Cruciferous vegetables are in a special category. This group of vegetables is rich in disease-preventing nutrients, including vitamins C, E and K, minerals, and beta-carotene. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are well-known examples of cruciferous vegetables. This healthy class of vegetables also includes broccoli, sprouts, kale, radishes, turnips and watercress.
These vegetables are a unique source of glucosinolates, which are associated with health benefits. When eaten, these are broken down to form compounds that are shown to kill tumour cells, both in the lab and in animals. High intake of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a lower risk of developing several forms of cancers.
There is also evidence to suggest that cruciferous vegetables may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. One study found that those with the highest intake of cruciferous vegetables (six times per week) had a 27 percent lower risk of having a heart attack, compared to those who ate cruciferous vegetables only once a week.
Another study found that eating about 2½ stalks a week of broccoli resulted in a significant reduction in blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDLs). Elevated LDLs are a proven risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The amount of glucosinolates broken down into disease-fighting compounds depends, in part, on how produce is prepared.
Chopping or eating raw cruciferous vegetables maximises the all-important disease busting compounds. While all cooking methods reduce these compounds, steaming, microwaving and stir-frying result in less losses than boiling.
Research shows that whether you like cruciferous vegetables may depend on your genes. About 25 percent of the population are genetically sensitive to bitter tastes, like those in cruciferous vegetables and the strong perception of bitterness overwhelms their natural sweetness.
Here are suggestions for making them extra enjoyable.
- Roast them – this caramelizes cruciferous vegetables, bringing out the sweetness to tame the bitter.
- Add a bit of salt – cut the intensity of the bitterness, for those who are sensitive to it, with salt.
- Sprinkle on sweetness – add a touch of honey to roasted Brussels sprouts. Artificial sweetener aspartame also has a powerful ability to mask the bitter flavour of some cruciferous vegetables.
- Puree them – try blending seasoned cauliflower into a healthy, creamy sauce.
Although cruciferous vegetables can be a little strong and not to everyone’s taste, knowing they’re good for us should be enough to give them a go. It also takes a lot longer to come back from illness than it does to keep up on our health.
If cruciferous vegetables help, perhaps we should give them a go, even if means us having to ‘dress them up a little.’