The Power of Cruciferous Vegetables
There is an abundant amount of research to support the role vegetables play in reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases, which include heart disease and cancer. Vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and certain phytochemicals that help the body fight chronic inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduce blood cholesterol levels, and aid in blood sugar control. Getting an adequate amount of vegetable servings per day is wonderful for your health, and research suggests that the cruciferous vegetable group has unique compounds that are especially good for you. I like cruciferous options because they are alkaline vegetables that are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
One goal that I set with my clients all the time is to add more crucifers to their diet. Let’s talk about what they are, where to find them, and how they could help with your health.
What are crucifers?
So, what are cruciferous vegetables? Cruciferous vegetables come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, but all share some common elements. They all have some degree of a bitter flavor due to compounds called glucosinolates which have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and potentially cancer. They also all have a high nutrient content which we will discuss more below. Each crucifer is unique, but they all provide a nutritional punch in every bite.
Here are a few vegetables that fit into the cruciferous family:
- Bok choy
- Brussel sprouts
Benefits of cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables contain a powerhouse of nutrients.They provide important nutrients such as folate, vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Phytonutrients (aka antioxidants) are also found in these vegetables. Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants that can help lower inflammation, reducing your chronic disease risk.
Another huge benefit from these vegetables is the fact that they can help with better glycemic control. Glycemic control simply means keeping your blood sugars (aka glucose) steady without major spikes or dips throughout the day. Certain simple carbohydrate foods like sugar or white bread can cause sugars to spike. Due to the high fiber content of cruciferous vegetables, they induce a much slower release of glucose into the bloodstream and can help to reduce blood sugar spikes.
Ideal intake of cruciferous vegetables
Adults should eat 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of these cruciferous vegetables each week to reap the most nutritional benefits. Need some ideas of how to incorporate these into your diet? I’ve got you covered. First off, my book “Anti-inflammatory Meal Prep” is packed with meal planning strategies and cruciferous recipes. Second, there are so many recipes up on the blog. Check out my recipes on Roasted Broccoli with Rosemary, Easy Vegetarian Cauliflower Fried Rice, and Garlic Chili Oven Roasted Brussel Sprouts.
Chronic disease prevention
Crucifers and other alkaline vegetables can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds known as glucosinolates. This is what gives cruciferous vegetables their signature flavor profile (bitter) and aroma (sulfurous). Glucosinolates when broken down during cooking, or by the body, produce essential compounds known as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates that have been researched for their role in cancer prevention. Developing research suggests crucifers even have potential cardiometabolic effects, such as improved blood glucose levels and decreased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk.
The Power of Alkaline Vegetables
There’s a theory out there about acid vs alkaline diets, especially as they relate to cancer treatment. Though this is not an evidence-based practice that I follow or teach to my clients, I think that there are some aspects of the alkaline diet and eating alkaline vegetables that could be beneficial if this theory speaks to you.
Traditional “alkaline” foods include:
- Fruits: avocado, citrus, dates, figs, mangoes
- Legumes: buckwheat, lentils, soy
- Nuts: almonds and brazil nuts
- Vegetables: broccoli, radish, spinach, turnips
While you can’t change the pH balance of the body through eating foods, it’s still beneficial to include those alkaline vegetables because they’re so nutritious for your body whether or not you have cancer or any other chronic health condition.
Cruciferous vegetables are an important part of any diet with many great health benefits. These vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrients that when added into the diet can have impactful health outcomes. They are a great source of antioxidants and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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