‘Eat your vegetables’ is a term many of us were more than familiar with when growing up, and for most people this was a not so gentle push to eat cruciferous brassica vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cabbage, which many kids loath.
Also included in the brassica family are cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, rutabaga, arugula, turnip, and rapini. The vegetables in this family are heavy-hitters when it comes to nutrition, and have been linked to cancer prevention. They even feature on the American Institute for Cancer Research’s list of “Foods That Fight Cancer”!
Brassica vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are sulphar- containing phytochemicals. When we cook and digest cruciferous vegetables, these glucosinolates break down to form active compounds, such as indoles and isothiocyanates. Animal studies have shown that indoles and isothiocyanates prevent the development of breast, colon, bladder and lung cancer. They do this by many different mechanisms, including by decreasing inflammation,
Human studies are inconsistent in showing a link between brassica vegetable consumption and reduced cancer risk, however there have been some studies which suggest links between brassicas and reduced risk of lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer.
While we do not have evidence to say vegetables of the brassica family alone prevent cancer, we do know that they are a great source of many nutrients which are likely to reduce our cancer risk. For example, brassicas, like all vegetables, are a great source of fiber, and diets high in fiber have been linked with reduced risk of developing certain cancers. The World Cancer Research Funds states that there is convincing evidence that fiber decreases the risk of colon cancer. One study also found a 5 percent reduction in risk of breast cancer risk for each 10 grams per day of dietary fiber women eat.
Other characteristics of brassica veggies benefit the body in general. They are low in calories, which may help in weight maintenance as you can eat a large amount for very few calories. Maintaining a healthy weight is important in the prevention of many chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
As with all vegetables, it is better to eat a variety, as different brassicas contain different nutrients. For example, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are high in folate, while radishes are high in the flavonoids called anthocyanins. How you cook your brassica veggies also matters. Research has shown that steaming vegetables for up to four minutes is the best way to preserve the enzymes in the food that are needed to form the cancer-protective phytochemicals they boast.
Luckily, we have a multitude of recipes for brassica veggies to choose from! To get your day off to a nutritious start, try this cheddar and kale scrambled egg. For tasty sides, try mashed rutabaga or steamed bok choy with miso lime sauce. For a twist, try this spiced cauliflower, which is great as a snack to boost your veggie intake. Enjoy!