes that interfere with the formation of thyroid hormone (T3 & T4) in people with iodine deficiency and which can cause an enlargement of the thyroid, i.e. a “goiter”. Cooking cruciferous vegetables for 30 minutes significantly reduces the amount of these goiter-producing compounds. Since our bodies do not make iodine, this important mineral needs to come from the foods we eat. Since it has become popular recently for people to use sea salt instead of table salt (which is “iodized”) many people who don’t get enough iodine from other foods may be at increased risk of thyroid problems. The popularity of “juicing” and drinking smoothies made with cruciferous vegetables such as kale, watercress and arugula as well as using spinach and other greens that contain goiter-producing compounds in these drinks also puts people at added risk of thyroid problems.  

Risks versus Benefits – how to know?

Getting the health benefits of reduced cancer risk and liver-protecting benefits by eating more cruciferous vegetables needs to be balanced with how much, how often and how (raw or cooked). Many popular health trends may sound healthy at first glance, but are they? Why not let our Dietitian help you on the road to better health? For more information, please click on the “Our Services” tab above to learn more about our various packages or click on the “Contact Us” tab to send us a note.

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