Cruciferous vegetables, also referred to as brassica vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that are associated with several health benefits. Examples include broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, rutabaga, kohlrabi, turnips1 collard greens, bok choy, arugula, horseradish, radish, wasabi and watercress.2
These vegetables contain nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, selenium, calcium, potassium, folate, carotenoids, and flavonoids.2 Cruciferous vegetables also contain glucosinolates, which is a sulfur-containing compound associated with many health benefits.3 Glucosinolates are broken down into other compounds that are are involved in detoxification, prevention of cancer and inflammation reduction.
For example, indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is a phytochemical (compound) from glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables stimulates the production of detoxification enzymes.2 Therefore, cruciferous vegetables are important to include in a detoxification program. We are exposed to several different sources of toxins on a daily basis, including chemicals in the air, processed foods, medications, pesticides and herbicides, and chemicals in personal care products that are absorbed through the skin.4 The buildup of toxins in the body can lead to symptoms or disorders such as fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle pain, cancer, skin conditions, and several others. The detoxification process to get rid of these toxins is complex and involves many different nutrients. The I3C compounds in cruciferous vegetables stimulates the production of detoxification enzymes to help the body eliminate toxins.4 This is why detoxification programs should include consuming large amounts of cruciferous vegetables along with other nutritious whole foods and should NOT be based on fasting or drinking only fluids.
Cruciferous vegetables have been found to have a protective effect against cancer1 because they contain several antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, selenium, and carotenoids.3 Antioxidants protect cells from damage by carcinogens and and reactive oxygen species, therefore reducing cancer risk. Breast cancer, specifically can be reduced by 20-40% by consuming two servings of cruciferous vegetables daily.2
The high fiber content of crucifers can help with digestion and balance the ratio of good and bad bacteria in the gut. The daily recommendation for fiber is 20-35 grams per day, however, most Americans eat less than half of the recommended amount.5 The Institute for Functional Medicine6 suggests consuming at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables daily to lower the risk of disease.
What is considered a serving? 1 cup of raw vegetables or ½ cup of cooked vegetables equals a serving. Cruciferous vegetables should be cooked at lower temperatures, as high heat can destroy some of the nutrients.3 To preserve the phytochemicals and other nutrients in these vegetables, consume them raw, steamed, or lightly sautéed.
Examples of how to consume raw:
Dip broccoli, cauliflower and radish in hummus or a Greek yogurt dip
Use arugula, collard greens, kale, and other greens in salads
Mix cabbage with apples, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and olive oil
Make a slaw with kohlrabi and turnip
Examples of how to consume cooked:
Roast brussel sprouts in the oven with olive oil and spices
Lightly sauté bok choy with ginger and garlic for a side
Steam broccoli or cauliflower for a side
Toss kale with olive oil and spices and bake in the oven for kale chips
Add kale, arugula or other greens to soups
Make cauliflower pizza
About the Author: Megan Kraeger earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in April 2017. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Community Health with a concentration in Administration from SUNY Cortland.
Megan is passionate in educating individuals about nutrition and holistic wellness. She has completed her clinical hours toward the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross's Supervision and is awaiting the exam for complete her credential.
1. Brown A. Understanding Food Principles and Preparation. 5th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning; 2015.
2. Rakel D. (2012). Integrative Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders.
3. Higdon JV, Delage B, Williams DE, Dashwood RH. Cruciferous Vegetables and Human Cancer Risk: Epidemiologic Evidence and Mechanistic Basis. Pharmacological research : the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society. 2007;55(3):224-236.
4. Liska DJ. The role of detoxification in the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases. Advanced Nutrition Publications. 2002.
5. Lord RS, Bralley JA. Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine. Duluth, Georgia: Genova Diagnostics; 2012.
6. Cruciferous Vegetables. The Institute for Functional Medicine. https://functionalmedicine.widencollective.com/portals/py85vmmv/ToolkitAllResources Retreived March 26, 2018.