Welcome back to the What Supp Blog. Today’s piece will look at Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower – these are examples of cruciferous vegetables that, for good reasons other than it sounds cool, are also known as the powerhouse vegetables.
Yes yes, I know, “eat your greens”, of course they’re good for you. Next I may even suggest water as useful to aiding the hydration process. But you’ve got this far so hear me out. There is pretty good reason it’s “eat your greens”, not “eat your reds/beiges/off white yellowishes”.
So let’s see what are these holy grail of the veg world and why they should make a large percentage of our daily meals. We will explore what is the goodness within these plants, what can they give us and how do they do it.
Firstly though, see the below comprehensive list of what constitutes as a member of the cruciferous vegetable family.
– Land cress
– Ethiopian mustard
– Collard greens
– Chinese broccoli (gai-lan)
– Savoy cabbage
– Brussels sprouts
– Broccoli romanesco
– Wild broccoli
– Bok Choy
– Rapini (broccoli rabe)
– Choy sum (Flowering cabbage)
– Chinese cabbage
– Napa cabbage
– Turnip root greens
– Siberian kale
– Wrapped heart mustard cabbage
– Mustard seeds, brown; greens
– White mustard seeds
– Black mustard seeds
– Wild Aragua
– Arugula (rocket)
– Field pepperweed
– Garden cress
(No, I’ve not heard of half of them either)
So let’s have a look at what packs the punch in these nutrient dense powerhouse veg, and then explore the science as to how they do what they do.
Vitamins and Minerals
Cruciferous vegetables are low-calorie, rich in folate, vitamins C, E, and K, and fiber. It could just be easier to think that in some respects, it’s actually simpler to just dismiss them and think you can get the related goodness from good old ‘fortified’ this and ‘15% off this week only’ supplemental that. In fact I’d argue these vitamins and nutrients are often just names that are bandied about on daily basis and although ‘we know they’re good for us’, question is; do we actually know why they are good for us?
So with the above’s little insights in mind, let’s have a look at exactly what we are getting from these plant powered nutrient powerhouses and better understand how they help the body.
First up we have folate. folate is a B-vitamin. Our bodies need folate to make DNA and other genetic material. Folate is also needed for the body’s cells to divide, hence its important role in pregnancy.
Secondly we have vitamin C. This ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin. We can’t store it in the body, which means we need it from our diet every day. Vitamin C helps protect cells and keep them healthy. It acts as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. It is also involved in the production of collagen, which maintains healthy connective tissues, important for the support and structure of tissues and organs including the skin, bones and blood vessels.
Vitamin C also helps with wound healing; it works synergistically to increase the amount of iron we can absorb from the plant sources we ingest.
Next up Vitamin E. The most widely known health benefits of vitamin E are protection against toxins such as air pollution, premenstrual syndrome, eye disorders such as cataracts, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which plays a role as an antioxidant in the body. It also helps to prevent free radical damage to specific fats in the body that are critical for your health.
Vitamin E is an important vitamin that is required for the proper functioning of many organs in the body and is extremely useful in naturally slowing aging. This can be seen in the repairing of skin, thicken hair and improves vision. It also improves both strength and endurance. Lastly, vitamin E is also a great balancing agent, being seen to balance hormones, PMS symptoms and cholesterol no less!
Last up, Vitamin K. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is most well known for the important role it plays in blood clotting. However, vitamin K is also absolutely essential to building strong bones, preventing heart disease, and crucial parts of other bodily processes such as optimising your insulin levels.
Vitamin K is also an important adjunct to vitamin D, and nearly everyone tested is deficient in both . Recent research has shown that having adequate vitamin K is important in preventing heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple types of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Lastly lastly, cruciferous vegetables are stacked full of fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient to incorporate, especially if weight loss is a goal, as it helps keep you fuller longer. Many of us may associate fiber with better health and increased toilet time, but fiber is also the speed bump of your gastrointestinal interstate as it slows everything way down.
Technically, fiber works by slowing the transit of food across the ileocecal valve (which sends signals from the small intestines to the large intestines), keeping your stomach fuller for longer. The result is a greater feeling of satisfaction and increase of appetite-suppressing CCK-like signals (CCK is a peptide in the gastrointestinal tract that signals fullness).
Besides controlling blood sugar levels and decreasing insulin levels, fiber also reduces calorie intake for up to 18 hours a day!
How the magic works
So lets delve a little into how cruciferous vegetables deliver these powerful nutrient bombs to the system.
