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Cruciferous Vegetables - Crammed With Anticancer Power

Eating These Vegetables Helps Prevent and Fight Cancer

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Updated May 31, 2012

Broccoli and Cauliflower Tray

Broccoli and Cauliflower Tray

Photo © Cosmi Photo Objects
Slice into a crucifer and you will likely see a fascinating pattern of leaves, buds, and stems that form a cross shape. Packed within these dark green, white, and sometimes red vegetables are cancer-fighting surprises. You may think that cruciferous veggies are just broccoli and cauliflower - but there are many more than that. These veggies are low in calories, and high in fiber, calcium, iron, vitamins A and C and beneficial enzymes.

A Bounty of Benefits From Crucifers
Cruciferous vegetables can be dense and crispy, like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. They are also root vegetables such as radishes and daikon, kohlrabi and rutabaga. But did you know that some of the leafy greens, such as collard and turnip greens, arugula and cress are also crucifers? A healthy diet that includes two to three cups of fruits and vegetables daily can help lower your risk of many diseases, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus and stomach. In lab studies, some components of crucifers have helped to halt the growth of breast, cervix, endometrium, lung, colon and liver cancer.

Crucifers Are Crammed With Anticancer Power
Crucifers are packed with dietary benefits. They contain dietary fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Most vegetables are low in fat and calories. Benefits include:

  • Dietary Fiber: Fresh, frozen and cooked crucifers are a good source of dietary fiber. You can snack on broccoli florets with a low-fat yogurt dip and you will lower your cholesterol as well as your risk of heart disease, and keep your tummy happy. Fiber from crucifers helps reduce constipation and other digestive problems, while giving you that feeling of fullness that helps you avoid overeating.
  • Indoles and Isothiocyanates (ITCs): These compounds may rev up your immune system and help protect you against colon, stomach, and respiratory cancers. Indole-3-carbinol occurs naturally in crucifers, and is a powerful antioxidant that scavenges free radicals and protects your cells from damage. Isothiocyanates, a sulfur compound that is most abundant in broccoli sprouts, have been shown to disrupt the growth and division of cancer cells
  • Beta Carotene: It's OK to take supplements to get your beta carotene, but getting it from vegetables seems to protect cells that are exposed to carcinogens, and prevent cancer from forming. In fact, taking beta carotene in supplements seems to raise your risk for lung cancer. But getting your beta-carotene from crucifers is safe and lowers your risk for cancer.
  • Crambene: Found in many crucifers, this compound, when combined with Indole-3-carbinol, activates your body's detoxification enzymes. Working together, as they naturally do in crucifers, these two compounds appear to prevent healthy cells from becoming cancerous. Fairly high amounts of crambene and Indole-3-carbinol were required in an experimental setting, to have this preventative effect.
  • Vitamins A and C: Vitamin A is good for your eyesight and your skin. Vitamin C assists with tissue growth and repair, helps heal cuts and wounds, and keeps your teeth and gums healthy.
Best Ways to Eat Cruciferous Vegetables
The most powerful crucifers, when eaten raw, are: broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Many crucifers can be eaten raw, after washing to remove dirt and grit. Slice them into bite-size bits and drop them into salads, or slice them into strips for finger food. Arrange raw broccoli on a decorative plate alongside cauliflower, radishes and kohlrabi, over a bed of cress or arugula. Pair that with a side of low-fat dip, and you've got a healthy snack or appetizer. Prefer good old-fashioned leafy greens? To prepare bok choy, kale or collard and turnip greens, first blanch the leaves in boiling water and then quickly stir-fry them in olive or peanut oil. The faster you cook your greens, the more nutritious they are, because too much heat can rob them of their dietary power. Mustard seeds (brown, green, white or black), are also part of the crucifer family, and can be briefly toasted in a hot skillet just until fragrant, cooled, and sprinkled over salads and meats.

Convenient Crucifers for Every Day
Some types of crucifers are canned, such as collard and turnip greens. Those are easy to serve, but because they are already heat-processed, and then warmed up for serving, most of the anticancer powers are lost. Don't cook any crucifer for more than 30 minutes - make it less and keep it healthy! Frozen broccoli and cauliflower is easy and still retains it's cancer-fighting properties, and you find those mixed with other great vegetables, you've got a quick and easy nutritious side dish. Steamed or microwaved crucifers can retain their vitamins and other beneficial compounds, as well as their appealing colors.

Sources:
USDA MyPyramid.gov. Inside the Pyramid - Vegetables. Last updated: September 15, 2011.

American Institute for Cancer Research. Foods That Fight Cancer. Cruciferous Vegetables.

National Foundation for Cancer Research. Choose Crucifers - The Vital Veggies. 2008.

American Society for Nutrition J. Nutr. 135:2972S-2977S, December 2005. Synergy among Phytochemicals within Crucifers: Does It Translate into Chemoprotection? Matthew A. Wallig, et al.

AACR Meeting Abstracts 2006 2006: B158. Azarenko, Olga, Jordan, Mary Ann, Wilson, Leslie. Effects of the isothiocyanates sulforaphane and erucin on breast cancer and normal human mammary epithelial cells.

Journal of Nutrition 135:2972S-2977S, December 2005. Matthew A. Wallig, Kathleen M. Heinz-Taheny, Donna L. Epps and Tamara Gossman. Synergy among Phytochemicals within Crucifers: Does It Translate into Chemoprotection?

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