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David Crocker

Diet and Exercise

Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of the most healthful vegetable groups on the planet…the “cruciferous” group.

Cruciferous vegetables are of the family “Brassicaceae” (also called Cruciferae), more commonly known as the “cabbage” family. The word cruciferous comes from the Latin “crux”-cross + “fer”-bearing (because the flowers have four equal petals arranged crosswise) + the English”ous”-having.

Extensive selective nurturing has produced a large diversity of cruciferous cultivars (a plant that has been produced by particular breeding), which include 40 plant varieties. Common members of the cabbage family include kale, collar greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, Napa cabbage, chard, broccoli, turnip root;greens, Bok choy, rutabaga, arugula, watercress and radish. Other plant members you might not associate with the cabbage family include horseradish, canola, wasabi, and mustard seed.

Cruciferous vegetables are indeed among the most healthful of vegetables, as they are low-calorie, and rich in folate (a naturally occurring form of vitamin B9), vitamins C, E, K and fiber.

These vegetables also contain “glucosinolates”. Glucosinolates are organic substances that contain sulfur and nitrogen. When you eat cruciferous vegetables, these glucosinolates are converted into compounds called “metabolites”. Metabolites are substances that affect the pace of metabolism and are necessary for specific enzymatic reactions to help protect cells from damage, including damage that leads to cancer. Studies show various components in cruciferous vegetables have shown the ability to stop the growth of cancer cells from tumors in the breast, uterine lining (endometrium), lung, colon, liver and cervix. A review of research published in the October 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that 70%, or more of studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer.

Cruciferous vegetables may also defend against cancer by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells in the body), and the ability of the body to counteract, or detoxify their harmful effects. Reducing these free radicals may decrease the risk of colon, lung, prostate, breast and other cancers.

Sulforaphane, another compound found in cruciferous vegetables has also been shown to have anti-cancer properties. It may prevent cancer cell growth by releasing antioxidant, and detoxification enzymes that protect against carcinogens-substances that cause cancer. Sulforaphane may also provide other healthful benefits as well. Researchers reported favorable results for sulforaphane in the treatment for autism. This compound may protect against ultraviolet (UV) skin damage caused by sun, and may beneficially affect heart disease, diabetes and digestion (including relief from constipation).

Also, a 2013 study suggested sulforaphane may reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and have neuroprotective effects against Parkinson’s disease and traumatic brain injury.

The healthful glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetable are also responsible for their pungent aroma and somewhat bitter taste. Now, if you make a face like a kid swallowing cough syrup at the very thought of trying cruciferous vegetables, don’t give up on them just yet.

Try some of these cooking and seasoning techniques.

1. Roast or caramelize them: This process converts more of the vegetable’s carbohydrates to sugars. Drizzle with olive or avocado oil, add a pinch of salt and pepper, then bake until tinder, and light brown. Stop the cooking process before they burn, as this could intensify their bitter taste.

2. Spice them up: Whether roasting, sauteing, steaming or grilling, sprinkle turmeric, cayenne pepper, rosemary, red pepper flakes, or garlic for more flavor.

3. Add butter: Butter can help suppress cruciferous vegetable’s bitter taste. Also, the fat in butter helps the body absorb the fat-soluble antioxidants found in many of these vegetables.

4. Try sauces: To cooked or raw cruciferous vegetables, add teriyaki, stir fry, aioli (sauce made of garlic, salt and olive oil) or hot sauce.

Questions? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com.