Eating vegetables of any kind is great for your health, but choosing veggies that are high in nutritional value is even better. And the cruciferous family of vegetables is one of the best kinds you can choose. Not only are these veggies packed with more vitamins and nutrients, but they’re also thought to help stave off some serious health problems.
Here’s the skinny on cruciferous vegetables, their nutritional value, and the amazing health benefits that they can offer when included in a healthy, balanced diet.
What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are a group of veggies that come from the Brassica genus of plants. The word cruciferous means “cross bearing” – and these plants are identifiable by the distinct cross shape of their petals.
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, arugula, collard greens, Bok Choy, watercress, kohlrabi, rapini, daikon, radishes, and turnips all belong to the cruciferous vegetable family.
So what makes cruciferous vegetables so good for you? Not only are they low in calories and high in fiber, but they also contain a number of vitamins and minerals that can do a lot of good for your body. These include folate, Vitamin K, and phytonutrients. Dark green cruciferous vegetables also offer plenty of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. And all cruciferous vegetables are high in glucosinolates, which the body converts into sulforaphane, an anti-inflammatory compound.
With all that goodness packed into one type of super vegetables, it’s no wonder that cruciferous vegetables have a number of potential health benefits.
The Benefits of Eating Cruciferous Vegetables
When you incorporate cruciferous vegetables into your diet, you’ll get the benefit of eating healthy foods and a positive impact on your health.
Here are just a few of the specific benefits you’ll reap by working these particular veggies into your meals.
Chronic inflammation can lead to a number of deadly diseases including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. A healthy diet of fruits and veggies can help combat inflammation – and cruciferous vegetables are particularly good at reducing inflammation.
These vegetables are high in glucoraphanin, a natural compound that’s released when the vegetable is damaged by cutting or chewing. During digestion, your body’s enzymes convert the glucoraphanin into sulforaphane, which has been found to bring down inflammation and promote cellular generation in the body.
If you’re living with chronic pain, cruciferous vegetables could potentially help alleviate some of your woes. Reducing inflammation is an important step in pain management, and since digesting cruciferous veggies produces an anti-inflammatory compound, they may help control and reduce pain.
One study conducted on women suffering with fibromyalgia found that patients who were given a combination of ascorbigen (a derivative of Vitamin C) and broccoli powder reported a 20 percent decrease in physical impairment. This means cruciferous vegetables could potentially be an important tool in reducing chronic pain.
A Brain Boost
Aging naturally causes cognitive abilities to decline. However, eating cruciferous vegetables could potentially slow the damage, resulting in better overall cognitive health.
A study conducted by Rush University found that participants who ate just one serving of leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and arugula did better on cognitive testing and appeared 11 years younger in terms of their overall brain health than those who didn’t regularly consume those same vegetables.
Yet another disease that’s been linked to inflammation is depression. Although inflammation doesn’t cause depression and isn’t present in everyone living with it, research shows that people suffering from depression tend to have higher levels of inflammatory markers.
Research conducted on mice has demonstrated that the sulforaphane that comes from cruciferous vegetables can help reduce depression and anxiety. This means these vegetables could have the same potential in humans.
Better Gut Health
In recent years there’s been a lot of discussion about the importance of “gut health”. Having healthy bacteria in your digestive system could lead to a lowered risk of illnesses like arthritis, cancer, and heart disease as well as an improved immune system. While fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt are the most mentioned probiotic foods, cruciferous vegetables can also play a role in improved gut health.
Cruciferous veggies are high in fiber, which is beneficial for healthy bacteria. One study published by The Journal of Nutrition tested participants’ fecal matter and found there was a significant improvement in gut bacteria after just two weeks of eating a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables.
Regulate Your Blood Sugar
If you have a family history of diabetes or are pre-diabetic or diabetic, cruciferous vegetables are a great way to naturally control your blood sugar levels.
Sulforaphane has been found to target the genes that control glucose production in the liver. Additionally, studies conducted on people with type 2 diabetes have shown that cruciferous vegetables could be the future in diabetes treatment. Participants who were given a powder containing a concentrated broccoli extract were found to have reduced blood sugar levels of up to 10 percent.
Protection Against Ulcers
A digestive tract-dwelling bacteria called Helicobacter pylori exists in around 60 percent of all adults. While it’s usually harmless, it can lead to painful digestive ulcers or in some cases, as well as a heightened risk of stomach cancer.
Sulforaphane has been found to have the potential to fight against these bacteria, which means cruciferous vegetables could prove to be a useful tool in healing or warding off stomach ulcers. A study of adults with the H. pylori virus found that patients who consumed broccoli sprouts had lowered markers of the virus after just eight weeks. Another smaller study conducted on mice found that sulforaphane completely eradicated the bacteria in 8 out of 11 subjects.
Potential Cancer Prevention
There’s a lot of ongoing research about cruciferous vegetables and their potential ability to lower the risk of a number of cancers. Not only do they provide the body with sulforaphane, which reduces inflammation, which has been linked to many types of cancer, but they also contain a hormone-balancing compound called Indole-3-Carbinol, which is thought to reduce cancer in women in particular.
Indole-3-Carbinol helps the body produce a less intense form of estrogen, which is thought to result in lower rates of breast and gynecological cancer. A study that examined the diets of 182,145 women discovered that those who ate the highest amounts of cruciferous vegetables had the lowest rates of even the most aggressive breast cancers. They’re also suspected to lower the risk of endometrial and cervical cancers, which means that cruciferous vegetables could play a major role in women’s health in the future.
As the research piles up, it’s undeniable that cruciferous vegetables have a lot of healing possibilities and should be incorporated into your diet. So pile your plate high with broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts and eat your way to a healthier future!