The cruciferous family of plants includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage, arugula, bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, radishes, turnip and watercress. Most all foods on this list can easily be considered superfoods, and they should definitely be included in your regular diet.
Cruciferous vegetables are often known in the world of nutrition as “super vegetables” as their list of health benefits is long. For example, broccoli offers essential vitamins C and K, along with key minerals like iron and potassium (among many others). It is also relatively high in protein, compared to other veggies.
These tasty and nutritious veggies have been shown to increase immune health, fight cancer, balance blood sugar, reduce inflammation and more. They are versatile in their uses, so you are sure to find a way that you and your family enjoy eating them.
Without further ado, let’s dig into the top 10 health benefits of cruciferous veggies…
High in Unique and Health Promoting Plant Compounds
Aside from its impressive vitamin and mineral content (which we’ll touch on more in a moment), cruciferous vegetables are also high health promoting plant compounds. For example, indole-3 carbinol is thought to protect against certain types of cancer (1). Kaemferol is an antioxidant that might also protect against cancer, along with cardiovascular disease and allergies (2). Quercetin can lower blood pressure (3), and a variety of carotenoids found in cruciferous veggies (especially broccoli) are known to support proper eye function (4).
Help to Prevent Cancer
One of cruciferous veggie’s perhaps best known benefits are their ability to protect against certain types of cancers, largely due to their high antioxidant content and sulfur-containing compounds. In fact, all cruciferous vegetables are linked especially to prevention of colorectal, prostate, breast, lung, pancreatic and gastric cancers. Isothiocyanates are a special type of plant compound found in this plant family that have the ability to decrease inflammation and oxidative damage and stimulate our immune system, all of which help to prevent cancer and/or slow its development (5).
Work to Lower Cholesterol Levels
Studies show that substances in cruciferous veggies can bind with bile acids in the digestive tract and help to escort them out of the body, so that they are not reabsorbed into the blood stream (6). Bile acids are formed in the liver and stored in the gall bladder, ready to be released when we eat fat. They then get reabsorbed in the gut, but upon passing through and exiting the body, cholesterol functions as it should to make new bile acids, therefore lowering blood cholesterol levels. All cruciferous veggies are also high in fiber, which has been shown to achieve and maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels (7).
Support Eye Health
Broccoli is known to support healthy eye function for two reasons. One, it contains beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is especially important for eye health. Second, broccoli contains the two plant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, which are also known to support healthy vision and decreased degeneration related with aging (8).
Cruciferous Veggies Contain some of Almost Every Vitamin and Mineral We Need
While not all in large amounts, cruciferous veggies are pretty incredible in that they contain such a myriad of nutrients that we get a percentage of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for nearly all important vitamins and minerals. For example, broccoli provides vitamins A, C and Folate along with minerals iron, potassium and manganese (9). Just one cup of cauliflower contains 77% of the RDA for vitamin C, along with many other vitamins and minerals (10). Rotate your cruciferous veggies for the greatest nutrient variety.
Support Healthy Detoxification Pathways
Our detoxification system works in two stages, phase 1 and phase 2 detox (this is a complex process that we won’t explain here), but both have specific and important roles in our body being able to properly detoxify. Unlike most other foods, cruciferous vegetables can actually support both of these crucial detox phases, mainly due to Isothiocyanates (ICTs), a sulfur containing chemicals found in broccoli. These can alter the production and activity of enzymes in phases 1 and 2 detoxification, overall promoting healthy cell detox activity in the body (10).
While acute inflammation in response to injury or infection is totally normal and necessary, chronic (long-term), systemic (internal) inflammation is highly problematic. Also thanks to ICTs (the compounds made from glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables mentioned above), broccoli is a highly anti-inflammatory food. These compounds have the ability to actually switch off certain genetic reactions that can stimulate our body’s inflammation response. More studies are needed, but experts speculate that daily consumption of broccoli could seriously decrease disease-promoting inflammation.
Also, many veggies from the cruciferous family contain anti-inflammatory, omega 3 fatty acids. Lack of omega 3’s in the diet are thought to be a major cause of inflammation and autoimmune disease (11), and broccoli is a good plant source of these fats. While veggies shouldn’t be your sole source of omega 3 fatty acids (better sources are wild, fatty fish like salmon), they are an excellent food to add alongside animal sources and/or supplementation.
Supports Healthy Digestion
Cruciferous veggies are very high in fiber, which is essential for healthy digestive function (like constipation prevention), not to mention for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, diverticular disease and type II diabetes (12).
Thanks (again) to those ICTs, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli can help protect stomach lining health and integrity by preventing bacterial growth, such as H.pylori.
Promotes Heart Health
While more studies are needed, cruciferous vegetables are being recognized more and more for their role in cardiovascular health, largely due to their anti-inflammatory compounds (13). Sulforaphane is one of the sulfur-containing compounds that might be able to help regulate and lower blood sugar levels, which can protect against heart disease. Another reason that cruciferous veggies are helpful in this area is for their cholesterol-lowering effects.
Broccoli Helps to Heal Sun-Damaged Skin
The skin is our biggest organ and plays a huge role in detoxification. The glucoraphanin found in cruciferous vegetables is thought to support the detox pathways that are responsible for fighting sun damage to over-exposed skin.
The list of cruciferous vegetable’s benefits really is quite impressive! Remember that if eaten raw, some people could experience digestive upset or other unpleasant symptoms, so opt for enjoying these veggies lightly steamed or sautéed with a healthy oil, such as olive or coconut oil. Including a serving of veggies from the cruciferous family each day (One serving=one cup cooked, two cups raw), can seriously boost your health.