The cruciferous vegetables contain compounds that help the body produce enzymes that destroy cancer-causing compounds. These compounds may also protect against some cancers. While they are not a miracle cure for cancer and nothing is a 100% guarantee, adding cruciferous vegetables to our diets on a regular basis does seem to have its benefits.
What are cruciferous vegetables? The term cruciferous comes from a Latin word that refers to a cross or crucifix. This group of vegetables get the name cruciferous because they come from blossoms that resemble a cross or crucifix. These vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, radishes, and turnips.
Cruciferous vegetables are good sources of vitamins C, E, and K; folate; minerals; and fiber. They contain several forms of vitamin A called beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. They are also rich in antioxidants that protect the body from damage by compounds called free radicals. Antioxidants also help repair cells in the body after they have been damaged.
Cruciferous vegetables also contain compounds called phytochemicals that lower your risk of getting cancer. These compounds can produce enzymes that destroy cancer-causing compounds in the body. They can increase the activity of some enzymes that stop the growth of cancer-causing and other foreign compounds.
These compounds have also been seen to delay the onset of cancer and reduce the size and growth of tumors. Many breast cancers are sensitive to the hormone estrogen. This means that estrogen causes the breast cancer tumor to grow. A compound found in cruciferous vegetables produces certain substances that protect against estrogen-related cancers. Cruciferous vegetables are also protective against prostate cancer. Researchers reported that men who ate at least 1 1⁄2 cups of cruciferous vegetables per week reduce their prostate cancer risk by more than 40%. Cruciferous vegetables may also be protective against cervical cancer.
When purchasing cruciferous vegetables, there are certain characteristics you want to look for. When purchasing green cabbage, look for light green compact leaves and a round head. For red cabbage, the leaves should be purple-red and should have a round compact head. Both should feel heavy for their size.
Cauliflower should be firm and compact. If leaves are attached, they should be bright green and crisp. Yellow coloring or spreading florets mean that the cauliflower is overly mature.
Brussels sprouts should be very small heads with dark green compact leaves and a firm texture. Kale should be crisp with a grayish-green color.
Broccoli should be compact with bud clusters on light green stalks. The bud clusters are dark green with a purple tinge. Clusters should not be open showing yellow flowers.
When purchasing red globe radishes, look for red and white radishes that are small, round, or oval shaped. Radishes are usually about one-inch in diameter and are hard and solid. If there are leaves attached, they should be crisp and green. Radishes with a pithy or spongy texture are old.
Cruciferous vegetables should be stored in refrigeration under high humidity away from avocados, cantaloupe, and tomatoes.
Cruciferous vegetables need to be washed thoroughly when being prepared. These vegetables can be consumed raw or cooked. The recommended cooking method for cruciferous vegetables is steaming.
To steam vegetables, place a 1⁄2-inch of water in the bottom of a saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, add vegetables, then cover. Let vegetables steam for approximately five minutes or until preferred tenderness is achieved. Remember, less cooking time means more nutrients remain in the vegetables. Do not overcook as they produce a strong odor and are not as appetizing.
A few suggestions for increasing the amount of cruciferous vegetables you eat each day are:
• Wash and place them in ready to eat pieces in a container in the refrigerator. Serve them for snacks with a low-fat dip or salad dressing.
• Add broccoli and cauliflower to salads or make broccoli slaw or coleslaw.
• Add these vegetables to soups, stews, and casseroles.
• Stir fry a mixture of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Add some grated ginger and garlic for a boost of flavor.
• Use cauliflower instead of potatoes. You can substitute all or some of the potatoes for cauliflower when making mashed potatoes
Don’t forget to add these powerhouse vegetables to your diet and reap the benefits of better health!
Recipes included with today’s column are from the Plate It Up! Kentucky Proud Project.
Broccoli and Beef Stir-fry
1 pound lean beef steak, sliced diagonally across the grain into thin strips
1 tablespoon plus 1⁄2 cup stir-fry sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 medium red onion, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
1 sweet red pepper cut into 1⁄2-inch dice
1 medium yellow squash cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
1 cup fresh cauliflower florets
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Combine 1 tablespoon stir-fry sauce and minced garlic in a bowl. Add the beef strips and let stand for 15 minutes. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large skillet or wok. Add beef and stir fry for one minute. Remove beef from skillet. Heat the remaining canola oil in the skillet or wok. Add vegetables. Stir fry for four minutes or until crisp-tender. Return the beef to the skillet. Add the remaining stir-fry sauce and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes longer, until heated through.
Yield: 8 (1-cup) servings
Nutrition Analysis: 180 calories; 10 g fat; 1.5 g saturated fat; 25 mg cholesterol; 630 mg sodium; 9 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 15 g protein
Brussels Sprouts with Ham
3 cups trimmed, halved, fresh Brussels sprouts (about 1 1⁄2 pounds)
1⁄4 cup chopped lean ham
Vegetable cooking spray
1 tablespoon light butter
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Prepare Brussels sprouts by pulling off any limp outer leaves, and closely trimming the stem end—don’t cut too much off or the Brussels sprout will fall apart. Rinse under cold water before cooking. Cut in half (If using frozen Brussels sprouts, DO NOT cut in half). Steam Brussels sprouts in 1⁄2-inch boiling water for 5 minutes or until sprouts are tender when pierced with a knife. Drain.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat;; add ham and 1⁄2-tablespoon light butter. Cook 3 minutes or until slightly brown, stirring occasionally. Remove from the pan and set aside. Coat the same pan with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts and cook 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Add 1⁄2-tablespoon light butter, salt, and pepper, stirring until butter melts. Remove from heat, drizzle with lemon juice. Add ham and toss to combine.
Yield: 6 (1/2-cup) servings
Nutritional Analysis: 80 calories; 2 g total fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 320 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugars; 5 g protein
2 cups chopped iceberg lettuce
2 cups chopped red cabbage
2 cups chopped green cabbage
1 1⁄2 cups torn fresh spinach
1⁄4 cup canola mayonnaise
1⁄4 cup hummus, original flavor
2 tablespoons local honey
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Combine lettuce, cabbages, and spinach in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, hummus, honey, garlic powder, salt, and pepper until ingredients are combined well. Todd the dressing with vegetables until coated thoroughly. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.
Yield: 8 (1-cup) servings
Nutritional Analysis: 70 calories; 3.5 g total fat; 0 mg cholesterol; 135 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 2 g protein
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Information for this article obtained from a University of Kentucky publication entitled “The Health Benefits of Cruciferous Vegetables” by Ingrid Adams, UK Cooperative Extension Specialist in Nutrition and Food Science.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.