A host of my articles speak to specific nutritious elements of a plant-based diet and in almost every single one of these articles I have mentioned the cruciferous vegetable family or one of its members. This is for good reason. Cruciferous veggies are some of the most nutritious, antioxidant heavy, and vitamin and mineral packed of all the vegetable families. They are also incredibly versatile in plant-based cooking and easy to grow in your own garden.
With that said, not many people understand the broad range of the cruciferous family, what’s included, and the best way to cook these oftentimes tough skinned veggies!
What are Cruciferous Veggies
Cruciferous vegetables, also called Brassica vegetables, are native to Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia, preferring more temperate climates for best production. If you trace the name back to its origins you find that ‘cruciferous’ stems from the “Latin Cruciferae meaning ‘cross bearing’”, which refers to a veggie with four cross-like petals. The family includes plant-based diet favorites including kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, turnips, arugula, Brussels sprouts, watercress, radishes, and collards, to name just a few. Yet, cruciferous vegetables stand out in the pack due to their levels of sulfur-containing compounds, which have been linked to better brain health and even cancer prevention.
While each individual cruciferous vegetable offers a slightly unique compilation of nutrition, the family does share similarities across the board. The first, mentioned above, is the sulfur-containing compound glucosinolate, which has been shown to have cancer-fighting properties. When it comes to vitamins, they offer A, C, and K, as well as minerals such a folate, high doses of fiber, small amounts of calories, and even phytonutrients, inflammation-fighting plant-based compounds.
Let’s break it down even further and take a look at one of the staples broccoli.
One cup of chopped broccoli provides fiber (2.4 g) and protein (2.6 g), vitamins A (567 IU), C (81.2 mg), E (.7 mg), K (92.5 mcg), and B6 (.2 mg), trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, betaine, and healthy quantities of folate (57.3 mcg) and choline (17 mg). This one cup is also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids (19.1 mg) and Omega-6 fatty acids (15.5 mg) and minerals such as calcium (42.8 mg), iron (.7 mg), magnesium (19.1 mg), phosphorous (60.1 mg), potassium (288 mg), sodium (30 mg), and trace amounts of zinc, manganese, and selenium.
There’s a lot of nutrients and numbers, yet, when combined in your body, what kind of results should you expect? Cruciferous veggies work from the inside out, strengthening your heart, reducing inflammation, and even aiding in weight management. Here are a few of the most important health benefits from eating cruciferous veggies!
Cruciferous veggies are filled with nutrients, as seen above, yet when it comes to preventing and fighting cancer there is one group of substances called glucosinolates that have researchers curious. Glucosinolates are sulfur-containing chemicals present in cruciferous veggies. These chemicals are broken down during cooking preparation, chewing, and digestion into “biologically active compounds such as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates, and isothiocyanates,” two of which — sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinole — shown promising anticancer effects.
Inflammation has steadily become one of the most talked about topics across both the scientific and health worlds. Even though inflammation is a natural immune response to a dangerous foreign invader in the body, when there is inflammatory dysfunction the result has been attributed to various chronic illnesses and diseases.
Yet, cruciferous vegetables have been shown as one of the most promising natural inflammation fighting remedies.
Per the US National Library of Medicine and the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there was a “25 percent reduction in markers of inflammation among 1,005 women” who ingested a higher intake of cruciferous veggies. While research is still new and long-term results are yet to be seen, it’s clear that cruciferous vegetables have some effect of an inflamed body.
One of the most difficult aspects of healthy living is managing a healthy weight. Various uncontrollable factors are at play in a fluctuating body such as water retention, lifestyle changes, pregnancy, and, of course, unforeseen illness or chronic disease. Therefore, finding every day, easy plant-based ingredients that help maintain a healthy weight is beneficial. Enter cruciferous vegetables! These veggies offer a three-part plan of attack starting with a low caloric value (no empty calories!) and a high fiber content (slower digestion), which both lead to your stomach feeling fuller longer.
3 Unusual Cruciferous Veggies and How to Enjoy Them
Most cruciferous veggies are popular staples that are most likely already in your kitchen or on your grocery list. Yet, there are a handful of unusual and oftentimes forgotten cruciferous vegetables that could spice up your day-to-day routine. Here are a few to get you started!
Crispy Kohlrabi Sandwich With Tamari Shallots/One Green Planet
Kohlrabi lands itself in the cruciferous vegetable family due to its familial relation to cabbage. In fact, kohlrabi is a cross-bred product of cabbage created to withstand harsh European winters. While specific to Europe and India, this veggie is beginning to turn up across the states. Kohlrabi has tough exterior leaves with an interior and root that can both be ingested. The taste is likened to broccoli and the leaves have been used in salads.
Kohlrabi can be prepared and eaten like any other cruciferous veggie, yet is oftentimes more enjoyable when cooked through such as baked in this Vegetable and Pesto Stuffed Kohlabri, pureed in this Creamy Kohlrabi Soup, or sautéed/fried in this Crispy Kohlrabi Sandwich With Tamari Shallots.
Maca Blueberry Pops/One Green Planet
Native to the Andes in Peru, this root-like cruciferous vegetable has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. In the states, it’s mostly found in powder form, which can be added to smoothies, soups, chili, and more. Along with ancient medicinal uses, maca is known as an adaptogen, which is a term “given to certain herbs, plants and natural substances that help the body naturally adapt to stressors.” On top of that, maca powder is high in antioxidants, aids in estrogen balancing, and has been shown to boost energy, mood, and memory.
When it comes to the kitchen, maca is most favorable used in beverages, such as this Hot Chocolate ‘Macaccino’ or this Adaptogenic Chocolate Zucchini Smoothie, as well as desserts such as this Goji, Maca, and Caramel Puffed Rice Slice, these No Bake Chaga Maca Cookie Bites, or these Maca Blueberry Pops.
Mizuna, Fennel, and Mulberry Salad/One Green Planet
We’ve all heard of superfoods, yet we may not have heard of the specific category of supergreens. This is where we find mizuna. This peppery green is similar to arugula and young mustard greens, all of which are in the same cruciferous family, yet goes by many other names including spider mustard, water greens, and kyona. Mizuna also offers an array of health benefits such as promoting eye health, strengthening bones, and improving immune health.
Mizuna is most widely used in salads, such as this Mizuna, Fennel, and Mulberry Salad, and can be substituted for its similar companions like in this Hearty Superfood Salad With Arugula, Kale, and Beets. Yet, don’t shy away from heating this supergreen up! Try spicing up a basic recipe such as this simple Snow Pea and Mizuna Stir Fry.
The Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, offers thousands of additional recipes to help you incorporate more cruciferous veggies into your diet. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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