Phytochemicals are chemical compounds produced by plants. They are there to help them thrive or thwart competitors, predators, or pathogens and even fight off the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
So how do we get all this goodness delivered? Phytonutrients. These are the nutritional part of the plant the body absorbs and is often referred to interchangeably with phytochemicals). Cruciferous vegetables are an extremely good source of phytonutrients. Although there are elements of the phytonutrients that are not completely great, which we’ll explore in a bit, there are many a reason to increase them in your daily diet.
There are numerous types of phytonutrients, many of which are also antioxidants. Antioxidants are like crime fighters in your body. They stop free radicals, or unstable molecules, that steal from healthy cells in the body to cause damaging changes. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. When a free radical comes in contact with a healthy cell it turns it into another free radical, and the chain of free radical formation just continues to continue. Antioxidants stop this damaging chain of free radical formation however, therefore protecting our cells.
Two key messages to take away first are that these plant-based compounds may well just help lower both systemic and acute inflammation whilst also helping to reduce the risk of cancer.
Also present in cruciferous vegetables are glucosinolates. These chemicals are not only responsible for the aroma and flavor of the plants, but they have also been shown to have anticancer effects.
According to the National Cancer Institute, studies in rats and mice have demonstrated that indoles and isothiocyanates, the compounds that form from broken down glucosinolates, protect cells from DNA damage, inactivate carcinogens, and have antibacterial and anti-viral effects.
Admittedly however, the link between consuming cruciferous vegetables and a reduced risk of cancer in humans is not quite as clear. Specifically, prostate, colorectal, lung, and breast cancers have been studied, and most show little to no association.
However again, a few studies have shown that the bioactive components in cruciferous vegetables have beneficial effects on biomarkers of cancer-related processes in some people. So in conclusion, although some of the anti-carcinogenic potential and credentials of cruciferous vegetables may be in question, there is still plenty of health promoting qualities that are not.
No discussion regarding cruciferous vegetables would be complete without a nod to sulforaphane.
Technically, sulforaphane does not naturally occur in cruciferous vegetables. A healthy, mature broccoli plant, for example, will contain no sulforaphane. However, as soon as the plant is damaged an enzyme called myrosinase is released that reacts with glucoraphanin, a compound that is sulforaphane’s precursor.
This process is not a gift from nature to ensure human health, it is actually the plant’s defense mechanism. Sulforaphane is designed to be toxic to the plant’s predators and can be toxic to humans in large quantities, (remember discussion about the phytochemicals?). However, in small quantities, sulforaphane creates a hormetic effect. A hormetic effect is what happens when we gain beneficial effects from something that would be toxic or lethal in higher doses.
These profound effects are not only due to sulforaphane’s cell protecting properties. Sulforaphane also has the capacity to be selectively toxic to malignant cells, while simultaneously enhancing the detoxification of aflatoxins and airborne toxins like smoke. It also has been shown to have potent affects on the brain.
Sulforaphane is essential for brain health, especially in healing damaged brains. In cases of traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease, sulforaphane has been found to improve memory and learning abilities. Scientists think that this may be associated with its ability to promote neurogenesis and reduce the aluminum load in the brain.
Studies have found that sulforaphane triggers the creation of brown fat in mice. Brown fat is a healthier form of fat storage that actually increases energy consumption. Sulforaphane also improved the gut flora of mice compared to other mice that were fed the same diet without sulforaphane. This may mean that sulforaphane can change our body composition by promoting brown fat storage and a healthy gut flora while staving off unhealthy, inflammatory white fat.
Studies have also found that sulforaphane aids in the reversal of fatty liver disease, preventing lung damage from inhaled toxins, reducing hypertension, and improving mood.
Eating just 3 to 5 servings per week of cruciferous vegetables can lead you to experience the benefits of sulforaphane. The number one source for sulforaphane is broccoli sprouts, and 3-day-old sprouts at that to be precise! Check out my other post about how to simply grow these little darlings https://nutrition4fighters.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/snack-hack-2-broccoli-sprouts/
Before closing, something to be mindful of before loading up the smoothy blender with a ton of cruciferous veg. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but cruciferous vegetables should in the main be cooked before eating as they contain chemicals that can block the production of thyroid hormone in your body.
Eating raw cruciferous vegetables actually suppresses your thyroid’s hormone production, creating fatigue, coldness in your body and a slowing of your metabolism.
Here is the list of common cruciferous vegetables that you do not want to be eating raw if you want to protect your thyroid gland; Arugula, broccoli, kale, macs root, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, collard greens, bok choy, brussel sprouts, radish, rutabaga, and watercress. Do however be mindful that these veg have to be consumed in quite a large quantity raw to have a significantly negative effect upon the body, so don’t worry to much!
Ok, so lots to take in! Hope you’ve enjoyed this article and learned a little. Any questions or queries, please just drop me a message. As ever, show the love by giving the article a share, like and follow the blog, thanks people!